Russians in Georgia
(Brief historical-demographic review)
Russians and Georgians date back to the 10-11 centuries, when their meetings
were in the nature of culture and economy.
Georgian historian of
the 11th century Sumbat David wrote, that in 1021-1023 the Russian
soldiers appeared in Georgia; And, Georgian anonymous author of the 11th
century reports that in 1047-1053 three thousand Russian warriors came in
Georgia, who took part in the war between the Georgian princes.
Dukhobors in Georgia
In the Old Russian
chronicles is pointed that Kiev’s Great Prince Iziaslav (1154) married to Georgian king
Demeter’s (1125-1156) daughter. In 1185 the Russian Prince Yuri, son of Andrea
Bogolyubski married Queen Tamar of the Georgians, under whom All Georgia attained a new height of power.
In the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries
relations between the Russian Empire and The Georgians began to take on a new
character, in particular Moscow State established with Georgia’s kingdom
Kakhethi the diplomatic contacts. The Georgians were fellow Orthodox
Christians, surrounded by Muslims and were in need of a protection from the
However, Russia’s first serious involvement in Georgian affairs
came during the rein of Catherine the Great (1762-1796), as known her reign was
marked by incredible territorial expansion. It was in the years 1769-1770 when
the Russian soldiers, near 3.800 men, for the first time crossed the Caucasian
mountains through the Dariali Pass. In July 1772 when General Sukhotin removed the
Russian soldiers from Georgia, many Russian deserters staid in this country
and most of them were working in Tbilisi as the craftsmen.
Thus, long before
Russians ruled over a part of Georgia their sporadic relations with Georgians had
In 1783 a treaty of
friendship and mutual protection was signed with the kingdom of East Georgia, but exuding newfound self-confidence, the
ascendant Russians started looking beyond their borders at weak neighbors. So
the Treaty brought East
Russian protection, and in 1801 it was incorporated into the Russian empire, as
the province of Tiflis. Other areas of Georgia later followed suit.
It is known that in
the beginning of the 19th century the Russians gaze was drawn
southwards, seeking vantage point against the old Turkish and Persian empires,
both now in serious decline. That is why then in the Russian governmental and
scientific circles were seriously discussing a question about creation the
Russian Colonies in Georgia. First they decided to organize there the
military settlements of the demobilized Russian soldiers. And so, from 1837
such the settlements were founded in Tbilisi, Tsalka, Kojori, Manglisi, Thethri Tskaro
(former Tsitheli Tskaro), Akhaltsikhe and other regions where were located the
military organizations. To the Russian colonist-settlers were given the plots,
the financial aids, etc. Later the settlements developed to the villages.
Dukhobors in Georgia
In the 1820s tsarist
officials promoted the relocation of sectarians, namely the Don Cossacks (about
25 thousand) to Georgia, in particular at the Black See side – to the
exclusion of other Slavs – in an effort to isolate their “heretical infection”
from Orthodox Russians.
exiled one group of Russian sectarians (about 300, the Skoptses) to Western Georgia in 1825 near the Rioni River, in Marani village, and other group of the
colonists was settled in Kodori village.
On October 20, 1830,
Tsar Nicholas I issued a decree, which redirected the trajectory of Russian
colonialism in the Empire’s southernmost region - the newly incorporated
provinces of Trans Caucasus - while simultaneously recasting the fate of
Christian religious sectarians who were classified as “most pernicious”
(including Dukhobors, Molokans and Subbotniks, but not old Believers) were to
be relocated to Georgia, by either forcible exile or voluntary resettlement.
The edict opened a
new striking chapter in Russia’s long history of borderland settlement.
Although, small numbers of Russian had moved to Georgia before 1830, the decree opened the floodgates of
large-scale resettlement. Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century,
but especially in the 1830s and 1840s, tens of thousands of sectarians left
central Russia for the Georgia.
resettlement took three forms: forced exile by government or court order; the
legal, voluntary decision to migrate of individuals, families or communities of
sectarians; and, illegal, clandestine running away. Settlers came from a
variety of different provinces originally, but primarily Tambov, Tauride, Voronezh, Orenburg, Saratov, Samara, Astrakhan, the North Caucasus and the Don Region. While overwhelmingly peasant in social
make-up, sectarian settlers also included merchants, meshchane (petty
bourgeois) and others.
Among the instances
of forcible exile to Georgia, the state-enforced resettlement of Dukhobors
from Melitopol’ uezd, Tauride province was quantitatively the largest.
Approximately 5.000 Dukhobors relocated To Georgia between 1841 and 1845 – a number so large that
they had to be moved in five different parties over the four-year period. On
the whole, they were settled in Akhalqalaqi used, where the following new
villages sprigged up: Rodionovka, Efremovka, Orlovka, Spaskoe (Dubrovka),
Troitskoe and Bogdanovka. Central ministries and legislative organs saw the
exile as an opportunity for “the annihilation of the Dukhobor heresy” and “the
eradication of the dangerous Dukhobor sect”.
Dukhobors in Georgia
Already in 1886 the
number of the Dukhobors in Javakhethi (South Georgia) accounted for 6,6 thousand people and their
amount soared to 8 thousand by the next years. However, at the end of
the 19th century (1899) in conjunction with worldwide publicity and Lev
Tolstoy, they (7370 Dukhobors) moved to Canada in order to escape sever
oppression and complete economic collapse. According to the data of
population census conducted in 1989 their amount in Georgia reduced to 3,1 thousand people.
In 1833 long wagon
train stretched from various provinces of Russia to Georgia as the Russian Molokans hurried to meet God in
His promised lend. They went to the new land in exultation and joy, singing
psalms and spiritual songs. Their first big part settled in Eastern Georgia, particularly in Sighnaghi and Sagarejo regions,
where in the villages Krasnogorsk and Ulianovka the Molokans accounted for 1365
people. They were living in Tbilisi as well and in Tbilisi province their amount was 11,3 thousand people
even Subbotniks and other sectarians arrived in Georgia as outcasts, unwanted
in the central provinces of Russia, and as migrants in search of a better life
for themselves on the frontier, including being part of Christ’s New Jerusalem.
The majority of sectarians who settled in
Georgia were peasants, although there was also a not
inconsequential number of merchants and meschanes (petty bourgeois).
The valuation of
Georgian sectarians as loyal and contributing members of the state community
was further undermined by the appearance in the late 1860s of Shtundists,
Baptists and Pashkovites in various parts of the Russian empire, and especially
of Baptists in Georgia after 1877. Inspired by Western Protestantism,
they were considered exceptionally dangerous to the well-being of the Russian
state, both for the content of their beliefs, but especially because the
theology came from outside of Russia, and thereby threatened the Russian state
and the meanings of Russianness at their very core. Dukhobors, Molokans and
Subbotniks were separate religious phenomena, but the eruption of Baptists and
Shtundists tainted all religious dissenters in the eyes of tsarist authorities.
For example, in the mid-1880s the Exarchos (Bishop) of Georgia described the Baptists as a grave threat not
only to the Orthodox Church, but also to the state because they “are imminent
enemies of Russia and allies of Protestant Germany”.
Molokans in Georgia
Thus, as well as
being loci of colonial contact between Russians and non-Russians, the
borderlands were areas in which the tsarist government consciously segregated
undesirables in an effort to resolve difficulties in the center. As mentioned,
Russian officials used Georgia’s physical distance to isolate the “heretic infection”
of sectarian Russians from Orthodox ones – a policy, which exemplifies Russia’s often-haphazard process of empire
The size of the
Russian population (including sectarians, officials, military, civilian and
others) in Georgia gradually had increased from the second half of
the 19th century. On January 1856 in the provinces of Tbilisi and Quthaisi had existed 21 Russian villages,
where were living about 6.000 Russian people. According to the data of census
conducted in 1897 the Russian size in Georgia reached about 98 thousand people. It is
noticeable that 74,3 percent of the Russian residents of Georgia were living within this period in Tbilisi province.
The growth tendency
of the Russian population in Georgia was also observed in 20-30-50s of the 20th
century. Namely, according to the data of census list by 1926, their size
reached 96085, in 1939 – 307998 and so on. But, in 1979 and in 1989 their
number reduced. This process was more acutely emerged since the collapse of the
Soviet Union, because of the significant number of the
Russians resettled to their historical native land.
According to the
latest census conducted in Georgia in 2002 the size of the Russian population is
67671 and about half of them 32580 people resides in Tbilisi.
Economical development of the Trans Caucasus and Georgia in 19-20th centuries, Tbilisi, vol. I, 1949, pp. 612-647;
-Essays on Georgian
history, Tbilisi 1970, vol. V, pp. 121-124;
-V. Jaoshvili, Georgia’s population, Tbilisi 1996, pp. 223-283;
History of the Russians’ resettles to Georgia, “Klio”, 2000, pp. 184-193;
Dynamic and structure of the Slavic population size in Georgia (XIX-XXc.),
2001, pp. 114-119;
-Basic results of a
census (of the Georgian population), Tbilisi, 2002, Vol. I -II.
Breyfogle, Religious dissent and Russian colonization in Trans Caucasus, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1998.