Russians in Georgia

(Brief historical-demographic review)

Contacts between 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.

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 Russians.

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 established.

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 Georgia under 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. 

In the 1820s tsarist officials promoted the relocation of sectarians, namely the Don Cossacks (about 25 thousand) to Georgia, in particular at the Black Sea side – to the exclusion of other Slavs – in an effort to isolate their “heretical infection” from Orthodox Russians.

Tsarist officials 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.

Sectarian 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”.

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 by 1902.

Dukhobors, Molokans, 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”.

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 building. 

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. 


-P. Gugushvili, 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;
-K. Kapanadze, History of the Russians’ resettles to Georgia, “Klio”, 2000, pp. 184-193;
-N. Zaqariadze, Dynamic and structure of the Slavic population size in Georgia (XIX-XXc.),
“Demography”, 1(3), 2001, pp. 114-119;
-Basic results of a census (of the Georgian population), Tbilisi, 2002, Vol. I -II.
-Nicholas B. Breyfogle, Religious dissent and Russian colonization in Trans Caucasus, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1998.