Language, Religion, and Culture
For centuries, Georgia's geographic position has opened it to
religious and cultural influences from the West, Persia, Turkey,
and Russia. The resultant diversity continues to characterize the
cultural and religious life of modern Georgia. However, the
Georgian language displays unique qualities that cannot be
attributed to any outside influence.
Even more than religion, the issue of language was deeply
entwined with political struggles in Georgia under communist
rule. As elsewhere, language became a key factor in ethnic selfidentification under the uniformity of the communist system.
Written in a unique alphabet that began to exhibit distinctions
from the Greek alphabet in the fifth century A.D., Georgian is
linguistically distant from Turkic and Indo-European languages.
In the Soviet period, Georgians fought relentlessly to prevent
what they perceived as the encroachment of Russian on their
native language. Even the republic's Soviet-era constitutions
specified Georgian as the state language. In 1978 Moscow failed
to impose a constitutional change giving Russian equal status
with Georgian as an official language when Shevardnadze yielded
to mass demonstrations against the amendment
(see Within the
, this ch.). Nevertheless, the Russian language
predominated in official documents and communications from the
central government. In 1991 the Gamsakhurdia government
reestablished the primacy of Georgian, to the dismay of
minorities that did not use the language. In 1993 some 71 percent
of the population used Georgian as their first language. Russian
was the first languages of 9 percent, Armenian of 7 percent, and
Azerbaijani of 6 percent.
Data as of March 1994