The New York Times, November 2, 1884, p. 4:|
AT THE FROSTY CAUCASUSNOTES PICKED UP BETWEEN EUROPE AND ASIA.
THE PAST AND PRESENT CURIOUSLY INTERMINGLED--
COSMOPOLITAN CHARACTERISTICS OF A STRANGE LAND.
TIFLIS, Southern Caucasus, Sept. 30.--There are places which every one can imagine by which no one can describe, and Tiflis [Now Tblisi or Tbilisi, Georgia] is one of these. The monotonous sameness of Eastern cities or the monotonous variety of Western ones is easily sketched, but the mingling of the two at their point of intersection defies all the powers of language.
How are you to believe in modern times among men who gravely show you the rock to which Jason moored the Argo when he came hither for the "Golden Fleece," or exhibit genealogies tracing their lineal descent from Solomon? On the other hand, how are you to revive the classic age among French bonnets, and cotelettes à la financièré, and copies of Punch or L'Illustration? Five minutes walk carries you from the nineteenth to the ninth century.
Nor is the journey from the Crimea to Tiflis a whit less picturesque than the ancient capital itself. Once past Sebastopol [Sevastopol], indeed, the grand historical associations of the panorama begin to wane, but its natural beauty is as brilliant as ever.
The first glimpse of Yalta, should you be fortunate enough to see it in the brightness of early morning, is a sight never to be forgotten. The clustering white houses of the dainty little toy village, and the lower slopes, with all their waving woods and smooth green stretches of velvet sward, are still wrapped in deep purple shadow, a rich Summer gloom, like that which falls through the stained windows of some vast cathedral; but above, where the great bastions of bare rock have already caught the first rays of sunshine, all is dazzling splendor.
Far up against the clear blue sky the jutting crags and grim castellated precipices stand out in one blaze of crimson fire, while as the sun mounts the floating shadows roll off from point after point, and the fresh beauty of the tender vines, the light filigree tracery of the white-balconied houses, the tall, lancelike tower and gilded cupola of the church, and the sparkling ripples of the blue sea that lies outspread below, come forth in all their loveliness.
Far away up the green hillside to the east of the town the white walls of Livadia, the Czar's Summer palace, peep forth from their encircling woods, and from the crest of the furthest ridge a ghostlike wreath of white mist floats sullenly away like barbarism retreating before the advance of civilization.
When once your steamer has fairly passed the strait dividing the Crimea from the Caucasus, and is running along the base of the mighty mountains that stand like a wall between Europe and Asia, you will find more than enough to look at. The very scenery is a blending of all countries and all latitudes--Swiss precipices overhanging French vineyards, trim little Sicilian towns nestling in the skirts of dark Russian moorlands, and Persian gardens springing up beneath the shadow of Swedish forests.
And the population of this strange region is quite as cosmopolitan as its scenery. The sallow, shaggy-haired, low-browed Russian; the gaunt, sinewy, wild-looking Cossack; the flat-faced, narrow-eyed Tartar; the grave, dark-eyed Jew; the tall, lean, and swarthy Armenian; the high-cheeked Persian, in a huge topheavy cap of black sheepskin, very much like a tarred beehive; the burly, wooden-faced Turk; the handsome, brigand-like Greek, with the intense vitality of his race betraying itself in every movement of his supple frame; the black-haired, aquiline Georgian; the smooth, voluptuous Imeritine, and, conspicuous above all, the sleek, tiger-like beauty of the Circassian, flaunting in all his barbaric splendor.
And so, point after point, the great panorama rolls by, Novorossisk, Tuapsé, Sotcha lie dotted like chessmen over the vast purple ridges that rise, wave beyond wave, into the very sky. Then comes dainty little Soukhoum Kaleh, a charming little nook of Italian scenery, nestling in the shadow of the everlasting hills, which stand over it like some weather beaten soldier with his children at his feet.
Here you may see, a few hundred yards up the broad sunny hillside, the famous plantations which were Russia's first attempt at cultivating tea within her own borders. The hope has not been fulfilled, for the Anatolian Turks on the opposite shore of the Black Sea appear to have succeeded much better in the same undertaking.
On the fifth evening of our voyage from Odessa, the long, low bank of the Rion rises above the sea like a brooding mist, and through the fast falling shadows of night the white peaks of the Anatolian Mountains glimmer faintly along the southern sky.
But it is, indeed, a friendly darkness which hides from the ill-fated traveler who has to halt at Poti (the western terminus of the Black Sea and Caspian Railway) the sight of the place in which is being landed. Even Mr. Murray's red-covered Koran could hardly transform Poti into "a spot where the passing tourist may spend a pleasant hour."
An English "blue book" would probably sum it up as follows: "Local products, fever and cholera; population, frogs and mosquitoes; principal imports, quinine and Florida water; principal exports, malaria, boils, and fleas; manners, none; customs, very hard to pass with baggage; revenue, varying according to the success of the overcharges; internal communication, impossible; climate, a compromise between Guatemala and the Bog of Allen; chief local industry, sending strangers to the wrong hotel; government, every man for himself and the devil for all."
One can hardly wonder that the perpetual contemplation of the glaring contrast between this horrible place and its Turkis neighbor, Batoum, should finally have goaded Russia into gaining possession of the latter, even at the price of a costly and murderous war. On the Russian side of the border an unsheltered roadstead, and inconvenient landing place, a town built in the midst of a foul and poisonous swamp. On the Turkish side a fine harbor, a commodious anchorage, a city enthroned upon a bold and breezy ridge high above the sea, and walled off from the rest of Asiatic Turkey by the encircling mountains of Lazistan.
"Batoum," repeated the leading Russian journals, with ominous unanimity, for a considerable time before the war, "was evidently intended by nature to belong to Russia"--a fact which must certainly be a great satisfaction to the Turks, now that Russia has succeeded in carrying out, at a cost of 90,000 lives and countless millions of treasure, the beneficent intentions of nature in this respect.
Unlike the majority of things in this world, the Poti-Tiflis Railroad shows its worst points at the outset. As far as Tcheladid the whole country is simply a drowned jungle, enlivened by a "chorus of frogs" that might have satisfied Aristophanes himself. But as you advance eastward the ground on either side becomes gradually firmer and higher, long ranges of wood-crowned hills begin to lift themselves against the brightening sky, the cloudless sunshine of the warm South replaces the cold white mist which broods ghostlike over the fatal morasses of the Rion, and the genuine Caucasus rises around you in all its stern and gloomy grandeur.
Any one who knows the Caucasus only by report, and hears people talk of Caucasian railways and Caucasian post roads, may well find it hard to believe that this quiet region, which is now as safe and accessible as Saxony or the Tyrol, was so lately the scene of one of the bloodiest and most desperate struggles recorded in history. But here, in the very heart of the great battlefield, shut in by black broken crags of immeasurable height, with the furious river lashing itself into foam far below, and just space enough for your train to slide past between the precipice above and the precipice beneath, you can begin to realize what the conquest of such a region must have been.
The march of an army through such defiles as these--and even these are as nothing compared with the terrific revities of Northern Daghestan, where the bones of 100,000 men whiten amid tangled thickets and moss-grown rocks--would be grim work indeed, incumbered with wounded and pursued by an implacable enemy, with a fireflash from behind every bush, and the whole mountain side alive with the crackle of the fatal rifles. To those who question the fighting power of the Russian soldier there is one sufficient answer: "He conquered the Caucasus." For in those days the whole might of the Circassian tribes was in the hands of Schamyl, and Schamyl was still the dashing warrior and Dar-- and Akulgo, not the aged, broken, white-haired man, grand even in his decay, whom I saw amid a circle of wondering guests at the wedding of the present Czar.
Onward, ever onward, through many a strange alteration of scenery, now gliding under the shadow of mighty cliffs that seem already toppling to overwhelm us, and now rushing through a quiet little green valley dotted with tiny log huts. At one instant we look down into the depths of a yawning chasm, and a moment later we catch a glimpse of some ruined castle perched high above the clouds, while all around us the great billows of wooded mountain roll up mass on mass like all the waves of the deluge suddenly frozen into forests.
Unhappily they are not frozen too hard to melt ever and anon into a devastating land-slip like that which destroyed nearly a mile of track just before my first visit in the Spring of 1873, when we were forced to quit our train at the mouth of the Suram Pass, and to make a circuit of 12 miles over the mountains in native wagons in order to meet the other train which awaited us on the further side.
A hasty meal of steaming cabbage soup and other Russian dainties in the neat little station of Suram, at the further end of the pass, and then we are off again, over a broad plain framed in purple hills. But the sun is already beginning to sink, and the surrounding landscape soon lapses into a dim confusion of dark mountains and glimmering rivers, and black wastes of moorlands, and stations flashing out for a moment in sudden lamplight, till at length, just as we are beginning to doze off to sleep, the train comes to a halt with a long, creaking groan, and there is a ahouting and bustling all around, and in a few minutes more we find ourselves jolting and bumping through the flaring streets of a great town and realize that we are fairly in the metropolis of Transcaucasia at last.
Shut in by tremendous precipices, and cut off from European Russia by one of the mightiest mountain ranges in the world, Tiflis still preserves some few of its ancient associations, but the brand of the nineteenth century is upon each and all. The old Mussulman caravanserai stands in the centre of the great market place, but it is now transformed into a Russian theatre and a Russian hotel. The historical names of Georgia's hereditary nobles--Shervashidze, Vatehnadze, and the like--still linger on the scene of their former greatness, but they are now to be found inscribed over the doors of wine shops or in the gateways of public offices. A tall factory chimney flings its smoke over the river bank along which the hosts of "Prince David the Restorer" marched in triumph 900 years ago, and a telegraph line runs across the green tableland once thronged by the mailclad horsemen of Georgia.
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The region of present-day Georgia contained the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Kartli-Iberia. The area came under Roman influence in the first centuries A.D. and Christianity became the state religion in the 330s. Domination by Persians, Arabs, and Turks was followed by a Georgian golden age (11th-13th centuries) that was cut short by the Mongol invasion of 1236. Subsequently, the Ottoman and Persian empires competed for influence in the region.
Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
An attempt by the incumbent Georgian government to manipulate national legislative elections in November 2003 touched off widespread protests that led to the resignation of Eduard SHEVARDNADZE, president since 1995. New elections in early 2004 swept Mikheil SAAKASHVILI into power along with his National Movement party.
Progress on market reforms and democratization has been made in the years since independence, but this progress has been complicated by two ethnic conflicts in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two territories remain outside the control of the central government and are ruled by de facto, unrecognized governments, supported by Russia. Russian-led peacekeeping operations continue in both regions.
CIA World Factbook: Georgia
Area of Georgia:
69,700 sq km
slightly smaller than South Carolina
Population of Georgia:
July 2008 estimate
Languages of Georgia:
Georgian 71% official
Russian 9%, Armenian 7%, Azeri 6%, other 7%
note: Abkhaz is the official language in Abkhazia
Tbilisi formerly called Tiflis
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The Crimea and Transcaucasia Telfer 1876
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