The Autonomous Republic of Adjara

Batumi Travel Blog

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For such a small country, Georgia has a lot of autonomous regions (actually, Georgia is twice the size of Belgium, but much of the land is uninhabitable, so the population is half that of Belgium. There are three autonomous republics within Georgia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have gone so far as to declare independence, and with the Russian military behind them and a sealed border with Georgia they are off our itinerary. The third region, the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, is, however, still within the loose control of Georgia, after a failed attempt at independence in 2004.

Under President Saakashvili, Georgia has been very keen to reduce the autonomy of these republics. Saakashvili succeeded in a show-down with President Abashidze of Adjara in 2004, forcing Abashidze to back-down and leave the country.

Since then the autonomy of Adjara has been reduced. This success perhaps went to the head of Saakashvili, resulting in the disastrous policy he ran with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The history of Adjara is a good example of the autonomy of the region. For nearly 400 years, Adjara had a different history to the rest of Georgia, being controlled by the Ottomans in 1614, the Russians in 1878 and the British in 1919. Until Georgian independence in 1991, there was in fact only a period of 8 months in 400 years in which Adjara was a part of an independent Georgia (from the 20th of July, 1920 to the 11th of March, 1921). The long period of Ottoman rule, in particular, left its imprint, with conversion of the population from Christianity to Islam and a shift in the language. The claim of Georgia over the autonomous regions in fact dates back to the Middle Ages, when the territory of Georgia not only covered modern Georgia and the autonomous regions, but also parts of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Iran and Russia.

We spent our day in Adjara at Gonio fortress (a Roman-Ottoman fortress, first referred to by Pliny the Elder, in the 1st century CE) and wandering the sea-side cafes of Batumi ��" a charming tourist resort and cultural/economic powerhouse within Georgia.

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photo by: mskaye