Stories of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti

Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti

Georgia

Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti (Georgian: სამეგრელო-ზემო სვანეთი) is a region in western Georgia (country) which includes the historical Georgian provinces of Samegrelo (Mingrelia) and Zemo Svaneti (i.e., Upper Svaneti) and has Zugdidi as its capital.

In ancient times Mingrelia was a major part of the kingdom of Colchis (9th-6th centuries BC) and its successor Egrisi (4th century BC-6th century AD). In the 11th-15th centuries, Mingrelia was a part of the united Kingdom of Georgia. From the 16th century to 1857, the independent Principality of Mingrelia was under the rule of the House of Dadiani and was a tributary to the Ottoman Empire.
In December 1803, the principality came under the patronage of the Russian Empire by an agreement between the Tsar and the Mingrelian Prince Grigol Dadiani. The last adult Prince, David Dadiani, died in 1853, leaving his wife as regent for his young son, Niko. However in 1857, the principality was abolished and absorbed into the Tsarist Russian Empire. Prince Niko Dadiani officially renounced his rights to the throne in 1868.
From 1918 to 1921, Mingrelia was part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG). In 1921, Georgia was Sovietized and later became part of the Soviet Union, as the Georgian SSR. On April 9, 1991, independence was restored to Georgia, of which Mingrelia is now part.
The first President of the post-Soviet Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was a Mingrelian. After the violent Coup d’etat of December 21, 1991-January 6, 1992, Mingrelia became the centre of a civil war, which ended with the defeat of Gamsakhurdia’s Mingrelian supporters. Even so, this region was unmanageable by the central government throughout the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze (1992-2003). Stability in the region is further deteriorated by the fact that the Georgian refugees from the Abkhazian war zone (who are considered by Georgians as victims of ethnic cleansing) are mostly Mingrelians. After the Rose Revolution of November, 2003, in 2004, newly elected Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, who vowed to resolve the conflict with the breakaway region of Abkhazia solely by peaceful means, disarmed groups of Mingrelians who tried to fight a guerrilla war against the Abkhazians by incursions from Mingrelia.

The Svans, inhabitants of Svaneti, are usually identified with the Soanes mentioned by Greek geographer Strabo, who placed them more or less in the area still occupied by the modern-day Svans. The province had been a dependency of Colchis, and of its successor kingdom of Lazica (Egrisi) until AD 552, when the Svans took advantage of the Lazic War, repudiated this connexion and went over to the Persians. The Byzantines wanted the region, for if they secured its passes, they could prevent Persian raids on the border areas of Lazica. With the end of the war (562), Svanetia again became part of Lazica. Then, the province joined the Kingdom of Abkhazia to form a unified monarchy which was incorporated into the Kingdom of Georgia in the early 11th century. Svanetia became a duchy (saeristavo) within it, governed by a duke (eristavi). The province’s Orthodox culture flourished particularly during the Georgian “golden age” under Queen Tamar (r. 1184-1213), who was respected almost as goddess by the Svanetians. The legend has it that the duchy was annually visited by Tamar. The Svans had been known as fierce warriors for centuries. Their inflatable war banner was named Lemi (Lion) because of its shape.
The marauding Mongols never reached Svanetia and, for a time, the region became a cultural safe house. Following the final disintegration of the Kingdom of Georgia in the 1460s, fighting broke out for controlling the province. Part of Upper Svanetia formed an independent principality under the Princes Dadeshkeliani, a branch of the Gelovani family, while Lower Svanetia, originally ruled by the Princes Gelovani, was temporarily usurped and subdued by the Mingrelian princes Dadiani. Facing serious internal conflict, Prince Tsioq’ Dadeshkeliani of Svanetia signed a treaty of protectorate with the Russian Empire on November 26, 1833. Difficult to access, the region retained significant autonomy until 1857, when Russia took advantage of the dynastic feud in Svanetia and effectively abolished the principality’s autonomy. In 1875, the Russians toughened their rule by imposing additional taxes. Protests ensued, and Russia deployed troops against the province. Despite having suffered heavy losses, the Russian army units eventually crushed the rebels burning their stronghold Khalde to the ground in 1876.

Svanetia is known for their architectural treasures and picturesque landscapes. The Botany of Svanetia is legendary among travelers. The famous Svanetian towers erected mainly in the 9th-12th centuries, make the region’s villages more attractive. In the province are dozens of Georgian Orthodox churches and various fortified buildings. Architectural monuments of Upper Svanetia are included in a list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Svan culture survives most wonderfully in its songs and dances. Svanetia boasts the most complex form of Georgian polyphonic singing, traditional to Georgian vocal music.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samegrelo-Zemo_Svaneti