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The Treaty of Georgievsk

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The Treaty of Georgievsk


Pursuant to this document, Kartli-Kakheti Kingdom accepted the protectorate of the Russian Empire. That covenant formed the foundation for Georgia’s incorporation within the Russian Empire and it is this particular treaty that now underlies debates as well as historical and political speculations about the relations between the two neighboring states.

A multitude of young Georgians are convinced nowadays that at the end of the 19th century the treacherous northern neighbor used the situation in Trans-Caucasia to annex independent Georgia. An overwhelming number of young Russians firmly believe that in the reign of Catherine the Great Georgia asked for protection and Russia mercifully shouldered that burden, coupled with numerous inland and international problems.

For twenty years in a row the two groups of young people have been brainwashed by their national propaganda. Only God knows how many more years it will take to get back to the golden mean.

Yet constant dropping wears away a stone and so I’ll try to add my own drop.

To begin with, there was no statehood in Georgia in the 18th century and this is by no means insulting, since at certain points of time the “Russian state” was a rather conventional category as well. There were two kingdoms, Kartli-Kakheti and the Kingdom of Imereti, which were the actual vassals of Persians and Turks, respectively. Part of the Georgian territory directly belonged to the Ottoman Empire and another part – to Persia. Incessant military conflicts were under way.

It would be wrong to suggest that King of Kartli-Kakheti Irakly II alone saw the maximum possible strengthening of ties with Russia as a way of rescuing his nation from Islamization or genocide. The corps of General Totleben had marched toward Kutais of Imereti 14 years before the Treaty of Georgievsk was signed and two infantry battalions from Saint Petersburg were quartered in Tbilisi. The Russian general banished Turks from seaside forts, including Poti, and starting in 1874 Turks renounced their claims of tribute on Imereti.

It’s already clear that the political situation in the region was tangled and rather ambiguous. To explain it simplistically now means to doom oneself and others to complete misunderstanding of the past and present realities.

Irakly II under a strong pressure from his overlord resolved to take a bold step: to throw off the vassalage of Persia and ask coreligionist Russia for patronage. The Treaty of Georgievsk did in no way infringe on the independence of the Georgian Kingdom.

The Georgian king’s foreign policy options were limited in exchange for guarantees of assistance from Russia in the event of any military threat.

The Treaty lasted only four years. Irakly II, forced to swim between two waters, considered it right and proper to conclude separatist peace in 1786 with one of his neighbors and did not even let it known to the Russian envoy. Catherine the Great thought it a treachery, given a raging war on Turks, and ordered Russian battalions to be withdrawn from Kartli. St. Petersburg no longer felt bound by the obligations assumed in the Treaty of Georgievsk.

Eventually Persians invaded Kartli and at the same time the lands of Irakly II were torn to pieces by Lezgins. Was Russia to blame? The descendants of those 22,000 Georgians who were led to Iranian captivity after Tbilisi was devastated in 1795 probably blame Russia which could protect them if she willed and they are right. Russia could certainly lend a helping hand but did not do it. Why? The sheer moral category of compulsory protection of a weaker brother in the Orthodox faith against any foe does not work, because relations between two nations are different from interpersonal relations.

Be that as it may, the rulers of Kartli repeatedly requested Petersburg for patronage. This was not just a one-time desperate cry for help, when it came to the push – this was the stance of Georgian rulers.

Emperor Pavel had his own view on the state of things and his son and heir Alexander – his own. Alexander did not favor the idea of incorporation of Georgian kingdoms in the Russian Empire. The young monarch believed in the power of law more than in the power of force. By that time he had not yet met such teacher as Bonaparte.

While Pavel granted the request of Kartli King Georgiy XII and sent an infantry regiment to Tbilisi and then rather quickly responded to the suggestion to incorporate Eastern Georgia in the Russian Empire, it took Alexander several months to turn his father’s manifesto signed by Pavel at the turn of 1801 into an effective document. And an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia was taken only in spring 1802 under very instructive circumstances from political ethnography perspectives.

Parades, various ceremonies, worldly verve and suchlike were typical of Russia that was a developed empire in those days. Any bombast was out of question in Georgia devastated by Persians and Lezgins. Originally, Georgians lived a simpler and more informal life, and when the ceremony of taking an oath in Tbilisi was held in the presence of Russian infantry ranks, many locals did not like that.

It became clear later on that the discontent was not caused by what was done, but rather by “how this was done.” Sometimes the manner of doing things has a key significance in international affairs.

Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia fell on August 7, 2008. It’s doubtful that in choosing the day for assault Tbilisi’s politicians did not keep in mind some sacral meaning. If that was the case, in this particular instance there was no moral difference between “what” and “how.”

Mikhail Bykov


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