● Caucasian Georgia – A Bridgehead or A Stronghold
Giorgi Leon Kavtaradze
CAUCASIAN GEORGIA – A BRIDGEHEAD OR A STRONGHOLD OF THE MODERN GEOPOLITICAL GAMES
A Look from the Historical Perspective
[p. 134] If we throw a glance through the main – Eurasian – part of the Eastern Hemisphere we can easily find Transcaucasia, located between two seas. It has quite an extraordinary, I dare say, even central position on the Hemisphere. In the north of it, across the Great Caucasian Range, is situated typical northern country – Russia, in the south – genuine Middle Eastern Turkey and Iran, in the west the Black Sea divides it from Eastern Europe, and in the east – the Caspian Sea from Central Asia.
Such an intermediate location of the Caucasus should be the reason of its ethno-cultural diversity noticed already by Greco-Roman authors.
Georgia (ancient Colchis and Iberia) – the country of the Golden Fleece of Classical Greek mythology is located in the central and western parts of Transcaucasia. It is chained to the Caucasus like Prometheus who found his last abode in the same mountains. Even today, on the state emblem of Georgia, under the hoofs of the horse of Tetri (White) Giorgi (the image of Georgia) the Caucasian mountains are depicted – instead of the dragon of St. George’s icon – a symbol of natural challenge of the country, representing the link of its destiny with one of the main markers of the geographical, ethno-cultural and political division of the world.
Georgia, and Transcaucasia generally, lies not only at the cross-roads of all four sides of world, but at the cross-roads also from the temporal standpoint between the old and new worlds – the old world of totalitarianism and the new world of democratic society. Both these cross-roads are at the same time intertwined with each other. The areas north and east of the Caucasus are still embodiments of totalitarian societies, the areas west and south – of societies with a democratic way of life, or on the path of democratic transformation.
Numerous states were created in all parts of the world after the First and Second World War and the collapse of Communistic system. In our days this process takes place mainly in new countries of the post-Soviet space, among them in Georgia, where an analogous situation was known already after the annihilation of the Russian Empire and the three-year period of the time of existence of the Georgian Democratic Republic, occupied by Soviet Russia in February-March 1921. Though the tradition of statehood in Georgia counts thousands of years. [p. 135]
It seems that the factors of geopolitical character caused not only the emergence of statehood in Central Transcaucasia in the Classical period but also determined its historical development in Medieval, New and Newest times.
The main purpose of the future studies is to outline the possible trends in Georgia’s political orientation against the background of existing tendencies in the political life of Georgia itself, of Transcaucasia generally, and of a more wide area – adjacent to the basins of the Black and Caspian seas.
Discussions under way among Georgian politicians and public of how to solve the triple choice which faces the country:
1. to join the security system of the CIS (i.e. Russia),
2. declare neutrality,
3. integrate with the Euro-Atlantic democratic societies.
Pro-Russian trend actually means turning back from the process of state creation to final dissolution (though gradual) in the Russian maw – the age-long dream of Russian political circles. In spite of the decision of the Istanbul summit of 1999, Russia tries to retain by all means its military bases in Georgia and at the same time to widen its economic and political presence in the country. Neutral status is irrelevant for a country lying on the highway of political processes and surrounded by aggressive neighbours – primarily by Russia; Turkey and Iran to some extent, during the reinterpretation of their Caucasian policy after the breakdown of the Soviet Empire, are trying to ensure peace and security of the region – different with their old historical traditions. At the same time, Turkey could be considered itself as a member of the Transcaucasian family. We have in mind the fact that Transcaucasian southern boundary is confined by the flow of the AraxesRiver. The upper reaches of it form a boundary between Transcaucasia and Anatolia, going west from the same river along the Palandöken and Kop ranges; and further to the north, the presumable border runs along the middle and lower flow of the ÇoruhRiver. We could use the term Turkish Transcaucasia as the manifestation of a widening interpretation of Transcaucasia.
The pro-Western trend seems the only option, which can secure the independent development of Georgia.
But can we be sure that this choice answers the national interests of the country? Why the pro-Western orientation becomes a motto of Georgian society? How trustworthy are the fears spreading among a part of Georgian public that because of their pro-Western orientation the country and its population are under the unforeseeable and imminent threat [p. 136] of punishment coming from rivals of the Western democratic societies and, therefore, in the opinion of this part of public, the political orientation of the country should be changed?
These questions show how tense and uncertain the political situation in Georgia is today. I don’t think that there exists an easy answer to all questions that are facing Georgian public today, but historians could try to make the situation more understandable from the standpoint of the historical development of this country.
Therefore, we need to throw a glance from the historical perspective to gain an insight into the character of developments underlying modern processes. The pointer of Georgia’s political compass was directed at various sides of the world in different times, but what kind of mechanism caused such a shift of orientation? Which point, having strong magnetic power, was most determinative for the Georgian pointer throughout the history? These are the questions that should be answered.
Unfortunately nobody paid attention in the special literature to the interconnection between the existence of state power in Central Transcaucasia and the necessity to control the passes through the Caucasus, indicated by the historical development of the area. This must be mainly due to the fact that during the last two hundred years Transcaucasia was incorporated in the Russian and Soviet empires and no governmental employee in charge of these totalitarian states would allow, or will encourage even now in a much more democratic Georgia, to carry out such a study. Both these countries (the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union) succeeded in total subjection of the Transcaucasian territory which was of vital importance for their expansionistic plans against the entire East Mediterranean-Middle Eastern area. On the other hand, the fact that no Caucasian nation was represented on the political map of the world over the last two centuries, with the above-mentioned short exception, is the main reason why Caucasian history was actually neglected by Western specialists even when studying the areas adjacent to it.
The breakdown of the Communist system gave specialists of countries belonging to this system the possibility of using such methodological principles that are far removed from the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism and that were sometimes already obsolete in other parts of the world. In connection with the early Caucasian political history the use of Arnold Toynbee’s Challenge-and-Response model seems preferable, as the emergence and development of the idea of statehood in the Caucasus finds its stimulus (Challenge) in the reaction (Response) of the local natural and social environment. [p. 137]
The political history of Georgia, like other Transcaucasian countries, was mainly dominated by the fact of the geographical location of Transcaucasia south of the Great Caucasian mountainous chain, one of the most important watershed systems of the world. These mountains form a fracture (something like a geological fault-line) not only from the geographical and ethno-cultural points of view, but also from the geopolitical division of the world. The key importance of the location of the Caucasus was picturesquely stated by Pliny the Elder (Plinius Magnus), already two thousand years ago, namely that the Caucasian Gate (i.e. the DarialPass, crossing the central part of the GreatCaucasianRange), divides the world in two parts (N.H. 6, 30).
There was always a need for a barrier to be erected by the world of reasonable men against the world of barbarians, such as the Great Wall of China or Hadrian’s Wall (Roman Limes). The Caucasian Gate had the same function for the Middle East. From times immemorial it barred the descent of the Eurasian nomads into the civilised world of common interest – the Mediterranean-Middle Eastern oikoumene.
The Caucasian Gate is frequently called the Pillars, Stronghold or Iron Gate of Alexander the Great by the Classical (Greco-Roman) authors. The linkage of Alexander’s name of the legend with the emergence of the Iberian statehood, known from the evidence of old Armenian and Georgian chronicles, indicates the raison d’être of this state, namely to be the outpost of the civilised world in its struggle with the realm of Gog and Magog lying beyond the Caucasian Gate. Today too, the above-mentioned emblem of Georgia, bears the sun, the moon and the five stars, supposedly bestowed on the Georgians by the legendary image of Alexander of old Georgian chronicles as an ideological basis of their state religion. Thus the concept of Alexander’s Iron Gate was the reflection of the concrete political function of the GeorgianState – the control of one of the most important strategic passes of the world.
This function of the state seems to have been one of the main decisive factors that challenged the emergence of the GeorgianState in the central part of Transcaucasia in the Early Hellenistic period. The location of Georgia, south of the GreatCaucasianRange, in the contact zone of the Eurasian nomads and the Middle Eastern civilised societies, had predetermined the continual external pressure from the north, a Challenge, which for its part caused a Response – the creation of a state (i.e. the IberianKingdom) in Central Transcaucasia.
The raison d’être not only of Iberia, but also of other new states of the Classical period, Albania and Lazica (the successive state of Colchis), [p. 138] were to become stronghols of the civilised world (Greek oikoumene or Roman orbis terarrum) in its struggle with the barbarian Realm of Darkness beyond the Caucasian Gate. However, there was undoubtedly a difference between the western political orientation (the Greek states, Roman and Byzantine empires) of Iberia and also to a certain degree of Lazica, on the one hand, and the eastern orientation (Persia, Parthia) of Albania (together with Armenia), on the other.
The control of the Caucasian passes could create the most favourable opportunity for the preservation of Pax Romana in the Middle East. The Iberians (eastern Georgians) werethe most important allies of the Romans in the region, having supremacy over the Caucasian Gate. The close collaboration between the Romans and the Iberians, based on their joint strategic interests as parts of one and the same orbis terarrum was the leit-motif of their interrelations.
At the same time, the rulers of the IberianKingdom successfully used the favourable strategic location of their country to balance the pressure of the powers coming from all sides of the world, often changing the direction of their orientation. Already Tacitus noted that the Iberians were “masters of various positions” and could suddenly “pour” mercenaries from across the Caucasus against their southern enemies (Ann. 6, 33).
The long-term aspiration of the medieval Georgian monarchy, going back presumably to the times of the Roman Empire, to bring under its sovereignty not only the Caucasian Gate, but all existing Caucasian passes from the Black to the Caspian Sea, is expressed by the formula of its territorial integrity in the Georgian chronicle of the eleventh century the “Life of Georgia”: “from Nikopsia to Daruband”,i.e. from the north-eastern Black Sea littoral to the Derbent gateway (the second important pass of the Caucasus), on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. This formula, emphasising especially the northern borderline along the Caucasus, enables us to interpret the main function of that kingdom in a more general context.
Faced with the necessity of effective control of the Caucasian passes, which barred the way of the northern invaders, the rulers of the states of the Eastern Mediterranean-Middle Eastern area were always eager to have in Central Transcaucasia – in Iberia – a political organisation with sufficient strength to fulfil such a defensive function. The concept of the Caucasian Gate predetermined the fate of the GeorgianState from the Early Hellenistic time till the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Georgia’s annexation by Russia meant the loss of this important function [p. 139] of this state. I think, this function was the reason that Georgia, as pointed out by Cyril Toumanoff, is the only country of Christendom where socio-political and cultural development ran an uninterrupted course from the Classical period to the beginning of the nineteenth century.
This overwhelming interest of the Near Eastern-Mediterranean societies in Georgia was caused not only by the abstract defensive function of this country, but mainly by its concrete location at the edge of the civilised and barbarian worlds. Though Georgia and Transcaucasia were open to the influences of these two opposite models of historical development, the factor of the Great Caucasian Range determined its destination to be the strongholds of the highly developed and prosperous Middle Eastern-Mediterranean oikoumene against the vast area of Eurasian steppes – an embodiment of the powerful and aggressive forces with their slow rate of social, political, economic and cultural development; or in other words, to be the stronghold of the civilised South and West against the barbarian North and East. On the other hand, the northern nomads required a bridgehead for their raids towards the Middle East. The territories of Georgia and Transcaucasia represented best opportunities for this task.
The constant opposition between the barbarian and civilised peoples, aggressors and producers, brigands and creators, were two firestones with the help of which the fire of statehood south of the central part of the Great Caucasian Range, in Central Transcaucasia, was kindled.