The Democratic Republic of Georgia (Sakartvelos Demokratiuli Respublika — საქართველოს დემოკრატიული რესპუბლიკა, or DRG) was created after the collapse of the Russian Empire that began with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and existed from May 1918 to February 1921. It was the first modern establishment of a Republic of Georgia. Its borders were with the Kuban People’s Republic and the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus in the north, the Ottoman Empire and the First Republic of Armenia in the south, and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in the southeast. It had a total land area of roughly 41,545 square miles (107,600 km²) compared to present day Georgia’s area of 26,911 square miles (69,700 km²), and a population of 2.5 million. The republic’s capital was Tbilisi, and its state language was Georgian. Proclaimed on May 26, 1918, on the break-up of the Transcaucasian Federation, it was led by the Georgian Social Democratic Party (Menshevik). Facing permanent internal and external problems, the young state was unable to withstand invasion by the Russian SFSR Red Armies, and collapsed between February and March 1921 to become a Soviet republic.
“Georgia” probably stems from the Persian designation of the Georgians — gurğān — in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This term itself might have been established through the ancient Iranian appellation of the near-Caspian region, which was referred to as Gorgan (“land of the wolves”). The native name is Sakartvelo (საქართველო, “land of Kartvelians”), derived from the core central Georgian region of Kartli, recorded from the ninth century, and in extended usage referring to the entire medieval Kingdom of Georgia by the thirteenth century. The self-designation used by ethnic Georgians is Kartvelebi (ქართველები, i.e. “Kartvelians”).
The territory of modern-day Georgia was inhabited by Homo erectus since the Paleolithic Era. The proto-Georgian tribes first appear in written history in the twelfth century BC. The earliest evidence of wine to date has been found in Georgia, where 8,000-year old wine jars were uncovered. Archaeological finds and references in ancient sources also reveal elements of early political and state formations characterized by advanced metallurgy and goldsmith techniques that date back to the seventh century BC and beyond. In fact, early metallurgy started in Georgia during the sixth millennium BC, associated with the Shulaveri-Shomu culture.
The classical period saw the rise of a number of early Georgian states, the principal of which was Colchis in the west and Iberia in the east. In the fourth century BC, a unified kingdom of Georgia — an early example of advanced state organization under one king and an aristocratic hierarchy — was established. In Greek mythology, Colchis was the location of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts in Apollonius Rhodius’ epic tale Argonautica. The incorporation of the Golden Fleece into the myth may have derived from the local practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from rivers. Known to its natives as Egrisi or Lazica, Colchis was also the battlefield of the Lazic War fought between the Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Persia.
After the Roman Republic completed its brief conquest of what is now Georgia in 66 BC, the area became a primary objective of what would eventually turn out to be over 700 years of protracted Irano-Roman geo-political rivalry and warfare.
From the first centuries A.D, the cult of Mithras, pagan beliefs, and Zoroastrianism were commonly practiced in Georgia. In 337 AD, King Mirian III declared Christianity as the state religion, giving a great stimulus to the development of literature, arts, and ultimately playing a key role in the formation of the unified Georgian nation, The acceptance led to the slow but sure decline of Zoroastrianism, which until the fifth century AD, appeared to have become something like a second established religion in Iberia (eastern Georgia), and was widely practiced there. In the ensuing period, until the course of the seventh century, what is now Georgia remained dominated by the Romans and Sasanians.
Located on the crossroads of protracted Roman-Persian Wars, the early Georgian kingdoms disintegrated into various feudal regions by the early Middle Ages. This made it easy for the remaining Georgian realms to fall prey to the early Muslim conquests in the seventh century. Despite the capture of Tbilisi in 645 AD by Muslims, Kartli-Iberia retained considerable independence under local rulers.
The Kingdom of Georgia reached its zenith in the twelfth to early thirteenth centuries. This period during the reigns of David IV (called David the Builder, ruled 1089–1125) and his granddaughter Tamar (ruled 1184–1213) has been widely termed as Georgia’s Golden Age or the Georgian Renaissance. This early Georgian renaissance, which preceded its Western European analogue, was characterized by impressive military victories, territorial expansion, and a cultural renaissance in architecture, literature, philosophy and the sciences. The Golden age of Georgia left a legacy of great cathedrals, romantic poetry and literature, and the epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”, the latter which is considered a national epic.
David suppressed dissent of feudal lords and centralized the power in his hands to effectively deal with foreign threats. In 1121, he decisively defeated much larger Turkish armies during the Battle of Didgori and liberated Tbilisi. At the height of its dominance, the Kingdom’s influence spanned from the south of modern-day Ukraine, to the northern provinces of Persia, while also maintaining religious possessions in the Holy Land and Greece.
The 29-year reign of Tamar, the first female ruler of Georgia, is considered the most successful in Georgian history. Tamar was given the title “king of kings” (mepe mepeta). She succeeded in neutralizing opposition and embarked on an energetic foreign policy aided by the downfall of the rival powers of the Seljuks and Byzantium. Supported by a powerful military élite, Tamar was able to build on the successes of her predecessors to consolidate an empire which dominated the Caucasus, and extended over large parts of present-day Azerbaijan, Armenia, and eastern Turkey as well as parts of northern Iran, until its collapse under the Mongol attacks within two decades after Tamar’s death in 1213.
The revival of the Kingdom of Georgia was set back after Tbilisi was captured and destroyed by the Khwarezmian leader Jalal ad-Din in 1226. The Mongols were expelled by George V of Georgia, son of Demetrius II of Georgia, who was named “Brilliant” for his role in restoring the country’s previous strength and Christian culture. George V was the last great king of the unified Georgian state. After his death, different local rulers fought for their independence from central Georgian rule, until the total disintegration of the Kingdom in the fifteenth century.
Georgia was further weakened by several disastrous invasions by Tamerlane. Invasions continued, giving the kingdom no time for restoration, with both Black and White sheep Turkomans constantly raiding its southern provinces. As a result, the Kingdom of Georgia collapsed into anarchy by 1466 and fragmented into three independent kingdoms and five semi-independent principalities. Neighboring large empires subsequently exploited the internal division of the weakened country, and beginning in the sixteenth century up to the late eighteenth century, Safavid Iran (and successive Iranian Afsharid and Qajar dynasties) and Ottoman Turkey subjugated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.
The rulers of regions that remained partly autonomous organized rebellions on various occasions. However, subsequent Iranian and Ottoman invasions further weakened local kingdoms and regions. As a result of incessant wars and deportations, the population of Georgia dwindled to 250,000 inhabitants at the end of the eighteenth century. Eastern Georgia (the larger part of Georgia), composed of the regions of Kartli and Kakheti, had been under Iranian suzerainty since 1555 following the Peace of Amasya signed with neighboring rival Ottoman Turkey. With the death of Nader Shah in 1747, both kingdoms broke free of Iranian control and were reunified through a personal union under the energetic king Heraclius (Erekle) II in 1762. Erekle, who had risen to prominence through the Iranian ranks, was awarded the crown of Kartli by Nader himself in 1744 for his loyal service to him. Erekle nevertheless stabilized Eastern Georgia to a degree in the ensuing period and was able to guarantee its autonomy throughout the Iranian Zand period.
In 1783, Russia and the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, by which Georgia abjured any dependence on Persia or another power, and made the kingdom a protectorate of Russia, which guaranteed Georgia’s territorial integrity and the continuation of its reigning Bagrationi dynasty in return for prerogatives in the conduct of Georgian foreign affairs.
However, despite this commitment to defend Georgia, Russia rendered no assistance when the Iranians invaded in 1795, capturing and sacking Tbilisi while massacring its inhabitants, as the new heir to the throne sought to reassert Iranian hegemony over Georgia. Despite a punitive campaign subsequently launched against Qajar Iran in 1796, this period culminated in the 1801 Russian violation of the Treaty of Georgievsk and annexation of eastern Georgia, followed by the abolition of the royal Bagrationi dynasty, as well as the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Pyotr Bagration, one of the descendants of the abolished house of Bagrationi, would later join the Russian army and rise to be a prominent general in the Napoleonic wars.
On December 22, 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia, at the alleged request of the Georgian King George XII, signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti) within the Russian Empire, which was finalized by a decree on January 8, 1801, and confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on September 12, 1801. The Georgian envoy in Saint Petersburg reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Prince Kurakin. In May 1801, under the oversight of General Carl Heinrich von Knorring, Imperial Russia transferred power in eastern Georgia to the government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lazarev. The Georgian nobility did not accept the decree until, on April 12, 1802, when Knorring assembled the nobility at the Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were temporarily arrested.
In the summer of 1805, Russian troops on the Askerani River near Zagam defeated the Iranian army during the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and saved Tbilisi from reconquest now that it was officially part of the Imperial territories. Russian suzerainty over eastern Georgia was officially finalized with Iran in 1813 following the Treaty of Gulistan. Following the annexation of eastern Georgia, the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti was annexed by Tsar Alexander I. The last Imeretian king and the last Georgian Bagrationi ruler, Solomon II, died in exile in 1815, after attempts to rally people against Russia and to enlist foreign support against the latter, had been in vain. From 1803 to 1878, as a result of numerous Russian wars now against Ottoman Turkey, several of Georgia’s previously lost territories — such as Adjara — were recovered, and also incorporated into the empire. The principality of Guria was abolished and incorporated into the Empire in 1829, while Svaneti was gradually annexed in 1858. Mingrelia, although a Russian protectorate since 1803, was not absorbed until 1867.
After the February Revolution of 1917 and collapse of the tsarist administration in the Caucasus, most power was held by the Special Transcaucasian Committee (Ozakom, short for Osobyi Zakavkazskii Komitet) of the Russian Provisional Government. All of the soviets in Georgia were firmly controlled by the Georgian Social Democratic Party, who followed the lead of the Petrograd Soviet and supported the Provisional Government. The Bolshevist October Revolution changed the situation drastically. The Caucasian soviets refused to recognize Vladimir Lenin’s regime. Threats from the increasingly Bolshevistic deserting soldiers of the former Caucasus army, ethnic clashes and anarchy in the region forced Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani politicians to create a unified regional authority known as the Transcaucasian Commissariat (November 14, 1917) and later a legislature, the Sejm (January 23, 1918). On April 22, 1918, the Sejm — Nikolay Chkheidze was the president — declared the Transcaucasus an independent democratic federation with an executive Transcaucasian government chaired by Evgeni Gegechkori and later by Akaki Chkhenkeli.
Many Georgians, influenced by the ideas of Ilia Chavchavadze and other intellectuals from the late nineteenth century, insisted on national independence. A cultural national awakening was further strengthened by the restoration of the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church on March 12, 1917, and the establishment of a national university in Tbilisi in 1918. In contrast, the Georgian Mensheviks regarded independence from Russia as a temporary step against the Bolshevik revolution and considered calls for Georgia’s independence chauvinistic and separatist. The union of Transcaucasus was short-lived though. Undermined by increasing internal tensions and by pressure from the German and Ottoman empires, the federation collapsed on May 26, 1918 when Georgia declared independence — Noe Zhordania was the speaker of the Georgian National Council — followed by Armenia and Azerbaijan within the next two days. Noe Ramishvili formed the first government of Democratic Republic of Georgia.
Georgia was immediately recognized by Germany and the Ottoman Empire. The young state had to place itself under German protection and to cede its largely Muslim-inhabited regions (including the cities of Batum, Ardahan, Artvin, Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki) to the Ottoman government (Treaty of Batum, June 4). However, German support enabled the Georgians to repel the Bolshevik threat from Abkhazia. German forces were almost certainly under the command of Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein. Following the German defeat in the First World War, British occupation forces arrived in the country, with the permission of the Georgian government. Relations between the British and the local population were more strained than they had been with the Germans. British-held Batum,remained out of Georgia’s control until 1920. On December 25, 1918, a British force was deployed in Tbilisi too.
Georgia’s relations with its neighbors were uneasy. Territorial disputes with Armenia, Denikin’s White Russian government and Azerbaijan led to armed conflicts in the first two cases. A British military mission attempted to mediate these conflicts in order to consolidate all anti-Bolshevik forces in the region. To prevent White Russian army forces from crossing into the newly established states, the British commander in the region drew a line across the Caucasus that Denikin would not be permitted to cross, giving both Georgia and Azerbaijan temporary relief. The threat of invasion by Denikin’s forces, notwithstanding the British position, brought Georgia and Azerbaijan together in a mutual defense alliance on June 16, 1919.
On February 14, 1919, Georgia held parliamentary elections won by the Social Democratic Party of Georgia with 81.5% of the vote. On March 21, Noe Zhordania formed the third government, which had to deal with armed peasants’ revolts incited by local Bolshevik activists and largely supported from Russia. These became more troublesome when carried out by ethnic minorities such as Abkhazians and Ossetians.
However, the land reform was finally well handled by the Georgian Social Democratic Party government and the country established a multi-party system in sharp contrast with the “dictatorship of the proletariat” established by the Bolsheviks in Russia. In 1919, reforms in judicial system and local self-governance were carried out. Abkhazia was granted autonomy. Nevertheless, ethnic issues continued to trouble the country, especially on the part of the Ossetians, as witnessed in May 1920. Some contemporaries also observed increasing nationalism among the Social Democratic Party of Georgia leaders.
The first stamps of Georgia were issued on May 26, 1919, a set of six denominations portraying St. George. The coat of arms of Georgia depicts St. George slaying the dragon. These stamps exist both in perforated 11½ and imperforate forms. A further three stamps were released in 1920, picturing Queen Tamar. Overprints on all of these stamps were applied, probably in Italy, with inscriptions reading “Day of the National Guard, 12, 12, 1920” in five lines or “Recognition of Independence, 27, 1, 1921“. These were applied on remainders taken by government officials who had fled when Russian forces occupied Georgia.
The year 1920 was marked by increased threats from the Russian SFSR. With the defeat of the White movement and the Red Armies’ advance to the Caucasus frontiers, the republic’s situation became extremely tense. In January, the Soviet leadership offered Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan an alliance against the White armies in South Russia and the Caucasus. The Government of the DRG refused to enter any military alliance, referring to its policy of neutrality and noninterference, but suggested negotiations towards a political settlement of the relations between two countries in the hope that this might lead to recognition of Georgia’s independence by Moscow. Severe criticism of the Georgian refusal by Russian leaders was followed by several attempts by local communists to organize mass anti-government protests, which ended unsuccessfully.
In April 1920, the 11th Red Army established a Soviet regime in Azerbaijan, and the Georgian Bolshevik Grigoriy Ordzhonikidze requested permission from Moscow to advance into Georgia. Though official consent was not granted by Lenin and Sovnarkom, local Bolsheviks attempted to seize the Military School of Tbilisi as a preliminary to a coup d’état on May 3, 1920, but were successfully repelled by General Kvinitadze. The Georgian government began mobilization and appointed Giorgi Kvinitadze commander-in-chief. In the meantime, in response to Georgia’s alleged provision of assistance to the Azeri nationalist rebellion in Ganja, Soviet forces attempted to penetrate Georgian territory, but were repelled by Kvinitadze in brief border clashes at the Red Bridge. Within a few days, peace talks resumed in Moscow. Under the terms of the controversial Moscow Peace Treaty of May 7, Georgian independence was recognized in return for the legalization of Bolshevik organizations and a commitment not to allow foreign troops on Georgian soil.
Refused entry into the League of Nations on December 16, 1920, Georgia gained de jure recognition from the Allies on January 27, 1921. This, however, did not prevent the country from being attacked by Soviet Russia one month later. After Azerbaijan and Armenia had been Sovietized by the Red Army, Georgia found itself surrounded by hostile Soviet republics. Moreover, as the British had already evacuated the Caucasus, the country was left without any foreign support.
According to Soviet sources, relations with Georgia deteriorated over alleged violations of the peace treaty, re-arrests of Georgian Bolsheviks, obstruction of convoys passing through Georgia to Armenia, and a strong suspicion that Georgia was aiding armed rebels in the North Caucasus. For its part, Georgia accused Moscow of fomenting anti-government riots in various regions of the country, and of provoking border incidents in the Zaqatala region, disputed with the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. The Lori “neutral zone” was another challenge, as Soviet Armenia categorically demanded that Georgia withdraw the troops that had been stationed in the region since the fall of the Armenian Republic.
The Georgian army was defeated and the Social-Democratic government fled the country. On February 25, 1921, the Red Army entered Tbilisi and installed a communist government loyal to Moscow, led by Georgian Bolshevik Filipp Makharadze. Nevertheless, there remained significant opposition to the Bolsheviks, and this culminated in the August Uprising of 1924. Soviet rule was firmly established only after this uprising was suppressed. Georgia was incorporated into the Transcaucasian SFSR, which united Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Later, in 1936, the TSFSR was disaggregated into its component elements and Georgia became the Georgian SSR.
In January and February 1922, a series of five stamps were issued for Georgia’s membership of the Soviet Republic. From March 1922 until September 1923, overprinted stamps of The Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic were used and from October 1, 1923, general issues of the Transcaucasian Federation were used in Georgia. From 1924 until 1993, stamps of the Soviet Union were used in Georgia following the absorption of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic into the U.S.S.R.
On April 9, 1991 the independence of Georgia was restored when the Act of the Restoration of State Independence of Georgia was adopted by the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia. The national symbols used by the DRG were re-established as those of the newly independent nation and remained in use until 2004. May 26, the day of the establishment of the DRG, is still celebrated as a national holiday — the Independence Day of Georgia.
The 1918–1921 independence of Georgia, though short-lived, was of particular importance for the development of national feeling among Georgians, a major factor that made the country one of the most active independent forces within the Soviet Union. Leaders of the national movement of the late 1980s frequently referred to the DRG as a victory in the struggle against the Russian Empire and drew parallels with the contemporary political situation, portraying a somewhat idealized image of the Georgian First Republic.
Scott #17 is the high denomination of the initial set of five stamps released by the DRG on May 26, 1919. Printed by lithography, the 1 ruble orange brown stamp is imperforate and features St. George. The size is slightly larger than the lower denominations.