Georgia was perhaps the largest benefactor of the three countries in the Caucasus region. The area contained lush farmland and forests as well as beautiful seashores. Czarist Russia exploited the area by creating a large timber industry and encouraging intensive farming practices. Under Russian rule, the economy grew quickly. Russia provided education to most of the Georgian population, as well as raw materials to build factories and tractors to increase agricultural output. People enjoyed a good standard of living and had access to the basic necessities of life. However, by 1900 nearly 60 percent of the land was owned by Russians, while most of the merchant class—the rising middle class that made its income from trading and selling goods—was Armenian. Some of the country’s intellectuals formed a group known as “The Men of the 60s” and began to preach Georgian nationalism through their writings and speeches. The movement continued to grow into the early 1900s, eventually resulting in the deaths of 60 people when Russians broke up a Social Democrat meeting in Tbilisi on October 28, 1905.
Georgians live and breathe their history as a vital key to their national and regional identities today. Georgians themselves tell the following story about how they came to possess the land which they deem the most beautiful in the world. When God was distributing portions of the world to all the peoples of the Earth, the Georgians were having a party and doing some serious drinking. As a result they arrived late and were told by God that all the land had already been distributed. When they replied that they were late only because they had been lifting their glasses in praise of Him, God was pleased and gave the Georgians the part of Earth he had been reserving for himself.
Actually, Georgians do not call themselves Georgians but Kartvel-ebi and their land Sa-kartvel-o. These names are derived from a pagan god named Kartlos, said to be the father of all Georgians. The foreign name Georgia, used throughout western Europe, is mistakenly believed to come from the country's patron saint, St. George. Actually it is derived from the words Kurj or Gurj, by which Georgians are known to the Arabs and modern Persians. Another theory purports that the name comes from the Greek word geos (earth), because when the Greeks first came to Georgia they saw its inhabitants working the land. The classical world knew the people of eastern Georgia as Iberians, thus confusing the geographers of antiquity who thought this name applied only to the inhabitants of Spain.
The nation of Georgia was first unified as a kingdom under the Bagrationi dynasty in the 9th to 10th century, arising from a number of predecessor states of ancient Colchis and Iberia. The kingdom of Georgia flourished during the 10th to 12th centuries, and fell to the Mongol invasions of Georgia and Armenia by 1243, and after a brief reunion under George V of Georgia to the Timurid Empire. By 1490, Georgia was fragmented into a number of petty kingdoms and principalities, which throughout the Early Modern period struggled to maintain their autonomy against Safavid and Ottoman domination until Georgia was finally annexed by the Russian Empire in 1801. After a brief bid for independence with the Democratic Republic of Georgia of 1918–1921, Georgia was part of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic from 1922 to 1936, and then formed the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The current Republic of Georgia has been independent since 1991. The first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia stoked Georgian nationalism and vowed to assert Tbilisi's authority over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Gamsakhurdia was deposed in a bloody coup d'e'tat within the year and the country became embroiled in a bitter civil war, which lasted until 1995. Supported by Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia achieved de facto independence from Georgia. The Rose Revolution forced Eduard Shevardnadze to resign in 2003. The new government under Mikheil Saakashvili prevented the secession of a third breakaway republic in the Ajaria Crisis of 2004, but the conflict with Abkhazia and South Ossetia led to the 2008 Russo-Georgian War and tensions with Russia remain unresolved.