Thursday, January 15, 2009
Formerly the holiday haunt of the privileged elite of the Soviet Union, Georgia is blessed with stunning scenery, a balmy climate and a rich variety of flora and fauna. Enclosed high valleys, wide basins, health spas with famous mineral waters, caves and waterfalls combine in this land of varied landscapes and striking beauty.With its stone houses built around vine-draped courtyards, and winding streets, the capital, Tbilisi, has a lively, Mediterranean atmosphere. Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia in the far northwest of Georgia, was until civil unrest began a relaxed, sunny port/resort, renowned for its beaches fringed with palms and eucalyptus trees, lively open-air cafes and cosmopolitan population. Peace has been restored since the city was involved in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict in the early 1990s, but the city is less ethnically diverse than it once was.Georgia became independent from the Soviet Union after an overwhelming majority voted in favour of independence in a referendum held in April 1991.Apart from the dire state of the Georgian economy, the country's main problems have been the secessionist revolts in the outlying Georgian provinces of Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast (where Gamsakhurdia was located) and South Ossetia in the north.In 1994, after two years of sporadic fighting, South Ossetia was brought back into the fold, but the Abkhazia problem has proved quite intractable. The only existing mediation effort, on the part of the UN, is at a standstill and Abkhazia is now effectively isolated from the rest of Georgia. The government also faces problems in the Pankisi Gorge region, which is reputed to be a haven for Islamic militants.