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In 1913 Josef Stalin posed the question, "What is to be done with the Mingrelians, Abkhasians, Adjarians, Svanetians, Lezghians, and so forth, who speak different languages but do not possess a literature of their own?" Of the Ajars, however, who call themselves Ach'areli (plural Ach'arlebi), he more accurately observed, two paragraphs later, that they were a people "who speak the Georgian language but whose culture is Turkish and who profess the religion of Islam."

The Ajarian Autonomous Republic was established on July 16, 1921, as a result of Turkey ceding Batumi to Georgia, along with territory to its north, in accordance with the terms of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of March 16, 1921. Ajaria (capital: Batumi) occupies 2,900 square kilometers in southwestern Georgia and borders the provinces of Guria, Meskheti, and (predominantly Armenian) Dzhavakheti; the Black Sea; and Turkey (Lazistan and the old Georgian region of Shavsheti). The last Soviet census (1989) showed 324,806 Ajar residents, constituting 82.8 percent of the autonomous republic's population. The local dialect suggests both Laz and Turkish influenceIslam was introduced here and in other border regions to the east by the Ottoman Turks. Ajarians share with the Abkhazians, some of whom settled the area in late-tsarist times, a subtropical microclimate with similar agriculture, although Ajaria held first place in the USSR for precipitation, with sea-facing slopes experiencing an annual rainfall of 2,5002,800 millimeters.

When Stalin deported to Central Asia the neighboring Meskhians (usually called "Meskhetian Turks," though their precise ethnicity is disputed), Hemshins (Islamicized Armenians), and other Muslim peoples in the northern Caucasus in 1943 and 1944, the Ajars escaped this fate. The regional leader, Aslan Abashidze, appointed by Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia in the dying years of Soviet rule, managed, in the turmoil that followed Georgia's 1991 independence, to turn Ajaria into a personal fiefdom to the extent that central government writ was (as of January 2002) no longer running in what had by then effectively become an undeclared but de facto independent state.

See also: caucasus; georgia and georgians; islam; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist


Burdett, Anita L. P., ed. (1996). Caucasian Boundaries: Documents and Maps, 18021946. Slough, UK: Archive Editions.

The Golden Fleece (Songs from Abkhazia and Adzharia). (1993). Leiden, Netherlands: Pan Records Ethnic Series.

Stalin, Joseph. (1913). "Marxism and the National Question." In his Marxism and the National and Colonial Question. London: Martin Lawrence.

B. George Hewitt

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