The Treaty of Georgievsk (Russian: Георгиевский трактат, Georgievskiy traktat; Georgian: გეორგიევსკის ტრაქტატი, georgievskis trak'tati) was a bilateral treaty concluded between the Russian Empire and the east Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti on July 24, 1783. The treaty established Georgia as a protectorate of Russia, which guaranteed Georgia's territorial integrity against the threat of Ottoman invasion and the continuation of its reigning Bagrationi dynasty in return for prerogatives in the conduct of Georgian foreign affairs. Georgia abjured any form of dependence on Persia or another power, and every new Georgian monarch would require the confirmation and investiture of the Russian Tsar. Although the treaty was to have permanent validity, Tsar Paul I's manifesto of December 18, 1800, unilaterally declared the annexation of Kartli-Kakheti to Russia, and on September 12, 1801, his successor, Alexander I, formally reaffirmed this determination.
Russia's failure to protect Kartli-Kakhetivery soon after the signing of the treaty, and its later annexation of the kingdom, suggest that the treaty may have benefited one side more than another; it created a dependent state between the mother land and the Muslim empire in the South. Some subsequent events in relations between Russia and a now independent Georgia have their roots in this period of history. The way in which the Soviet Union established puppet regimes throughout the Eastern bloc could also be seen as an adaptation of this strategy. The Treaty may, on the one hand, be seen as a relic of history of interest only in understanding events of the early nineteenth century. On the other hand, by reading more recent events through the lens of this treaty, history may shed some light on contemporary contexts. The reasons why one nation claims part of another, or why people in one nation want independence or union with another, often lie in how relations in that region were conducted in the past.
Under articles I, II, IV, VI, and VII of the treaty’s terms, Russia’s empress became the official and sole suzerain of Kartli-Kakheti’s rulers, guaranteeing the Georgians’ internal sovereignty and territorial integrity, and promising to "regard their enemies as Her enemies." The main purpose of the treaty was to create a buffer zone between Russia and the Ottoman Empire; "Georgia was seen as a useful buffer on the edge of the Muslim south." Each of the Georgian kingdom’s tsars would henceforth be obliged to swear allegiance to Russia’s emperors, to support Russia in war, and to have no diplomatic communications with other nations without Russia’s prior consent. Effectively, the king was the Russia's governor-general.
Given Georgia’s history of invasions from the south, an alliance with Russia may have been seen as the only way to discourage or resist Persian and Ottoman aggression, while also establishing a link to Western Europe. In the past, Georgia’s kings had not only accepted formal domination by Turkish and Persian emperors, but had occasionally converted to Islam and sojourned at their capitals. Thus it was neither a break with Georgian tradition nor a unique capitulation of independence for Kartli-Kakheti to trade vassalage for peace with a powerful neighbor. However, in the treaty’s preamble and article VIII, the bond of Orthodox Christianity between Georgians and Russians was acknowledged, and Georgia’s primate, the Catholicos, became Russia’s eighth, permanent archbishop and a member of Russia’s Holy Synod.
Other treaty provisions included mutual guarantees of an open border between the two realms for travelers, emigrants, and merchants (articles 10, 11), while Russia undertook to refrain from intervening, militarily or civilly, with Kartli-Kakheti’s internal affairs or taxing authority (article VI). Article III created an investiture ceremony whereby the Georgian kings, upon swearing fealty to Russia’s emperors, would receive in return such tokens of respect as a sword, scepter, and ermine mantle.
The treaty was negotiated on behalf of Russia by Lieutenant-General Pavel Potemkin, commander of Russia’s troops in Astrakhan, a delegate and cousin of General Prince Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin, who was the official Russian plenipotentiary. Kartli-Kakheti’s official delegation consisted of a Kartlian and a Kakhetian, both of high rank: Ioané (Bagrationi)—batonishvili (1755-1800), the eighteenth "Mukhranbatoni" (Prince of Mukhrani, referred to in the Russian version of the treaty as "Prince Ivan Konstantinovich Bagration"), Constable of the Left-Hand Army and son-in-law of the Georgian king, and Adjutant-General Garsevan Chavchavadze, Governor of Kazakhi (also known as Prince Garsevan Revazovich Chavchavadze, member of a Kakhetian princely family of the third rank, vassals of the Abashidze princes). These emissaries officially signed the treaty at the fortress of Georgievsk in the North Caucasus on July 24, 1783. It was then formally ratified by the Georgian King Erekle II and Empress Catherine the Great in 1784.
The results of the Treaty of Georgievsk proved disappointing for the Georgians. King Erekle’s adherence to it prompted Persia’s new ruler, Agha Mohammad Khan, to invade. Russia did nothing to help the Georgians in a 1785 attack or during the disastrous Battle of Krtsanisi in 1795, which left Tbilisi sacked and Georgia ravaged (including the west Georgian kingdom of Imereti, ruled by Erekle II’s grandson, King Solomon II). Belatedly, Catherine declared war on Persia and sent an army to Transcaucasia. But her death shortly thereafter put an end to Russia’s Persian Expedition of 1796, as her successor, Paul, turned to other strategic objectives. Persia’s Shahanshah next contemplated the removal of the Christian population from eastern Georgia and eastern Armenia, launching the campaign from Karabagh. His goal was frustrated not by Russian resistance, but by a Persian assassin in 1797.
On January 14, 1798, King Erekle II was succeeded on the throne by his eldest son, George XII (1746-1800) who, on February 22, 1799, recognized his own eldest son, Tsarevich David (Davit Bagrationi-batonishvili), 1767-1819, as official heir apparent. Pursuant to article VI of the treaty, Emperor Paul confirmed David’s claim to reign as the next king on April 18, 1799. But strife broke out among King George’s many sons and those of his late father over the throne, Erekle II having changed the succession order at the behest of his third wife, Queen Darejan, to favor the accession of younger brothers of future kings over their own sons. The resulting dynastic upheaval prompted King George to secretly invite Paul I to invade Kartli-Kakheti, subdue the Bagratid princes, and govern the kingdom from St. Petersburg, on the condition that George and his descendants be allowed to continue to reign nominally—in effect, offering to mediatize (to more or less annex a smaller state) the Bagratid dynasty under the Romanov emperors.
Paul tentatively accepted this offer, but before negotiations could be finalized, changed his mind and issued a decree on January 18, 1801, unilaterally annexing Kartli-Kakheti to Russia and deposing the Bagratids. This placed him in open contravention of the 1783 treaty’s provision stipulating, in article XII, that changes in the status quo could be effected only by mutual consent. But Paul himself died shortly thereafter. It is said that his successor, Emperor Alexander I, considered retracting the annexation in favor of a Bagratid heir, but being unable to identify one likely to retain the crown, on September 12, 1801, Alexander proceeded to confirm annexation. Meanwhile, King George had died on December 28, 1800, before learning that he had lost his throne. By the following April, Russian troops took control of the country’s administration and in February 1803, Tsarevich David Bagrationi was escorted by Russian troops from Tbilisi to St. Petersburg. He was pensioned, joined the Russian Senate, and retained his royal style until May 6, 1833, when he was demoted from "tsarevich" (the Russian equivalent of batonishvili) to "prince" (Knyaz), along with other members of the deposed dynasty, following an abortive uprising in Georgia led by David’s uncle, Prince Alexandre Bagrationi.
Paul’s annexation of east Georgia and exile of the Bagratids remains controversial: Russian communists would later maintain that the treaty was an act of "brotherhood of the Russian and Georgian peoples" that justified annexation to protect Georgia both from its historical foreign persecutors and its "decadent" native dynasty. But there is no doubt that the Russian emperor was bound, according to article VI sections 2 and 3 of the Georgievsk treaty, "to preserve His Serene Highness Tsar Irakli Teimurazovich and the Heirs and descendants of his House, uninterrupted on the Throne of the Kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti … forbidding [the Emperor’s] Military and Civil Authorities from intervention in any [domestic laws or orders]."
Ironically, that clause of the treaty would also be recalled during obscure late twentieth century debates about restoration of the Russian monarchy. In 1948, Vladimir Kirilovich Romanov, (1917-1992), exiled claimant to Russia’s throne, married Princess Leonida Georgievna Bagration-Moukhranskaya, (born 1914), a direct descendant of the Mukhranbatoni who negotiated the 1783 treaty, and thus a member of the once royal House of Bagrationi. The marriage produced an only child, Maria Vladimirovna (born 1956), who has taken up her father’s claim as Russia’s de jure monarch. She and her son, George (by Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia), have pretended to the Romanovs’ old grand ducal title. Her supporters argue that her father’s marriage to Leonida, alone among those contracted by Romanov males in exile since 1917, complied with the Romanov house law that required marriage to a princess of a "royal or ruling family" in order for descendants to claim the throne. Upon extinction of all male dynasts, female Romanovs born of dynastic mothers became eligible to inherit the crown. Based on this rationale, Maria purports to have the strongest legal claim to the Russian throne in the unlikely event that Russia ever restores its monarchy.
Critics deny that Princess Leonida could be reckoned of royal rank by Romanov standards (the title of prince was one of nobility, not dynasty in Russia, except in the imperial family). They point out that the Bagration-Mukhranskys were demoted from dynastic status and incorporated into Russia’s ordinary nobility by 1833-though the princess descended from a dynasty that had ruled as kings in Armenia and Georgia since the early Middle Ages, it had been reduced to the status of Russian nobility for over a century prior to the Russian Revolution—The Grand Duke's marriage to Princess Leonida is controversial; some consider it to be morganatic (though the princess descended from a dynasty that had ruled as kings in Armenia and Georgia since the early Middle Ages, it had been reduced to the status of Russian nobility for over a century prior to the Russian Revolution—Leonida's branch had not been regnant in the male line as Kings of Georgia since 1505. Members of the family accepted court appointments under Russia's emperors incompatible with claims to dynastic dignity. Moreover, when an imperial Romanov princess wed Prince Constantine Bagration-Mukhransky in 1911, the marriage was officially deemed non-dynastic. by Nicholas II, and the bride, Tatiana Konstantinova Romanova, was obliged to renounce her succession rights. These facts are admitted, but it is counter-argued that the demotion of the Bagratids, including the Mukhrani branch, violated the Treaty of Georgievsk and therefore failed to legally deprive any Bagrationi of royal rank. That fact, it is claimed, distinguishes Leonida from princesses of other sovereign families who married Romanovs. Nonetheless, it was the agnatic seniority of the Mukhranbatoni’s descent from Georgia’s former kings—later disproved as senior members of the family were living in Georgia at the time, rather than the broken treaty, that Vladimir Kirilovich cited in a 1946 decree recognizing the Bagration-Mukhranskys as dynastic for marital purposes, probably so as to avoid contradicting the old Russian Empire’s irredentist policy toward Georgia.
The language of article VI guaranteed the Georgian throne not only to King Erekle II and his direct issue, but also embraced "the Heirs and descendants of his House." On the other hand, article IX offered to extend no more than "the same privileges and advantages granted to the Russian nobility" to Georgia’s nobles. Yet first on the list of families submitted to Russia to enjoy noble (not royal) status was that of the Mukhranbatoni. That list included twenty-one other princely families and a larger number of untitled nobles, most of whom were enrolled in Russia’s nobility during the nineteenth century. The claims made on Maria's behalf have long embittered the large group of Romanov descendants who belong to the Romanoff Family Association. Many of them descend from noble Russian princesses, some of whom were also of "dynastic" origin, but cannot claim that a Treaty of Georgievsk has "preserved" their "royalty."
The Russian Empire annexed the Western kingdom of Georgia, after a battle, in 1810. Subsequent wars with the Ottomans in the South resulted in the expansion of its Georgian province. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire after World War I, Georgia declared independence. Between 1918 and 1920, the country was protected by the British who intervened due to conflict in the Armenian South which affected their interests in the Crimean. In 1921, the Soviet Red Army took over Georgia and incorporated it within the Soviet-system of so-called autonomous republics. A revolt was brutally suppressed in 1924. A nationalist movement of dissidents developed momentum in the 1960s.
In 1983, the Soviet authorities pompously celebrated a 200-year anniversary of the Treaty of Georgievsk, leading to the protests of anti-Soviet Georgian dissidents for whom the treaty represented the basis of Russia's hegemony. Russia sees the treaty as evidence that Georgia wants to be within its sphere or zone of control. Georgia’s leading underground Samizdat (this term refers to secret underground, anti-Soviet literature copies and distributed illegally) publication Sakartvelo (საქართველო) dedicated a special issue to the event, emphasizing Imperial Russia’s disregard of the key agreements in the treaty. Underground political groups disseminated leaflets calling the Georgians to boycott the celebrations, and "at least ten" young Georgian activists were arrested by the Soviet police.
Georgia's independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union, achieved April 9, 1991, has led to an uneasy relationship with the Russian Federation, which still regards certain areas in the east, where many Georgians have Russian citizenship, as properly part of Russia. Two provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have separatist movements (or movements to join Russia) and in August 2008, Russian troops moved into this region.
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