Situated on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus and in the Lesser Caucasus, Georgia is largely ruggedly mountainous. The Suram Mts. separate the Rion (Rioni) and Kura river valleys. The perpetually snowcapped Mt. Kazbek, the tallest peak within Georgia, rises to 16,541 ft (5,042 m). The climate is humid subtropical in the Black Sea lowland of Mingrelia, alpine in the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, and dry in the Kura steppes in the east. Included in Georgia are Abkhazia, the Adjarian Autonomous Republic (Adjaria), and South Ossetia (see Ossetia); all three have had separatist movements, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia have had de facto independence since the 1990s. In addition to Tbilisi, other important cities are Rustavi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Sukhumi (in Abkhazia), and Poti.
More than 80% of the population are Georgians—a people who speak a language related to the Ibero-Caucasian family of languages. Azeris, Armenians, and Russians are the other major ethnic groups, with Ossetians, Abkhazians, and Adjars in smaller numbers. The Georgian church, to which most of the ethnic Georgians belong, is an independent Orthodox Eastern congregation. About 10% of the people are Muslims. Georgian is the official language. There has been a standard Georgian literary language since about the 5th cent. (see Georgian literature). Russian is also widely spoken.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.