By the year 656, most of the South Caucasus except Lazica –Egrisi, was overrun by the expanding Arabs and became part of the Arab Caliphate that by that time included all of the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe (click on the map to get the full-screen image). In the former Iberia-Kartlia, an Emirate of Tephelis was established with the centre in Tephelis (Tbilisi). That caused mass migrations of Kartvelian-speaking population westwards to Byzantine-controlled Lazica. As a result, several areas of formerly Svan- and Zan-dominated Lazica became Kartvelian-speaking among them Racha, Imereti and Guria (including today’s Achara) However, the Byzantine-Arab wars and partial disintegration of the Caliphate, created pre-conditions for the restoration of some elements of Georgian statehood: between 780 and 810 several principalities, kingdoms and other domains in the former Iberia gained sovereignty by throwing off the Arabs.
KING LEON OF EGRIS-ABKHAZIA
At the very end of the 8th century, Abkhazian Achrontos (Byzantine-appointed Governor) Leon launched an anti-imperial uprising, ousted Byzantine troops from most of Lazica, proclaimed the Kingdom of Egris-Abkhazia and bestowed the title of the King upon himself. As of today, some verbal supporters of Abkhazian separatism mistakenly believe that the Kingdom of Egris-Abkhazia was the first state of the Apsuans. That is wrong due to the fact that by its whole nature, Egris-Abkhazia was a pure example of a Georgian state: the majority of its population were Svans, Zans and Kartvelians (all the three groups were speaking closely related languages and were representing the branches of the furture Georgian nation), the official languages were Kartvelian (Georgian) alongside with Greek, the capital of the Kingdom was Kutaisi that was almost purely Kartvelian city. Two decades later, Egris-Abkhazia also seceded from Byzantine Empire ecclesiastically: Egris-Abkhazian church broke with the Patriarch of Constantinople and went under the Jurisdiction of the Catholicos of Mtskheta (the head of East Georgian Orthodox Christian Church) and switched the language of services from Greek to Georgian (Kartvelian). In fact, that was the creation of a united Georgian church that has been existing since the above events excluding a relatively short period of time between 1810 and 1917.
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