Far off on the easternmost shores of the Black Sea, Georgia is often described as a crossroads between cultures and continents – a junction between Asia and Europe that can’t be confined to one place. Ambiguous or not, one question persists: is Georgia a part of Europe? Well, it depends. Geographically speaking, Georgia is largely framed by the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains, which some consider the natural boundary between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. However, other interpretations place the entirety of the Caucasus region: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, in Europe. Throughout its lengthy history though, Georgia has favored the latter, considering itself European, despite the “is” or “is nots” of its geographic intersection.


In the 4th century, Cappadocia-native Saint Nino made the perilous journey from Jerusalem to Georgia’s ancient capital city of Mtskheta to spread Christian gospel. She succeeded, and Georgia became the second nation–only after neighboring Armenia–to adopt Christianity. Today Christianity is still a huge part of Georgian identity and culture in both secular and deeply religious contexts. Despite countless invasions and conquests by Ottomans, Persians, Mongols and others throughout its history, Christianity has remained a foundation of Georgian heritage–a key characteristic of the nation’s European identity. While Christianity is far from being an exclusively European faith, and Europe is not at all exclusively Christian, there’s no doubt that Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have both played huge roles in the cultural shaping of the continent. 


Long before the arrival of Christianity, Georgia was a leading lady in two Greek Myths: Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece and Prometheus’ exile. Legend goes that Jason and his band of Argonauts rowed from Greece to western Georgia (then the Colchis Kingdom) in search of the famed Golden Fleece. After gifting humans with the knowledge to create fire, Prometheus was chained to a mountain–likely Mount Elbrus or Mount Kazbek–where he was sentenced to an eternity of torture. 


However, Georgia’s European heritage lies not only in its cultural practices, but in its archeology. Just a smidge under 100 kilometers from Tbilisi, in a valley where the Mashavera and Phinesauri rivers converge, is Dmanisi, a teeny little village with enormous history. While researching medieval cellars in the area, archeologists discovered a series of bones that dated back 1.8 million years, placing the first ever humans outside of Africa in Georgia; they are often known as “the First Europeans.” This discovery has put Dmanisi and Georgia as a whole at the forefront of the earliest migrations, making it one of the world’s most important Paleolithic sites, and the most ancient in all of Eurasia.


Despite what some may think, this is not a recent “western” idea. Georgia has been trying to make strides for a progressive future since its split from the Soviet Union. In 1999, Zurab Zhvania, the then speaker of the Georgian Parliament, and later Prime Minister, boldly stated “I am Georgian and, therefore, I am European.” during a speech on Georgia’s accession to the Council of Europe. This phrase was uttered just a handful of years after Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union–a regime it lived under for 70 years. 


Georgia’s long history of Russian occupation has rendered it untouchable in many senses. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Georgia was under the Russian Empire from 1801 through to 1918, enjoying just a few brief years of independence before the Bolsheviks arrived in 1921.


To this day, Russia has managed to keep a firm grip on Georgian politics, which ultimately led to the squash in EU candidacy. Despite all this however, Georgians proudly prevail in their desire to be recognized not just internally, but externally, as the European nation that it is. It’s true that there are strides to be made in governmental prevention of media-freedom, human rights, “de-oligarchisation” et al. But over the years, demonstrations on Rustaveli Avenue have shown that the vast majority of Georgians recognize, embrace and proactively fight for these values. And this is something about Georgia that some might say is inherently European–to fight, tooth and nail, for human dignity, democracy, and freedom, whatever the cost.