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Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Regions and territories: Ajaria

Map of Ajaria

A mountainous semi-autonomous region of Georgia, Ajaria is situated on the Black Sea coast on Georgia's southwestern border with Turkey.

Its narrow band of coastal lowland has a lush sub-tropical climate while high in the mountains there can be snow for six months of the year.

Overview

The port in the capital, Batumi, is used for the shipment of oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Its oil refinery handles Caspian oil from Azerbaijan which arrives by pipeline to Supsa port and is transported from there to Batumi by rail.

Batumi is also an important gateway for the shipment of goods heading into Georgia, Azerbaijan and landlocked Armenia. The Ajarian capital is a centre for shipbuilding and manufacturing. Ajaria has good land for growing tea, citrus fruits and tobacco.

History

The people of Ajaria are overwhelmingly Georgians. Under Ottoman rule from the 17th until the 19th century Islam predominated. The word Ajarian came to mean a Georgian Muslim.

2004: Ajarian forces stop Abashidze supporters from confronting supporters of Georgian president
Tensions erupt on the internal border between Georgia and Ajaria

In 1878 Ajaria was annexed by Russia and, following the Bolshevik revolution, incorporated into Georgia as an autonomous republic within the USSR. Under Stalin, Islam, like Christianity, was ruthlessly repressed. Nowadays over 60% of the population are Georgian Orthodox Christians, and about 30% continue to profess Islam.

Unlike the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Ajaria has been spared major violence and ethnic unrest since Georgia became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The region was led between 1991 and May 2004 by Aslan Abashidze, who maintained close ties with Moscow. Election results gave him at least 90% of the vote every time and he ruled in an autocratic style.

Aslan Abashidze ousted

Aslan Abashidze
Former Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze stepped down and fled

After Eduard Shevardnadze was overthrown as Georgian president and the results of the November 2003 Georgian parliamentary elections were annulled, a state of emergency was declared in Ajaria. Its leadership refused to recognise the full authority of Mikhail Saakashvili as Georgian president.

In May 2004, Mr Abashidze claimed that Georgian forces were preparing to invade. His own forces blew up bridges connecting the region with the rest of Georgia. Mr Saakashvili ordered the Ajarian leader to comply with the Georgian constitution and start disarming or face removal.

Large numbers of demonstrators took to the streets of Batumi. In an echo of events in Tbilisi the previous autumn, Mr Abashidze resigned. Levan Varshalomidze, a close ally of President Saakashvili, took over as head of government.

Russia then agreed to close its military base at Batumi in 2007. The base was a source of great tension between Moscow and Georgia.

As a sign of Ajaria's reconnection with the central Georgian government the Constitutional Court was moved from Tbilisi to Batumi the same year.

Facts

  • Territory: Ajaria
  • Status: Autonomous region within Georgia
  • Population: 400,000
  • Capital: Batumi
  • Major languages: Georgian, Russian
  • Major religions: Christianity, Islam
  • Natural resources: Citrus fruit, tobacco, tea
  • Industry: Oil refining, shipping, manufacturing, wine-making

Leaders

When former autocratic leader Aslan Abashidze left the country following a showdown with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, his post was abolished.

In subsequent elections to the Ajarian assembly Mr Saakashvili's party won 28 of the 30 seats. Their campaign promises included working to improve living standards and stamp out corruption. There were allegations of vote-rigging from Mr Saakashvili's former allies, the Republican Party, after they won less than 15 per cent of the vote.

Legislation passed by the Georgian parliament after the elections gives the assembly powers over local affairs. It states that the head of the region's government is nominated by the Georgian president, who also has powers to dissolve the assembly and government and to overrule the local authorities in the event of contravention of the Georgian constitution.

Since 2004 an ally of President Saakashvili, Levan Varshalomidze, has been chairman of the regional council of ministers.

Media

The Ajarian authorities operate TV and radio networks in the region.

Television

  • Adjara TV - operated by Ajarian authorities
  • Channel 25 - private

Radio

  • Radio Adjara - operated by Ajarian authorities


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Compiled by BBC Monitoring

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