Batumi is an attractive tourist city on the Black Sea coast of Georgia. Being in very close proximity to the Turkish border, Batumi serves as one of the main ports in Georgia. Its architecture is described by Peter Nasmyth in his book as a 'blend of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Neo-classical, Italian Baroque and all of it mixed with the Caucasian balcony.'
Today the city is experiencing a new wave of construction which started in 2005, soon after the Rose Revolution. Contrary to Peter Nasmyth's description of his 1994 visit to a dark Batumi without electricity and water, today the city is well lit at night, giving it a fresh new look.
Batumi, with a population of 122,000 inhabitants, is the biggest city of the coastal region of Adjara (Autonomous Republic), reconciled with the rest of Georgia in 2004. (Until then, the Georgian central authorities exercised little control over the region). Adjara's story is central to the origins of the Rose Revolution, writes Ghia Nodia in Statehood and Security: Georgia after the Rose Revolution. He explains that Adjara was autonomous for the first time during 1918-1921, the brief period when all of Georgia was independent from Russia. During these three years, Adjara – having been under the Ottoman Empire's control until 1877, when it was ceded to the tsar – was referred to as the Muslim Georgia. (Gotz, p.26).
After Georgian independence in 1991, Adjara demanded autonomy again. Its leader at the time, Aslan Abashidze, wanted to reduce Tbilisi's control over customs duties and the port of Batumi. His rule slowly turned Adjara into 'a one man autocracy without any space for political pluralism' (Nodia, in Statehood and Security, p.55).
'In the November 2003 elections the Adjarian factor (in addition to the general fraud) was one of the major reasons for the crisis, without which the Rose Revolution might have never happened. Abashidze's Revival Party was declared to have received 20 percent of the vote, seemingly forcing Shevardnadze… to form a coalition with it in order to control parliament. This prospect stirred fears that Abashidze's growing influence would lead to the Ajarization of the entire country…'
Saakashvili took a twofold approach to solving the issue of Adjara. He proposed a political solution, allowing Adjara to maintain its autonomous status – albeit redefined – while affirming the presence of the central government. In addition, he exerted economic pressure on the Adjarians – without having to resort to military power.
'In the end, it was the Adjarian people, and not Georgian troops, who took to the streets of Batumi and forced him [Abashidze] to flee.' (Nodia, p.56)
In 2007, Adjara – which covers only a little more than 4% of Georgia's total territory – produced over 80% of all of its citrus fruit. In fact according to 'about Georgia', in 2007 Adjarian households were mainly engaged in growing citrus (35,000 tons on 5,000 ha of land) and maize (320,000 tons on another 5,000 ha of land).
Lush Adjara. Photo: flickr/SusanAstray