აჭარლები, Ačarlebi
  Distribution of the Adjaran dialect
Regions with significant populations
Georgia (mainly Adjara), Turkey
Adjaran dialect of Georgian language, Turkish language (minority)[1]
Sunni Islam
Georgian Orthodox Church[2]
Related ethnic groups
Gurians, Lazs, Imerkhevians and other Georgians

The Adjarians (Georgian: აჭარლები, romanized: ach'arlebi)[a], also known as Muslim Georgians,[b][4] are an ethnographic group of Georgians indigenous to Adjara in south-western Georgia. Adjarian settlements are also found in the Georgian provinces of Guria, Kvemo Kartli, and Kakheti, as well as in several areas of neighbouring Turkey.

Adjarians converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule of Adjara. Under the 1921 Treaty of Kars, Adjara was granted autonomy, to protect its Muslim faith. Despite their conversion to Islam, Adjarians have kept the Georgian language (with their own dialect) and traditions.[5] Still, their self-identification is ambiguous as their Islamic background is at odds with the Orthodox faith of their Georgian peers.[4] In the 1926 census, Ajars were categorized as a distinct ethnic group. In the 1939 census, they were included in the same category as Georgians.[6] Since Georgian independence, most Adjarians consider themselves Georgians,[7][2] but some Georgians have seen Muslim Adjarians as second-class "Turkified" Georgians.[8][9][6][10][11]


Main article: History of Adjara

Adjarian men's clothing

Although the Ottoman millet system allowed its subjects extensive self-governance and religious freedom, many Adjarians chose to convert to Islam during the 200 years of Ottoman presence in the 16th and 17th centuries.[12][13] This conversion marked a differentiation from the Georgian cultural identity, which strongly identifies as Orthodox Christian.[14][15]

During the 1853–1856 Crimean War and the 1877–1878 Russo-Turkish War, many Adjarians fought on the side of the Turks.[16] The Ottomans were forced to cede Adjara to the expanding Russian Empire in 1878 under the Treaty of Berlin.[17] Russian authorities initially promoted emigration and many Adjarians moved to the Ottoman Empire.[18] However, Russian authorities then tried to win the loyalty of Adjarians by building mosques and madrassas.[18] As a result, many muhacir came back to Adjara.[18]

Achara joined the territory of Soviet Georgia under the 1921 Treaty of Kars, between the Ottoman Empire and the USSR. The treaty required that Achara would have "administrative autonomy and the right to develop its own culture, its own religion, and its own agrarian regime" to protect the Acharan Muslim identity.[14][15] At the time, Adjarians identified with their Turkish neighbors and fellow Muslims rather than with Georgians.[14] However, the Soviet atheist ideology dampened religious practice in the region, thus diminishing the Adjarian legitimation for autonomy within the Soviet system. In the 1920s, the Achars rebelled against the Soviet anti-Islamic activities and collectivization reforms.[14] Still, over time Adjarians began to identify more with the Georgians, whose language they spoke.[14]

The Georgian population of Adjara had been generally known as Muslim Georgians until the 1926 Soviet census listed them as Adjarians, separate from the rest of Georgians, counting 71,426 of them.[19] In subsequent censuses (1939–1989), they were listed with other Georgians, as no official Soviet census asked about religion.

In 1989, during an anti-Soviet demonstration in Batumi, Zviad Gamsakhurdia said to thousands of Adjarians: "Dear Adjarians, you are also Georgians!" According to some commentators, by using "also", Gamsakhurdia excluded Adjarians from the state building process.[20][21] Others considered that there was nothing unusual about this statement.[22] According to his Foreign Minister, Giorgi Khoshtaria, Gamsakhurdia saw Adjarians as Christian Georgians polluted by years of Ottoman rule.[23] During the first free parliamentary elections, Gamsakhurdia's coalition (Round Table – Free Georgia) won a landslide victory with 54% of the vote. However, in the Ajara region, the coalition only received 24% of the votes, because of Gamsakhurdia's public statements against the region's autonomy.[24][25]

There was a resurgence of the Adjarian religious identity during the dissolution of the USSR.[3] Islamic religious practice became the cultural norm, madrassas reopened and the call to prayer sounded from mosques.[3] Adjarians protested in Batumi in 1991, after Gamsakhurdia announced the end of Adjara's autonomy.[23] Local leader Abashidze leveraged the ongoing Islamic revival to advance his political goals.[3] He organized Muslim rallies in Batumi in 1992, demanding political, economic, and cultural autonomy for the Ajar region.[3][23] Taking advantage of the turmoil caused by the wars with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he unilaterally took power without formal agreement and started to withhold tax revenue and capture Adjara's considerable wealth.[3][26] The Head Mufti of Achara, Haji Mahmud Kamashidze, supported Abashidze in his power struggle against Gamsakhurdia's government.[27] However, after Abashidze reached his goals, he stopped using the Muslim movement and gradually erased Adjara's cultural characteristics:[3][28] He built churches, promoted conversion to Christianity and asserted that Adjara was not separatist.[3][28]

Ajarians, like Ossetians and Abkhazians, benefit from a special regime to claim Russian citizenship with an expedited application process, perceived as Russian interference by Georgia.[29]


In the sixteenth century, the majority of Adjara's population was Christian. By the end of the eighteenth century, all Adjarians were Muslim.[16] After Adjara was ceded to the Russian Empire in 1878 under the Treaty of Berlin, Adjarians, who were Muslims, were allowed to leave for Turkey.[17] This was followed by an influx of Christians from Kakheti, resulting in a change of the religious landscape.[17]

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Georgian independence accelerated the Christianization of some Adjarians, especially among the young, under the government of Zviad Gamsakhurdia.[30][31][32][33] However, many Adjarians, particularly around Khulo, remain Sunni Muslim.[34] According to Ghia Nodia, as of 2006, most Adjarians are Muslims but consider themselves ethnic Georgians.[2] According to the 2014 census Muslims make up 94.6% of the population in Khulo Municipality, 74.4% in Shuakhevi Municipality, 62.1% in Keda Municipality and 56.3% in Khelvachauri Municipality. In Batumi and Kobuleti Municipality Muslims make up a minority with 25.4% and 28.8%.[35]

Censuses in independent Georgia do not include an "Adjarian" category, nor do they distinguish between ethnic Georgian Muslims and other Muslims, such as Azerbaijanis.[36]


Adjarians speak Adjarian, a Georgian dialect related to the one spoken in the neighbouring northern province of Guria, but with a number of Turkish loanwords. Adjarian also possesses many features in common with the Zan languages (Mingrelian and Laz), which are sisters to Georgian and are included in the Kartvelian language group.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Also spelled Adjars, Adjarans, Achars, Acharans, Acharians, Ajars, Ajarians, Adzhars, etc.
  2. ^ However, many Adjarians have converted to Christianity since the fall of the Soviet Union.[3]


  1. ^ Balci, Bayram; Motika, Raoul (2007). "Islam in post-Soviet Georgia1". Central Asian Survey. 26 (3): 335–353. doi:10.1080/02634930701702399. ISSN 0263-4937. Indeed, the Turkish language has not disappeared from remote rural or mountainous areas of Adjaria, where the elders still speak it fluently.
  2. ^ a b c Nodia, Ghia; Scholtbach, Álvaro Pinto (2006). The Political Landscape of Georgia: Political Parties: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects (PDF). Eburon Uitgeverij B.V. p. 10. ISBN 978-90-5972-113-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h George 2009, p. 121.
  4. ^ a b George 2009, p. 23.
  5. ^ Khazanov, Anatoly Michailovich (1995). "People with Nowhere To Go: The Plight of the Meskhetian Turks". After the USSR: Ethnicity, Nationalism and Politics in the Commonwealth of Independent States. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-299-14894-2.
  6. ^ a b Toft, Monica Duffy (2003). The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory (PDF). Princeton University Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-691-12383-7.
  7. ^ George 2009, p. 183.
  8. ^ "Ajarians |". Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  9. ^ de Waal, Thomas (2019). The Caucasus: An Introduction (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-19-068311-5.
  10. ^ "Toward Inclusion: Understanding the Path to Unity in Georgia". Civil Georgia. 11 October 2023. Retrieved 26 January 2024. Among ethnic Georgians, nationalist narratives dating back to the Soviet period highlight fears that minority groups could lay claims over Georgian territory. These fears were substantiated and entrenched by the traumatic experiences of the 1990s. A more fundamentalist narrative portrays minorities as guests or second-class citizens on Georgian territory, which should be subordinated to "true" Georgian national identity (Kartveloba). Against this backdrop, some minorities have perceived integration efforts as assimilation threats to their legitimate ethnic identities.
  11. ^ Zviadadze, Sophie (January 2018). "The Unbearable Lightness of Being Muslim and Georgian: Religious Transformation and Questions of Identity among Adjara's Muslim Georgians". Region: Regional Studies of Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. 7 (1): 36.
  12. ^ George 2009, pp. 99–100.
  13. ^ Bennigsen, Alexandre; Wimbush, S. Enders (1986). Muslims of the Soviet Empire: A Guide. Indiana University Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-253-33958-4.
  14. ^ a b c d e George 2009, p. 105.
  15. ^ a b George 2009, p. 100.
  16. ^ a b Sanikidze 2018, p. 249.
  17. ^ a b c Hoch & Kopeček 2011, p. 7.
  18. ^ a b c Sanikidze 2018, p. 250.
  19. ^ Lorimer, Frank (1946). "The Population of the Soviet Union: History and Prospects" (PDF).
  20. ^ "Peripheral affects: shame, publics, and performance on the margins of the Republic of Georgia". Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  21. ^ Masalkini, Giorgi (2020). Polyethnicity and Polyreligiousness of Georgia – Threat or an Advantage to Treasure (PDF). ISBN 978-9941-490-02-6.
  22. ^ Khalvashi, Tamta; Batiashvili, Nutsa (March 2009). "Can a Muslim be Georgian". International Conference on Central Eurasian Studies: Past, Present and Future.
  23. ^ a b c George 2009, p. 122.
  24. ^ Wheatley, Jonathan. Georgia from National Awakening to Rose Revolution : Delayed Transition in the Former Soviet Union. Post-Soviet Politics 290704146. Aldershot [etc.]: Ashgate, 2005: 229
  25. ^ Jessica Preston (7 October 2016). "Pig Heads and Petty Hooliganism National Identity and Religious Freedom in the Republic of Georgia". The Journal of International Relations, Peace Studies, and Development. 2 (1). ISSN 2429-2133.
  26. ^ George 2009, p. 123.
  27. ^ George 2009, p. 175.
  28. ^ a b George 2009, pp. 122–123.
  29. ^ German, Tracey C.; Bloch, Benjamin (2006). "The South Ossetia Conflict: Collision of Georgian and Russian Interests". Politique étrangère. Printemps (1): 51–64. doi:10.3917/pe.061.0051. ISSN 0032-342X.
  30. ^ Kahraman, Alter (2021). "Azeris and Muslim Ajarians in Georgia: The Swing between Tolerance and Alienation". Nationalities Papers. 49 (2): 308–325. doi:10.1017/nps.2020.7. ISSN 0090-5992. S2CID 225548999.
  31. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Refworld | World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Georgia : Ajarians". Refworld. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  32. ^ "Ajarians". Minority Rights Group. 19 June 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  33. ^ George Sanikidze and Edward W. Walker (2004), Islam and Islamic Practices in Georgia. Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. University of California, Berkeley Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.
  34. ^ Sanikidze 2018, p. 255.
  35. ^ "Religious composition of Georgia 2014". Retrieved 29 March 2024.
  36. ^ George 2009, pp. 101–102.