Mingrelians - Orientation

Identification. Mingrelia (Samargalo) is situated in the western half of the Georgian Republic in the former USSR. It comprises seven administrative districts ( raions ): Abasha, Senak'i (renamed Tskhak'aia by the Soviets), Khobi, Ts'alenjikha, Chkhorots'q'u, Mart'vili (formerly Gegech'k'ori), and Zugdidi. The region is ethnically homogeneous except for significant Russian minorities in the towns of Poti, Zugdidi, and Senak'i. Mingrelians also make up large numbers in the Gali and Ochamchire regions in the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic, which is part of Georgia. The Gali region is considered by many Mingrelians to be part of Mingrelia.

Location. Mingrelia is bound on the north by Abkhazia and by the mountainous region of Svaneti. To the east and the south are the Georgian provinces of Imereti and Guria, and to the west, the Black Sea. Of the total land area of 4,339.2 square kilometers, approximately 1,260 is lowland river valley and rolling hills and the remainder foothill and mountain zones mainly in the northeast (Ts'alenjikha, Chkhorots'q'u, and Mart'vili regions). The former swampland of the coast and the Rioni River valley contain rich soils that support a variety of crops including silk, citrus fruits, and tobacco. The lowlands have a subtropical climate with temperatures ranging from averages of 4°-5° C in December to 23°-24° C in July. Winters last no longer than a month. The mountain regions are cooler, especially in the winter months (-6° to -2° C on average in January). The annual rainfall in Mingrelia is between 150 and 230 centimeters.

Demography. The population of Mingrelia in 1939 was officially 323,811. With the addition of Mingrelians living in Abkhazia and elsewhere in Georgia, one author estimates this number was closer to 500,000 in 1941. In 1979 the official population figure for Mingrelia was 405,500, which is almost 10 percent of the total Georgian population. One hundred and forty-five thousand, or 32 percent, lived in five towns and five large settlements ( dabebi ) , the rest in about 370 villages. In the 1926 census, in which Mingrelians were listed separately, 242,990 identified themselves as Mingrelian and 284,834 claimed Mingrelian as their first language. There have been no official reassessments of these figures since then.

Linguistic Affiliation. Mingrelian is a Kartvelian (South Caucasian) language, not mutually intelligible with Georgian. Most former Soviet and some Western experts recognize Mingrelian as belonging, along with Laz, to a separate division within the South Caucasian Family of languages, known as Megrelo-Ch'an or Zan. The Soviet Georgian scholar A. Chikobava discerned two closely related Mingrelian dialects: the western Samurzaq'an-Zugdidian and the eastern Senakian. Mingrelian is not a written language, and although Mingrelians generally speak it at home, they have adopted Georgian (Kartuli) as their literary language. There are no Mingrelian language schools, books, or newspapers, although there were periodic attempts at establishing Mingrelian as a literary language in the late czarist and early Soviet periods. In the pre-Soviet period, Mingrelian was one of the best-described South Caucasian languages, and today studies of Mingrelian folklore are extensive. Georgian remains the language of business and government. The number of Mingrelian speakers is declining, and most Mingrelian speakers positively identify themselves as "Georgian" (Kartveli).

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