Identification. The Ajarians, a historical-ethnographic group within the Georgian nationality, are the major inhabitants of Ajaría (in Georgian, Ach'ara), one of the oldest provinces of Georgia. As is true of the other regions of Georgia—Kartli, K'akheti, Pshavi, Khevsureti, Rach'a, Imereti, Guria, Samtskhe, etc.—which throughout history have found themselves in a variety of socioeconomic and political conditions, Ajaria has managed to preserve the Georgian language and other characteristic elements of Georgian national culture.
Location. Ajaria (until recently the Ajarían Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, or ASSR) is a province of 2,900 square kilometers, located along the Black Sea coast in the southwestern part of Georgia. To the north Ajaria borders the province of Guria (Ozurgeti and Chokhat'auri regions) ; to the east is Samtskhe (Adigeni region). Both of these areas are significant ethnographic regions of southwest Georgia. The southern border of Ajaria follows the international frontier between Turkey and Georgia. Within the borders of Turkey is a part of the historical territory of Georgia, which it lost at the time of the expansion of the Near Eastern powers. Until then the population inhabiting the basins of the Kïzïl-Irmak, Ch'orokh, Araxes, Kura (Mt'k'vari) and upper Euphrates rivers consisted primarily of ethnic groups of Georgian origin. Among them were the Laz, a West Georgian tribe that had split off from the Colchians and who preserved features in their material and social-domestic culture stemming from their deep internal relation with ancient Georgian civilization. The evidence for this includes the numerous architectural monuments found on Turkish territory, including pre-Christian and Christian shrines (sanctuaries, churches, monasteries); ruins of castles, fortresses, and bridges; and specimens of Georgian epigraphy. The topography of Ajaria is characterized by a predominantly mountainous terrain. In the lowland parts of Ajaria the climate is damp and subtropical, and in the higher elevations subalpine or alpine. A variety of soil types, fauna, and flora are found in Ajaria, generally varying according to elevation.
Demography. According to the most recent figures (1989), the population of Ajaria numbers 392,432 persons, out of a total of 5,484,000 for Georgia as a whole. Alongside 324,813 Georgians live representatives of at least eighteen nationalities: Russians (30,042); Armenians (15,849); Greeks (7,396); Ukrainians (5,943); Abkhazians (1,636); Azerbaijanis (1077); Jews (655); and others. Most of these minority groups live in the largest city, Batumi, but some—for example, Abkhazians and Greeks—engage in the cultivation of subtropical crops in the area surrounding Batumi (Khelvachaur and Kobuleti regions).
Linguistic Affiliation. The Ajarians speak a Georgian dialect of the Southwestern Group. It resembles the Gurian dialect of Georgian, but it also shares many features with the Zan language (Mingrelian and Laz).