Samegrelo (Georgian: სამეგრელო Samegrelo; Mingrelian: სამარგალო Samargalo; Laz: მარგალონა Margalona) is a historic province in the western part of Georgia, formerly also known as Odishi. In English it has also been historically known as Mingrelia, based on the Russian exonym rather than the Georgian endonym.
Administratively, the historic province of Samegrelo is incorporated joined with the northern part of the neighboring mountainous province of Svaneti to form the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region, the capital of which is Samegrelo’s main city, Zugdidi.
As it is the case with most Black Sea coastal areas of Georgia, Samegrelo’s climate is subtropical with frequent rains. The coastal areas have many marshlands despite the Soviet Georgian authorities’ efforts to dry them up. These marshlands contain many rare birds and animals not found in other parts of the country. For this reason, substantial part of the territories is protected by the Georgian law as part of the Colchetian Nature Reserve.
In ancient times Samegrelo was a major part of the kingdom of Colchis (9th-6th centuries BC) and its successor Egrisi (4th century BC-6th century AD). In the 11th-15th centuries, Samegrelo was a part of the united Kingdom of Georgia. From the 16th century to 1857, the independent Principality of Samegrelo was under the rule of the House of Dadiani.
In December 1803, the principality came under the patronage of the Russian Empire by an agreement between the Tsar and the Megrelian Prince Grigol Dadiani. The last adult Prince, David Dadiani, died in 1853, leaving his wife Ekaterine as regent for his young son, Niko. However, in 1867, the principality was abolished and absorbed into the Tsarist Russian Empire. Prince Niko Dadiani officially renounced his rights to the throne in 1868.
From 1918 to 1921, Samegrelo was part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG). In 1921, Georgia was Sovietized and later became part of the Soviet Union, as the Georgian SSR. On April 9, 1991, independence was restored to Georgia, of which Samegrelo is now part.
The first President of the post-Soviet Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was a Megrelian. After the violent coup d’etat of December 21, 1991-January 6, 1992, Samegrelo became the centre of a civil war, which ended with the defeat of Gamsakhurdia’s Megrelian supporters. Even so, this region was unmanageable by the central government throughout the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze (1992–2003). Stability in the region is further deteriorated by the fact that the Georgian refugees from the Abkhazian war zone (who are considered by Georgians as victims of ethnic cleansing) are mostly Megrelians. In 2004, following the Rose Revolution of November 2003, newly elected Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, who vowed to resolve the conflict with the breakaway region of Abkhazeti solely by peaceful means, disarmed groups of Megrelians who tried to fight a guerrilla war against the Abkhazians by incursions from Samegrelo.
Map highlighting the historical region of Samegrelo in Georgia