Kutaisi (Georgian: ქუთაისი; ancient names: Aea/Aia, Kotais, Kutatisi, Kutaïssi) is Georgia’s second largest city, legislative capital, and the capital of the western region of Imereti. It is 221 km west of Tbilisi.
Kutaisi was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Colchis. Archeological evidence indicates that the city functioned as the capital of the kingdom of Colchis as early as the second millennium BC. Several historians believe that, in Argonautica, a Greek epic poem about Jason and the Argonauts and their journey to Colchis, author Apollonius Rhodius considered Kutaisi their final destination as well as the residence of King Aeëtes. From 978 to 1122 CE, Kutaisi was the capital of the united Kingdom of Georgia, and from the 15th century until 1810, it was the capital of the Imeretian Kingdom. In 1508, the city was captured by Selim I, who was the son of Bayezid II, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
During the seventeenth century, Imeretian kings made many appeals to Russia to help them in their struggle for independence from the Ottomans. All these appeals were ignored as Russia did not want to spoil relations with Turkey. Only in a reign of Catherine the Great in 1768 troops of general Gottlieb Heinrich Totleben were sent to join the forces of King Heraclius II of Georgia, who, with Russia, hoped to reconquer the Ottoman-held southern Georgian lands. Totleben helped King Solomon I of Imereti to recover his capital, Kutaisi, on August 6, 1770.
Finally, the Russian-Turkish wars ended in 1810 with the annexation of the Imeretian Kingdom by the Russian Empire. The city was the capital of the Gubernia of Kutaisi, which included much of west Georgia. In March 1879, the city was the site of a blood- libel trial that attracted attention all over Russia; the ten accused Jews were acquitted.
Kutaisi was a major industrial center before Georgia’s independence in 1991. Independence was followed by the economic collapse of the country, and, as a result, many inhabitants of Kutaisi have had to work abroad. Small-scale trade prevails among the rest of the population.
The city had a massive Soviet war memorial for the Georgians killed in World War II. On December 18, 2009, a private demolition company working for the Georgian government demolished the monument to make room for a parliament building, despite massive protest from Russia and the Georgian opposition. Safety regulations were violated, resulting in flying chunks of concrete hitting civilian population centers. A woman and her daughter were killed in the courtyard of their home, and four other people were critically injured.
In 2011 Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, signed a constitutional amendment relocating the parliament to Kutaisi.
On 26 May 2012, Saakashvili inaugurated the new Parliament building in Kutaisi. This was done in an effort to decentralise power and shift some political control closer to Abkhazia, although it has been criticised as marginalising the legislature, and also for the demolition of a Soviet War Memorial formerly at the new building’s location.