George Machabeli

Biographical Sketch – George Matchabeli, a Georgian nobleman, diplomat and an American perfumer

George Matchabeli was a Georgian nobleman, diplomat and an American perfumer. He was born in Tbilisi in July 1885 and is a descendant of the princely family of Machabeli, from the Tskhinvali area, currently known as the South Ossetian province of Georgia, today occupied by the Russian army. He studied in the Tbilisi College of Nobles and later in the Royal Academy at Berlin, where he was interested in mining engineering.  He was one of the founding members of the Committee of Independent Georgia organized in Berlin in 1914. The Committee intended to garner German support for Georgia’s struggle for independence from the Russian Empire.

In 1917 Matchabeli married Italian Norina Gilli who had become famous for her George Machabeli 2portrayal of the Madonna in Max Reinhardt’s unique 1911 pantomime spectacle play The Miracle. He briefly served as the Georgian ambassador to Italy until the establishment of Soviet rule in Georgia in 1921.  He and his wife then moved to the United States. Mr. Matchabeli wanted American citizenship, but wasn’t willing to relinquish the glamour of his title as Prince, so he petitioned for the right to use the title as his first name. So from 1934 onward, he was Mr. Prince Matchabeli. The prince was an amateur chemist who began creating perfumes for his friends and family as a hobby.  In 1924 he and his wife, now known as Princess Norina Matchabeli, established the Prince Matchabeli Perfume Company.  Norina designed the crown shaped perfume vial in the likeness of the Matchabeli crown.  His first employees were all fellow exiled aristocrats. One Georgian writer of the time remembered them as the most courteous staff in the United States and the prince himself was a perfect spokesman for his product. He had a reputation for exquisite manners and refined appearance, ideal for selling perfume to American women. In 1928, Matchabeli’s perfumes were awarded the Grand Prix with gold medal at the expositions in Paris and Liege for their quality and originality.

George Matchabeli was one of the founders of the Georgian Association in the United States and served as President of the association from 1932 until his passing in 1935.  He died in his home in New York and was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens.

CEEC with Madelene Albright

Meeting with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

The Georgian Association participated in a meeting on June 21 of the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who is advising presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on foreign policy.  The CEEC reiterated its mission of coordinating mutual concerns of the member countries regarding United States policy toward Central and East Europe.  Among the topics discussed were the concern about the future of Russian aggression especially in the Ukraine, and continued occupation of territory in Georgia.  Sanctions imposed on Russia have not impacted Putin’s behavior in the region, and how the United States deals with the aggression will send a strong signal throughout Europe.  Also discussed were Brexit should it occur, refugee migration, visa waivers, and the need to strengthen NATO.  Secretary Albright welcomed the CEEC’s concerns and suggested a follow-up meeting in late summer.

Shota Rustaveli 1

Shota Rustaveli and the Knight in the Tiger’s Skin* Part 1 of 2

         Just before the beginning of World War Il, Georgia solemnly celebrated the 750th anniversary of the appearance of the famous poem of the great Georgian poet, Shotha Rustaveli   “The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin.” Today in 2016, this poem, known to all Georgians, celebrates well over 800 years of existence and remains as beloved as ever. Who was Shota Rustaveli and what about this medieval epic poem called a masterpiece of Georgian literature makes it so relevant today?

         Looking back, as the poem was celebrating its 750th birthday, during a meeting of the Association of Georgian Writers held in the capital city of Georgia, Tbilissi, a Mr. Ingorokva, Professor of Literature at the State University of Tbilissi and one of the best qualified commentators on Rustaveli at the time, spoke about the poem and its author. In the prologue to his lecture he said: “Centuries separate us from the time of Rustaveli, but his immortal poem continues to stand as the magnificent work of an accomplished genius, and its influence remains as powerful as ever. The era during which Rustaveli lived and created was the era when Georgia reached the height of her political power and cultural development. It is impossible to understand Rustaveli’s great work without a deep knowledge of the magnificent, original culture of Georgia of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. And, in reality, where did the universal philosophy and the humanism with which the poem is impregnated come from? The answer, of course, is that the great cultural movement known as the Renaissance began in Georgia centuries before it came to Western Europe.”

       Professor Ingorokva was quite right. Rustaveli wrote a poem, which, like a mirror reflected the culture of Georgia of his day. The poem is first of all the expression, unique in form and style, of the great ideas of humanism on which as based the political and intellectual life of medieval Georgia.

         Who was Rustaveli? He was one of many great nobleman who surrounded the resplendent court of Queen Thamar the Great, who reigned in Georgia from 1184 to 1213. The Lord of Rustavi in Southwest Georgia, he took the name of Rustaveli which in Georgian means “one who comes from Rustavi.” There is not the slightest doubt that he was the man who wrote the “Knight in the Tiger Skin.” In the concluding lines of his poem the author says:

“..I sign my name,

A Meskhi from Rustavi.”

“Meskhi” in Georgian means a man from Meskheti, the province of Georgia where Rustavi is situated.

         When did Rustaveli live and when was his poem written? To these questions as well, the poem itself gives the answer. In the prologue, the author dedicates his poem to Queen Thamar and speaks of her as his contemporary. Now, the only Queen Thamar known to Georgian history is precisely the famous Thamar the Great, who became queen in 1184 when her father, George Ill, abdicated in her favor. This and other historical facts prove that Rustaveli lived in the second half of the 12th century and the first half of the 13th, the golden Age of the Kingdom of Georgia. His poem was likely written between the years 1184 and 1207. The exact date is not known and neither are the dates of his birth and death.

       After receiving a good education in Georgia, Rustaveli went to Athens (the Paris of his time) and completed his education there. He spoke several languages, he traveled extensively in Asia and Europe, he knew thoroughly the cultures, the arts, and the literature of all the civilized countries of his age. His poem is full of quotations from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers, poets, and writers of classical Greece and Iran.

      It can be seen that Rustaveli was well prepared to play a part in the service of his country. He received an appointment as Great Chamberlain (some sources say Chief Treasurer) to Queen Thamar the Great. The tragedy of his life begins from this moment. The queen was beautiful and Rustaveli fell desperately in love with her. All his genius is given to the task of singing her beauty, her charm, and her virtue.

“Let us sing to the great Queen Thamar, says the poet.

“1 dedicate to her my chosen odes, Odes written with tears and blood. I sing of the one of whom I have always sung.

She is all my life, even though she has no more mercy for me, than a rock.

I sing her glory in the lines which follow. ‘ ‘

Thus the poet ends the prologue to his poem.

     What was his further fate? We have nothing authentic to go by, but Shota Rustaveli Jvari Monasterylegend says that the poet abandoned public life, became a monk, and spent the rest of his days in one of the Georgian monasteries in Jerusalem (formerly the Georgian Monastery of the Holy Cross, the church now belongs to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem). It was there that his tomb was discovered centuries later, along with a fresco and a simple inscription “Shotha Rustaveli”. His Wikipedia Biography notes that the fresco and accompanying inscription in Georgian were defaced in 2004. But the fresco was subsequently restored.

*the poem is also referred to as “The Knight in the Panthe’s or Leopard’s Skin”.  This articledraws largely from an article written by Simon Kvitashvili and printed in the publication “The Voice of Free Georgia, vol 5, April, 1954.

VOA GEO

The Georgian Association Congratulates the Georgian Service of the Voice of America on its 65th anniversary

The Georgian Service celebrated its 65thanniversary on May 26, 2016 at VOA headquarters in Washington DC.  Several dignitaries were in attendance including Georgia’s ambassador to the United States, Archil Gegeshidze, the Honorable Kenneth Yalowitz, former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, and the Honorable Kurt Volker, Executive Director, the McCain Institute for International Leadership and former U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO.  The current U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly delivered a message by video.  Anna Kalandadze, Chief of the Georgian Service moderated the event.  The Georgian Association has been an active supporter of the Georgian Service–indeed several Board members’ fathers worked for the service for many years. And, the first director of the Service, Irakli Orbeliani, was a founding member of the Georgian Association.  Congratulations to the Georgian Service on its over six decades of fulfilling its mission of providing objective and timely news to the people of Georgia.