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Interesting features of Georgian American history

     In the Georgian Association’s run up to the 100 year anniversary of Georgia’s Independence, we will spotlight interesting features of Georgian American history. Today’s piece provides a snapshot of the Georgian diaspora in the U.S.

     The first Georgian diaspora organization in the United States was Kartuli Sazogadoeba (the Georgian Society) founded in San Francisco, California in 1924.  In 1930, the Caucasian Society “Alaverdi” was formed to unite different Caucasian groups, and in the 1950s it ran a children’s summer camp.  In 1931, the Kartuli sazogadoeba Amerikis sheertebul shtatebshi (the Georgian Association in the United States, or Georgian Association), which was more exclusively Georgian, was founded by, among others, Prince George Machabeli, Siko Eristavi, Paul Kvaratskhelia and Irakli Orbeliani. The Georgian Association remains fully operational today and is the only nationwide Georgian diaspora group in the US.

   In the 1950s, many of the new Georgian emigrants became enthusiastic supporters of US anti-communist policies.  More politicized than their predecessors, they formed a number of leagues and parties: the Kartuli-Amerikuli liga (Georgian-American League), the Kartuli erovnuli kavshiri (Georgian National Union) and Sakartvelos damoukideblobis Amerikuli sabcho (American Council for Independent Georgia).  The Georgian-American League published a newspaper, the Voice of Free Georgia, from 1953-58. The Voice’s Board of Directors included a number of familiar Georgian names such as Tsomaia, Chatara, Tchenkeli, Dumbadze among others. The Bulletin was widely distributed to members of Congress as part of a broader anti-Soviet information campaign. The American Council for Independent Georgia published Chveni Gza (Our Path).  Many Georgians patriots living in the U.S. Included members of the GA, provided many of the details and significant information that led to the 1954 release by the House Select Committee on Communist Aggression of the document, “Communist Takeover and Occupation of Georgia”. http://georgica.tsu.edu.ge/files/06-History/Soviet%20Era/US%20Congress-1954.pdf

    Between 1955-75, the broader and less politicized community was served by the newspaper Kartuli Azri (Georgian Opinion).  Starting in 1951, Georgians were awarded their own radio section on the Voice of America (recently celebrating its 65th year of operation) which still functions today with a small staff of dedicated Georgian journalists and broadcasters.  A biography of Petre Kvedelidze, a former VOA correspondent, is posted on our website.

    Until the 1980s, the Georgian Association ran a cultural center known as the Georgian House. As noted earlier, the Georgian Association is the oldest diaspora organization In the U.S. representing the interests of the Georgian American community and its friends of which there is a growing number including former U.S. diplomats and development workers who served in Georgia, American businessmen, former Peace Corps volunteers and private citizens. . With over 1500 and growing number of Facebook friends, the organization has renewed its charitable, educational and cultural activities in the United States, focusing also on greater awareness about Georgia among American politicians, members of Congress, expert communities etc.   The Association organizes annual celebrations including for Georgian Independence Day (May 26th — it marks the Declaration of Independence of the first Georgian Republic of 1918-21). The Association also promotes and educates the public about different Congressional resolutions including House Resolutions like H.Res.660 in 2016 “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives to support the territorial integrity of Georgia”. It is also an active member of the Central and East European Coalition of Diasporas. Several other Georgian organizations have been created since 1991 to help Georgian society through a period of extraordinary economic deprivation and chaos.  One example is the American Friends of Georgia created in 1994 and based in Massachusetts. The American Friends of Georgia is a humanitarian organization that funds a number of programs in Georgia that fight tuberculosis, supports orphanages, distributes food packages for the poor and books for libraries.  Other important Georgian-American non-profit and cultural organizations include the America-Georgian Business Council which since 1998 promotes U.S. investment to and trade with Georgia), Tvistomi in New York (humanitarian community organization), the US-Georgian Friendship Association in San-Diego. The highly acclaimed Synetic Theater in Arlington, Virginia and the New York-based Dancing Crane Company represent efforts to showcase Georgian theatre and dance.  And finally, given the growing number of Americans of Georgian Orthodox ancestry, beginning in 2011, multiple Georgian orthodox parishes began to emerge in different states including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Illinois and California.

Petre at his 95th birthday party at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Petre Kvedelidze, Georgian-American Patriot

Petre Kvedelidze tirelessly promoted the rich culture of his homeland from the time he arrived in America in 1956 until his passing in 2014 at the age of 95.   He wanted Americans to learn and appreciate the history and nationalism of the Georgian people.  He took a special interest in helping new Georgian immigrants assimilate into the United States, and shared with them his values and how they should keep their Georgian identity alive.  He also encouraged them to embrace and serve the United States, to respect its values, and embrace future immigrants, as he had embraced them.  He was once referred to as the heart and soul of the Georgian diaspora in Washington.

Petre’s strong nationalism was influenced early in his life. A few months before his birth in Tbilisi in 1918, the Russian Empire, which had ruled Georgia for over a century, had fallen, making way for a free Georgia.  This freedom lasted less than three years when in early 1921, the newly formed Soviet Union invaded, and ultimately defeated Georgian resistance. The democratic government fled, and a communist government, sympathetic to Moscow was installed, followed by full integration into the Soviet Union in 1924. These events influenced Petre’s life, values, and character.  The Kvedelidze family was vehemently anti-communist, anti-Russian, and had a very strong love of Georgia. These views were instilled in Petre, and would shape him for life.

He was called to the Red Army in 1939 for his military service and first served in a regiment of Georgian recruits.  He was assigned as an interpreter with Russian-speaking officers, and was sent to Ukraine and Bessarabia. A few days after the declaration of the German-Russian war in June 1941, his detachment was captured by the Romanian army and handed over to the German army. He was placed in a prisoner-of-war camp in Romania, where he would stay for the next nine months.

He enlisted in the German army as did many of the Georgians captured by the Germans because they wanted to free their homeland from the Soviets, and not because they believed in the German cause. While fighting in the German army, Petre was badly injured. He was evacuated first to occupied Warsaw, and then to Munich for rehabilitation. After the German surrender in May 1945, the US Army offered the Georgians a choice to return to Russia or go to France.  Most of the Georgians chose not to return to Russia for fear of reprisals, so Petre and other Georgians went to France which today has a large Georgian community.

Once in France, Petre saw similarities to the Russian-backed communist aggression against Georgia to the communist aggression against France’s colonies in Southeast Asia. Petre enlisted in the French Foreign Legion where there were already some Georgian officers. He was deployed to Africa, and after a few months was sent to Southeast Asia to fight against anti-French communist factions. During this war, Petre suffered his second major combat injury, which required rehabilitation for nearly three years.

After his rehabilitation in France, Petre decided to immigrate to America which he viewed as having the best political system in the world.  He came to America in 1956, became a US citizen in 1963, and joined the Georgian desk of the Voice of America in 1967 where he served as a sports correspondent.  He later worked in a broader role at VOA, translating English news into Georgian for radio broadcasts, eventually becoming an on-air correspondent covering American culture and politics until his retirement in 1985.  In his retirement years he continued to meet with his numerous Georgian and American friends, often at his favorite kabob restaurant in Arlington.

In the last few years of his life, Petre took a special interest in visiting soldiers from the Georgian army who were undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  The soldiers were recovering from serious wounds suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan while supporting American and other Coalition military forces. He celebrated his 95th birthday at the center with them.  Petre was proud that a small country was making such a sacrifice of their young men.  Additional information about Georgia’s support to the U.S military is described in a separate posting on this website.

Upon his passing, his body was flown to Tbilisi, and laid to rest with a traditional Georgian Orthodox funeral attended by approximately 150 people at the prominent Didubis Panteoni. Some of the soldiers that met Petre at Walter Reed had already returned to Georgia and were in attendance.  His wish to return to Georgia and be buried there was fulfilled. Petre will be remembered for his kindness, hospitality, dignity, refined manners, and most of all for his love of Georgia and its people.

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Statement of the Georgian Association in the USA, Addressed to the Incoming US Administration

Established in 1932, the Georgian Association in the USA, Inc. is the oldest non-partisan nationwide organization in the USA representing Georgian-Americans and the friends of Georgia.

The Georgian Association welcomes the incoming new administration in the United States and calls on President-elect Trump and Vice-President elect Pence to express their strong support for Georgia, and by doing so, to demonstrate the US government’s continuing support for freedom and democracy around the world. The Georgian Association calls on the incoming administration to take an active position in supporting Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, to help strengthen Georgia’s security and to deepen economic and business ties.

A strong Georgia is in the interest of the United States. That is why Georgia has enjoyed strong US support under both Republican and Democratic administrations, which have consistently defended international law and condemned aggressive violations of national sovereignty.

Georgia remains a loyal and fully capable ally of the United States; it has contributed to global security, and has been an active participant in every military campaign conducted by the US since 2003, providing significant and unconditional support.  This has been achieved at the cost of Georgian soldiers’ lives.

– Georgia is a reliable and strategic transit country for the US military, for the global energy markets, and for Asia-Europe trade.

– Georgia is a vital ally to the West in a changing geopolitical environment, which includes an aggressive and revisionist Russia, a disintegrating Europe, and a volatile Turkey within an unstable Middle East.

– Georgia is a regional leader in political, economic and social reforms, a country that has defeated petty corruption, and which continues to build on policies of political and economic reform.

Georgia has achieved all these successes despite the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region (South Ossetia), and continued Russian intimidation.

Georgia is a consistent and reliable ally of the United States.  We strongly believe that the United States should continue supporting a country that has proved its loyalty, both through its participation in NATO and through its steadfast defense of US interests in the region.

Alex Tugushi

Georgia’s contribution to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan

Georgians should be proud of the many contributions and tremendous sacrifices made in Afghanistan as part of the international war on terror.  Georgian troops arrived in Afghanistan in 2004. Georgia became the largest non-NATO and the largest per capita troop contributor to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan by late 2012.  At its peak deployment, Georgia provided two full infantry battalions serving with United States forces in Helmand province, primarily a United States Marine Corps (USMC) area.  Since the beginning of their mission, more than 11,000 Georgian soldiers have served in Afghanistan.  In June 2016, Georgia still had 861 troops, the largest non-NATO contributor to the Resolute Support Mission follow-on to ISAF, second only to the United States.

While the Georgian combat mission in Helmand ended in July 2014, Georgia pledged troops to the new NATO-led non-combat, training, advisory, and assistance mission called “Resolute Support” launched in January, 2015.  At various times, Georgia has also deployed an infantry company serving with the French contingent in Kabul, medical personnel within the former Lithuanian Provincial Reconstruction Team and some individual staff officers.

Georgia’s commitment to supporting international forces has come at a price.  Since 2010, 31 Georgian servicemen have died, all in the Helmand campaign, and over 400 wounded, including 35 amputees.  Many of the amputees received medical treatment in the United States, mostly at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, MD.  Some soldiers with severe burns and traumatic brain injuries were treated at other specialized military medical centers.  The amputees included single, double, and triple loss of limbs.  At WRNMMC, they received excellent care including state-of-the-art prosthetics and rehabilitation.  Some of the wounded warriors had their families residing with them during their stay in Bethesda, and two of the amputee families gave birth to children who will have dual citizenship.

Alex Tugushi

Gen. John M. Paxton, Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, left, thanks LTC Alex Tugushi, a battalion commander with the Georgia forces stationed with the Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan and wounded warrior, right, for his attendance and sacrifice during a promotion and appointment ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2012.

During their rehabilitation, some lasting several years, the soldiers were often visited by Georgians living in the Washington, D.C. area, as well as Americans who learned of their sacrifices.  At the recommendation of the Georgian Embassy, the Wounded Warrior Mentor Program (WWMP) started an English as a Second Language program to help the wounded soldiers benefit from their time in the lengthy treatment and healing involved in amputations.  The WWMP, with a dedicated group of volunteers and six Georgian wounded with their relatives who act as Non-Medical Assistants (NMA) and two Georgian medical personnel, met weekly at Bethesda to study English as a second language, and also to socialize, watch sports and share food; Georgian food of course.

One of the most severely wounded was LTC Alex Tugushi, a highly decorated battalion commander of the Georgian forces.  LTC Tugushi, served two eight month tours in Iraq, and two in Afghanistan, the second cut short by his wounds from a roadside bomb. While recuperating at WRNMMC he was visited by many USMC officers and President Barack Obama.  LTC Tugushi has since been promoted to full Colonel and lives in Georgia. By 2015, all the soldiers at WRNMMC had returned to Georgia to regain their lives with family and friends.

United States Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta visited the Georgian 31st Battalion in March 2012.   “I wanted to come here and thank you for your sacrifices,” the secretary said.  The secretary read a letter he said Tugushi had given him for the battalion. Dated March 12, the letter read, in part: “It has been an honor to serve with you. You are Georgian heroes. … The Armed Forces of Georgia, serving together with international forces in Afghanistan, are making a large contribution……”  “It is a great honor to serve shoulder to shoulder with the United States in one of the most troubled regions of Afghanistan,” the letter continued.

“Unfortunately, I could not complete my service with you. But I am proud of all of you — those who have fallen and those who continue to serve. You are all heroes who will go down in Georgian history.”

When the secretary finished reading Tugushi’s letter, he said it expressed his own feelings about the accomplishments of Georgian troops over the past eight years as part of the 50-nation coalition.

“You are an example of that international partnership, fighting for stability in Afghanistan,” Panetta said.

Georgia, a small country that more than lived up to its commitment to the international community has yet to be accorded a Membership Action Plan which would pave the way for Georgia to become a member of NATO.

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.

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.

Savchenko

The Georgian Association welcomes the release of Nadiya Savchenko on May 25

The Georgian Association welcomes the release on May 25 of Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot imprisoned by Russia for nearly two years. She was falsely accused of responsibility for the death of two Russian journalists in the war between Russia and the Ukraine.   The GA stood with the people of Ukraine and the European Union in denouncing Moscow’s disregard for human rights and the harsh and unwarranted prison sentence imposed on Savchenko.  The GA will continue to be a voice for former Soviet bloc countries in their quest for freedom and rights under international law.