The Georgian Association in collaboration with the Levan Mikeladze Foundation and the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) held a widely attended conference celebrating the Centennial of the Georgian Democratic Republic (1918-21) with the theme of Past, Present and Future of Georgia. The conference was held on May 9, 2018 at CSIS headquarters in Washington DC with opening remarks by Elisabeth Kvitashvili, President of the Georgian Association in the USA, Redjeb Jordania, son of the first president of the Georgian Democratic Republic, Tina Mikeladze, President, Levan Mikeladze Foundation, and Ambassador David Bakradze, Ambassador of Georgia to the United States. Three speaker’s panels included several distinguished guests, including former US ambassadors to Georgia and former Georgian Ambassadors to the US. Featured speakdrs included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bridget Brink, Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister of Georgia, Tedo Japaridze. The conference was attended by representatives from government, academia, and the Georgian community who at the conference, heard about the many challenges faced by Georgia in the last 100 years, but also of the bright future ahead for the country.
Following the conference, a reception included performances by Georgian and American singers who provided a medley of folk songs and chants, as well as national anthems of the Georgian Democratic Republic and of the current independent state. Two special guests of the reception, Ms. Toby Davis from the Department of State and Ms. Danica Starks from the Department of Commerce were recognized for their long-term service and contribution to the strengthening of the US-Georgian strategic partnership and friendship. Two members of the Georgian Association Board of Directors, Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli, and Dr. Stephen Jones, who are stepping down from the board, were recognized for their many years of service.
Just as July 4th marks the date of the birth of the United States of America, May 26th serves as the birth date of the modern state of Georgia. But Georgia as a sovereign entity traces her existence for more than 20 centuries. Over these many centuries Georgians had to fight almost incessantly for the preservation of their national independence, faith and traditions. She was many times invaded by the Mongols, Persians and Turks, among others, and in more recent history lost her sovereignty to a greedy Imperial Russia.
It was in 1783 when the King of Eastern Georgia, Erekle II concluded a treaty with Catherine the Great by which Georgia accepted Russian protection from Persians. In exchange Georgia was to retain her royal dynasty (Bagrationi), Church, institutions, language and complete freedom in internal affairs. In 1801 however, Russia violated the treaty and annexed Eastern Georgia to the Imperial Crown. By 1863, Russia had absorbed all of what is today modern Georgia, including currently occupied Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia. Since then, Georgia was a part of Imperial Russia. Georgians however managed to retain their language, and traditions.
When the Bolshevik Revolution broke out in 1917, Georgians took advantage of the ensuing chaos by declaring her independence on May 26, 1918. It is this centenary which we celebrate this year. The Georgian National Council consisting of members of all Georgian parties solemnly proclaimed the restoration of an independent Georgian state. Her independence was recognized de jure by most of the worlds powers including Soviet Russia who, on May 7, 1920, concluded a treaty with the Georgian Republic.
During the next three years the leaders of the new republic led by Noe Jordania, saw a Constituent Assembly elected (February 1919) based on a direct, equal, universal and proportional electoral representation. The right to vote was given to every citizen of the republic 20 years old and older without discrimination. The Assembly’s principal task was to draft a Constitution which they drew up and had adopted by February 1921. Unfortunately, by this time, the Red Army had begun its invasion of the young Republic striking simultaneously from five directions. Despite the heroic efforts of the Georgian Army led by General Kvinitadze, they were unable to resist the Soviet invasion. On March 16,1921, the Constituent Assembly of Georgia held its last meeting in Batumi and ordered the Government of the republic to leave the country, proceed to Europe and continue the fight for the restoration of independence from there. The Red Army entered Tbilisi on February 25, 1921 and the Soviet Republic of Georgia was proclaimed the same day.
Although Georgia was fighting for her life, no help whatsoever was given to her by the outside world. Although several European countries debated the “Georgian question” nothing came of all the meetings, debates and protests. No one was willing to take on the Russian bear. In 1921, the world had not yet come to realize that the principle of collective security must be defended if mankind is to have real peace. The invasion of a free Georgia was an early example in which Soviet Russia cynically broke an international treaty; they did same to Azerbaijan before Georgia. The Russia of today is no less different. They continue to violate international norms of territorial integrity and human rights. How many times must history repeat itself before the world learns its lesson?
Please join the Georgian Association in the USA on May 9, 2018 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the first Georgian Republic. The Georgian Association, with support from the Levan Mikeladze Foundation, will celebrate this important historic occasion with a day-longconference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), followed by a gala reception. Mr. Redjeb Jordania, the son of the first republic’s President, Noe Jordania, will be joining us for the celebration. Other guests will include US and Georgian government officials, former US ambassadors to Georgia, representatives of academia, think-tanks and private sector, and members of the Georgian-American Community.
Please save the date for this event for which a formal invitation will be sent in Spring 2018.
On behalf of the Board of Directors,
President, Georgian Association in the USA
On May 26, 1918 Georgia reestablished a sovereign state and self-government which had been lost in the wake of the annexation of Georgia in 1801 by the Russian empire. The Democratic Republic of Georgia was recognized in 1918-21 by the Governments of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark. On May 7, 1920, the Republic of Georgia signed a Peace Treaty with the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in which Soviet Russia unquestionably recognized “the freedom and independence of the Government of Georgia” (Article I) and renounced all “interference in the internal affairs of Georgia” (Article II). In February 1921, the Soviet Army invaded Georgia, occupying the capital city of Tbilisi on February 25th. Almost immediately the resistance of the Georgian people to Soviet Russian rule manifested itself in numerous popular insurrections and demonstrations. The constant theme of these events was a demand for self-determination, reestablishment of independence and an end to Soviet Russian occupation and russification of Georgia. Since that time and until Georgia reclaimed her independence in April 1991, Georgians struggled incessantly against Soviet Russian rule. Among key events were the:
- Insurrection of 1924 when Georgian nationalist groups succeeded for a short period in taking over a number of cities from Soviet elements before thousands of nationalists were massacred by the Red Army and the opposition movement took refuge in the Caucasus Mountains from where they continued to attack Soviet forces for many years. A number of the leaders also relocated to Turkey and eventually Europe.
- Uprising of 1956 during Khrushchev’s rule which was crushed with dozens dead or wounded when troops fired indiscriminately on demonstrators especially those gathered at Tbilisi University.
- Demonstration of April 14, 1978 when over 20,000 marched in Tbilisi protesting an attempt, under Brezhnev, to amend the Constitution of the Georgian Soviet Republic and eliminate Georgian as the official language of the republic. Demonstrators took to the streets under the threat of tanks and armored personnel carriers which had surrounded the center of the city. For the first time in Soviet history a popular demonstration was successful in overturning a decision from Moscow and the Georgian language was kept as the official language.
- Numerous demonstrations including mass demonstrations in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and other cities on February 25, 1989 on the 68th anniversary of the occupation of the Republic of Georgia by the Red Army. Over 30,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Kashveti Church in Tbilisi before proceeding to march to Tbilisi University. Along the way, Russian troops attacked the peaceful crowds of demonstrators leaving about 20 people killed and 100 injured. Banned poisonous gas was used by the Russian troops. Leaders of various nationalist groups read a declaration addressed to the UN Secretary General calling for the creation of a UN Commission to recognize Georgia’s occupation by Soviet Russia and place Georgia as a territory under an international trusteeship. A number of leading nationalist leaders including Zviad Gamsakhourdia, Merab Kostava, Gia Tchantouria and Irina Sarichvili were arrested as a result of the many protests in 1988-89.
- These events in 1989 were followed two years later, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, by the Supreme Council of Georgia declaring independence on April 11th after a referendum held on 31 March 1991.
Born November 1, 1919 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Guivy Zaldastani was a Boston businessman who often played the role of diplomat between his adopted country and his native country of Georgia. At 84 he returned to his homeland and lived in Tblilisi to the great age of 87 passing away on October 12, 2007.
When Mr. Zaldastani introduced himself at gatherings, it would often surface during the course of a conversation that he was from Georgia. “Not that Georgia, of course,” he would quickly add in his rich, Eastern European accent, referring to the Southern US state. “I am from the Georgian Republic in the Caucasus. “For Georgian émigrés in Boston, Mr. Zaldastani was the meet-and-greeter who kept his door open to any and all who hailed from his homeland.
Mr. Zaldastani’s family fled Georgia when he was 5, but he returned to the hilly city of Tbilisi on the banks of the Mtkvari River in 2004, living not far from the American Academy he helped found. When his family left Georgia to steer clear of the impact of the communist takeover, they took up residence in Paris, living with other Georgians who left for similar reasons. He fought with French marines in World War II and earned a law degree from the Sorbonne in Paris in 1945.Three years later he moved to the United States, earning a Master’s of business administration from Harvard Business School in 1951. He became a US citizen shortly thereafter.
Mr. Zaldastani worked his way up in the management chain at Filene’s before starting his own chain of stores. As president and chief executive officer of The Finishing Touch, a bed-and-bath retail chain found in malls around Boston, Mr. Zaldastani traveled the world to purchase items to sell. He later branched into real estate, heading up the international division of a Boston-based real estate firm, and did consulting work for his brother’s engineering firm, Zaldastani Associates Inc.
When the Soviet Union started to collapse in the late 1980s, culminating in its dissolution in 1991, “He was over there on the next jet,” said his son, Nicholas of San Francisco. In visits to his homeland, Mr. Zaldastani was eager to have a hand in helping the nation develop and believed education was key. First, he helped several young Georgians to continue their education with scholarships at Harvard Business School. Later, he worked with others to form the American Academy in Tbilisi, a school aimed at helping Georgian students get a solid academic foundation, and then attend US colleges so they could bring back ideas of democratization. Mr. Zaldastani was behind the successful efforts of the Georgian Association in the USA to obtain a grant from the US government to cover costs associated with training for the teachers at the Academy at Harvard and Boston University. The school opened in 2001, and school officials say it has become one of the toughest schools to get into in Georgia. Today the Guivy Zaldastani American Academy in Tbilisi is the top private high school in Georgia, and graduates of the Academy are earning thousands of dollars in scholarships at top US schools every year.