Zviad Gamsakhurdia

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On 22 December 1991, armed opposition supporters launched a violent coup d'état and attacked a number of official buildings including the Georgian parliament building, where Gamsakhurdia himself was sheltering. Heavy fighting continued in Tbilisi until 6 January 1992, leaving hundreds dead and the centre of the city heavily damaged. On 6 January, Gamsakhurdia and members of his government escaped through opposition lines and made their way to Azerbaijan where they were denied asylum. Armenia finally hosted Gamsakhurdia for a short period and rejected Georgian demands to extradite Gamsakhurdia back to Georgia. In order not to complicate tense relations with Georgia, Armenian authorities allowed Gamsakhurdia to move to the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, where he was granted asylum by the rebel government of General Dzhokhar Dudayev. [17]

It was later claimed that Russian forces had been involved in the coup against Gamsakhurdia. On 15 December 1992 the Russian newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti printed a letter claiming that the former Vice-Commander of the Transcaucasian Military District, Colonel General Sufian Bepayev, had sent a "subdivision" to assist the armed opposition. If the intervention had not taken place, it was claimed, "Gamsakhurdia supporters would have been guaranteed victory." It was also claimed that Soviet special forces had helped the opposition to attack the state television tower on 28 December.

A Military Council made up of Gamsakhurdia opponents took over the government on an interim basis. One of its first actions was to formally depose Gamsakhurdia as President. It reconstituted itself as a State Council and, without any formal referendum or election, in March 1992 appointed Gamsakhurdia's old rival Eduard Shevardnadze as chairman, who then ruled as de facto president until the formal restoration of the presidency in November 1995.

Gamsakhurdia in exile

After his overthrow, Gamsakhurdia continued to promote himself as the legitimate president of Georgia. He was still recognized as such by some governments and international organizations, although as a matter of pragmatic politics the insurrectionist Military Council was quickly accepted as the governing authority in the country. Gamsakhurdia himself refused to accept his ouster, not least because he had been elected to the post with an overwhelming majority of the popular vote (in conspicuous contrast to the undemocratically appointed Shevardnadze). In November–December 1992, he was invited to Finland (by the Georgia Friendship Group of the Parliament of Finland) and Austria (by the International Society for Human Rights). In both countries, he held press conferences and meetings with parliamentarians and government officials (source: Georgian newspaper Iberia-Spektri, Tbilisi, December 15–21, 1992).

Clashes between pro- and anti-Gamsakhurdia forces continued throughout 1992 and 1993 with Gamsakhurdia supporters taking captive government officials and government forces retaliating with reprisal raids. One of the most serious incidents occurred in Tbilisi on 24 June 1992, when armed Gamsakhurdia supporters seized the state television center. They managed to broadcast a radio message declaring that "The legitimate government has been reinstated. The red junta is nearing its end." However, they were driven out within a few hours by the National Guard. They may have intended to prompt a mass uprising against the Shevardnadze government, but this did not materialize.

Shevardnadze's government imposed a harshly repressive regime throughout Georgia to suppress "Zviadism", with security forces and the pro-government Mkhedrioni militia carrying out widespread arrests and harassment of Gamsakhurdia supporters. Although Georgia's poor human rights record was strongly criticized by the international community, Shevardnadze's personal prestige appears to have convinced them to swallow their doubts and grant the country formal recognition. Government troops moved into Abkhazia in September 1992 in an effort to root out Gamsakhurdia's supporters among the Georgian population of the region, but well-publicized human rights abuses succeeded only in worsening already poor ethnic relations. Later, in September 1993, a full-scale war broke out between Georgian forces and Abkhazian separatists. This ended in a decisive defeat for the government, with government forces and 300,000 Georgians being driven out of Abkhazia and an estimated 10,000 people being killed in the fighting.

1993 civil war

Gamsakhurdia soon took up the apparent opportunity to bring down Shevardnadze. He returned to Georgia on 24 September 1993, a couple of days before the ultimate Fall of Sukhumi, establishing a "government in exile" in the western Georgian city of Zugdidi. He announced that he would continue "the peaceful struggle against an illegal military junta" and concentrated on building an anti-Shevardnadze coalition, drawing on the support of the regions of Samegrelo (Mingrelia) and Abkhazia. He also built up a substantial military force that was able to operate relatively freely in the face of the weak security forces of the state. After initially demanding immediate elections, Gamsakhurdia took advantage of the Georgian army's rout to seize large quantities of weapons abandoned by the retreating governmental forces. A civil war engulfed western Georgia in October 1993 as Gamsakhurdia's forces succeeded in capturing several key towns and transport hubs. Government forces fell back in disarray, leaving few obstacles between Gamsakhurdia's forces and Tbilisi. However, Gamsakhurdia's capture of the economically vital Georgian Black Sea port of Poti threatened the interests of Russia, Armenia (totally landlocked and dependent on Georgia's ports) and Azerbaijan. In an apparent and very controversial quid pro quo, all three countries expressed their support for Shevardnadze's government, which in turn agreed to join the Commonwealth of Independent States. While the support from Armenia and Azerbaijan was purely political, Russia quickly mobilized troops to aid the Georgian government. On 20 October around 2,000 Russian troops moved to protect Georgian railroads and provided logistical support and weapons to the poorly armed government forces. The uprising quickly collapsed and Zugdidi fell on 6 November.

Gamsakhurdia's death

On 31 December 1993, Zviad Gamsakhurdia died in circumstances that are still unclear. It is known that he died in the village of Dzveli Khibula in the Samegrelo region of western Georgia and later was re-buried in the village of Jikhashkari (also in the Samegrelo region). According to British press reports, the body was found with a single bullet wound to the head. A variety of reasons have been given for his death, which is still controversial and remains unresolved. In fact his body was found with 2 bullet wounds to the head.

Years later Avtandil Ioseliani - counter-intelligence head of interim government - admitted that two special units were hunting Zviad on interim government's orders. [18]

In the first days of December 1993 two members of President's personal guard also disappeared without a trace, after being sent on a scout mission. [19] [18] Some remains and ashes, never identified, were found 17 years later. [19]


According to former Deputy Director of Biopreparat Ken Alibek, this laboratory was possibly involved in the design of an undetectable chemical or biological agent to assassinate Gamsakhurdia. [20] BBC News reported that some of Gamsakhurdia's friends believed he committed suicide, "although his widow insists that he was murdered." [21]


Gamsakhurdia's widow later told the Interfax news agency that her husband shot himself on 31 December when he and a group of colleagues found the building where he was sheltering surrounded by forces of the pro-Shevardnadze Mkhedrioni militia. The Russian media reported that his bodyguards heard a muffled shot in the next room and found that Gamsakhurdia had killed himself with a shot to the head from a Stechkin pistol. The Chechen authorities published what they claimed was Gamsakhurdia's suicide note: "Being in clear state of mind, I commit this act in token of protest against the ruling regime in Georgia and because I am deprived of the possibility, acting as the president, to normalize the situation, and to restore law and order"

Died in infighting

Gravestone of President Gamsakhurdia in Tbilisi. Gamsakhurdia grave.jpg
Gravestone of President Gamsakhurdia in Tbilisi.

The Georgian Interior Ministry under Shevardnadze's regime suggested that he had either been deliberately killed by his own supporters, or had died following a quarrel with his former chief commander, Loti Kobalia.

Gamsakhurdia's death was announced by the Georgian government on January 5, 1994. Some refused to believe that Gamsakhurdia had died at all but this question was eventually settled when his body was recovered on 15 February 1994. Zviad Gamsakhurdia's remains were re-buried in the Chechen capital Grozny on 17 February 1994. [22] On 3 March 2007, the newly appointed president of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov announced that Gamsakhurdia's grave – lost in the debris and chaos of a war-ravaged Grozny – had been found in the center of the city. Gamsakhurdia's remains were identified by Russian experts in Rostov-on-Don, and arrived in Georgia on 28 March 2007, for reburial. He was interred alongside other prominent Georgians at the Mtatsminda Pantheon on 1 April 2007. [23] Thousands of people throughout Georgia had arrived in Mtskheta's medieval cathedral to pay tribute to Gamsakhurdia. [24] "We are implementing the decision which was [taken] in 2004 – to bury President Gamsakhurdia on his native soil. This is a fair and absolutely correct decision," President Mikheil Saakashvili told reporters, the Civil Georgia internet news website reported on 31 March.[ citation needed ]

Investigation into death

On 14 December 2018, Constantine and Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, the former president's two sons, announced concerns about the expiration of the statute of limitations set at the end of the same year for a potential investigation into the death of their father, as Georgian law set a 25-year limit for serious crime investigations. They then announced the beginning of a hunger strike.

On 21 December, newly-inaugurated President Salome Zurabishvili formally endorsed the request to expand the statute of limitations, calling Gamsakhurdia's death a “murder”, a move supported by opposition and ruling party members of Parliament. Less than a week later, Parliament approved a bill to expand the statute of limitations for serious crimes from 25 to 30 years after the crime, following Constantine Gamsakhurdia's hospitalization.

On 26 December, following the set-up of a new investigative group under the leadership of General Prosecutor Shalva Tadumadze, Tsotne Gamsakhurdia ended his hunger strike, thus promising a new investigation into his father's death.

Personal life

Gamsakhurdia was married twice. He and his first wife, Dali Lolua, had one son, Konstantine Gamsakhurdia.

Gamsakhurdia's second wife, Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, was the inaugural First Lady of independent Georgia. [25] The couple had two sons, Tsotne and Giorgi. [25]


Gamsakhurdia on a 2019 postage stamp commemorating his would-be 80th birthday Zviad Gamsakhurdia 2019 stamp of Georgia.jpg
Gamsakhurdia on a 2019 postage stamp commemorating his would-be 80th birthday

On 26 January 2004, in a ceremony held at the Kashueti Church of Saint George in Tbilisi, the newly elected President Mikheil Saakashvili officially rehabilitated Gamsakhurdia to resolve the lingering political effects of his overthrow in an effort to "put an end to disunity in our society", as Saakashvili put it. He praised Gamsakhurdia's role as a "great statesman and patriot" and promulgated a decree granting permission for Gamsakhurdia's body to be reburied in the Georgian capital, declaring that the "abandon[ment of] the Georgian president's grave in a war zone ... is a shame and disrespectful of one's own self and disrespectful of one's own nation". He also renamed a major road in Tbilisi after Gamsakhurdia and released 32 Gamsakhurdia supporters imprisoned by Shevardnadze's government in 1993–1994, who were regarded by many Georgians and some international human rights organizations as being political prisoners. In 2013, he was posthumously awarded the title and Order of National Hero of Georgia. [26]

Gamsakhurdia's supporters continue to promote his ideas through a number of public societies. In 1996, a public, cultural and educational non-governmental organization called the Zviad Gamsakhurdia Society in the Netherlands was founded in the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch. It now has members in a number of European countries.

See also

Selected works

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Media articles and references

Zviad Gamsakhurdia
ზვიად გამსახურდია
Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tbilisi, 1988.jpg
1st President of Georgia
In office
14 April 1991 6 January 1992
Political offices
Preceded by
Soviet era
President of Georgia
Succeeded by