Zviad Gamsakhurdia

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Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia
Zviad Gamsakhurdia
ზვიად გამსახურდია
Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tbilisi, 1988.jpg
Gamsakhurdia in 1989
1st President of Georgia
In office
26 May 1991 6 January 1992
Parent Konstantine Gamsakhurdia (father)
Signature Zviad Gamsakhurdia signature.svg

Zviad Konstantines dze Gamsakhurdia [1] (Georgian :ზვიად კონსტანტინეს ძე გამსახურდია; Russian : Звиа́д Константи́нович Гамсаху́рдия, romanized: Zviad Konstantinovich Gamsakhurdiya; 31 March 1939 – 31 December 1993) was a Georgian politician, human rights activist, [2] dissident, professor of English language studies and American literature at Tbilisi State University, [3] and writer who became the first democratically elected President of Georgia in May 1991. [4]


A prominent exponent of Georgian nationalism and pan-Caucasianism, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was involved in Soviet dissident movement from his youth. His activities attracted attention of authorities in the Soviet Union and Gamsakhurdia was arrested and imprisoned numerous times. Gamsakhurdia co-founded the Georgian Helsinki Group, which sought to bring attention to human rights violations in the Soviet Union.

He organized numerous pro-independence protests in Georgia, one of which in 1989 was suppressed by the Soviet Army, with Gamsakhurdia being arrested. Eventually, a number of underground political organizations united around Zviad Gamsakhurdia and formed the Round Table—Free Georgia coalition, which successfully challenged the ruling Communist Party of Georgia in the 1990 elections. Gamsakhurdia was elected as the President of Georgia in 1991, gaining 87% of votes in the election. Despite popular support, Gamsakhurdia found significant opposition from the urban intelligentsia and former Soviet nomenklatura, as well as from his own ranks. In early 1992 Gamsakhurdia was overthrown by warlords Tengiz Kitovani, Jaba Ioseliani and Tengiz Sigua, two of which were formerly allied with Gamsakhurdia. Gamsakhurdia was forced to flee to Chechnya, where he was greeted by Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev. His supporters continued to fight the post-coup government of Eduard Shevardnadze. In September 1993, Gamsakhurdia returned to Georgia and tried to regain power. Despite initial success, the rebellion was eventually crushed by government forces with the help of the Russian military. Gamsakhurdia was forced into hiding in Samegrelo, a Zviadist stronghold. He was found dead in early 1994 in controversial circumstances. His death remains uninvestigated to this day.

After the civil war ended, the government continued to suppress Gamsakhurdia's supporters, even with brutal tactics. After Eduard Shevardnadze was overthrown during the 2003 Rose Revolution, Gamsakhurdia was rehabilitated by the President Mikheil Saakashvili. He has been named as a 3rd "Greatest Georgian" by a TV programme "100 Greatest Georgians" launched by First Channel of Georgia.


Early life and education

Zviad Gamsakhurdia was born in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on 31 March 1939; [4] his father, Academician Konstantine Gamsakhurdia (1893–1975), was a prominent Georgian writer during the 20th century. [5] He was a devout adherent of the Georgian Orthodox Church his entire life. [6]

In 1955, Zviad Gamsakhurdia established a youth underground group. In 1956, he was arrested due to his dissemination of writings critical of communism that exposed Soviet human rights violations. [4] during demonstrations in Tbilisi against the Soviet policy of de-stalinization. He was arrested again in 1958 for distributing anti-communist literature and was confined to a mental hospital in Tbilisi. [7]

After his release, he continued studying western languages and literature at Tbilisi State University, eventually graduating with a degree in philology and becoming a lecturer (1963–1977) and professor (1981–1990) of English language and American literature at Tbilisi State University. [4] [7]

Human rights activism

In mid 1974 he co-founded a Human Rights Defense Group in Tbilisi; [8] in 1977 he co-founded and became chairman of the Georgian Helsinki Group. [9] He was also active in the underground network of samizdat publishers, contributing to a wide variety of underground political periodicals. Although he was frequently harassed and occasionally arrested for his dissidence, for a long time Gamsakhurdia avoided serious punishment, probably as a result of his family's prestige and political connections. [7]

In 1977 the activities of the Helsinki Groups in the Soviet Union became an embarrassment to the government of Leonid Brezhnev.[ how? ] This started a nationwide crackdown on human rights activists across the Soviet Union; members of the Helsinki Groups, including Gamsakhurdia and fellow dissident Merab Kostava, were arrested in April 1977. [10] Their imprisonment attracted international attention and in 1978 Gamsakhurdia was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He was eventually released in 1979. [4] [11]

In an open letter to Shevardnadze, dated 19 April 1992, Gamsakhurdia claimed that "my so-called confession was necessitated ... [because] if there had been no 'confession' and my release from the prison in 1979 had not taken place, then there would not have been a rise of the national movement." [12] [ better source needed ]

Pro-independence movement

Leaders of Georgian independence movement in late 80s, Zviad Gamsakhurdia (left) and Merab Kostava (right) Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Merab Kostava, Tbilisi, 1988.jpg
Leaders of Georgian independence movement in late 80s, Zviad Gamsakhurdia (left) and Merab Kostava (right)

When the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev initiated his policy of glasnost, Gamsakhurdia played a key role in organizing mass pro-independence rallies held in Georgia between 1987 and 1990, in which he was joined by Merab Kostava on the latter's release in 1987. In 1988, Gamsakhurdia became one of the founders of the Society of Saint Ilia the Righteous (SSIR), a combination of a religious society and a political party which became the basis for his own political movement. [13] The following year, the brutal suppression by Soviet forces of a large peaceful demonstration held in Tbilisi on 4–9 April 1989 proved to be a pivotal event in discrediting the continuation of Soviet rule over the country. [14]

The central Soviet government responded by the significant changes in the Georgia's leadership, replacing its heads Jumber Patiashvili and Zurab Chkheidze. The new leadership chose a more conciliatory approach towards the opposition. The opposition leaders arrested during the 9 April tragedy, including Zviad Gamsakhurdia, were released from prison and given a greater role in the decision-making. In recognition of his enormous popularity, Gamsakhurdia was brought into negotiations with the new Soviet Georgian leader Givi Gumbaridze over impeding legislation in the Georgia's Supreme Soviet. It passed a number of measures demanded by the opposition, paving path towards the independence. Gamsakhurdia's Round Table organization soon gained support in almost all Georgian institutions and Gamsakhurdia played a prominent role in their decisions to break their ties with the Kremlin. In February 1990, the Georgian sports association announced that it was breaking off the Soviet championships, holding its own championships with a goal of sending its team to international competitions. The ceremonies inaugurating the independent Georgian games began with Gamsakhurdia's opening remarks. The Georgian trade union organization broke off all-Union trade union organization, while the republican Komsomol declared independence from the Communist Party and all-Union Komsomol, later dissolving itself, being replaced by the new youth groups. [15]

Head of Georgia

Rise to power

The progress of democratic reforms was accelerated and led to Georgia's first democratic multiparty elections, held on 28 October 1990. Gamsakhurdia's SSIR party and the Georgian Helsinki Union joined with other opposition groups to head a reformist coalition called "Round Table — Free Georgia" ("Mrgvali Magida — Tavisupali Sakartvelo"). The coalition won a convincing victory, with 64% of the vote, as compared with the Georgian Communist Party's 29.6%. [16] On 14 November 1990, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected by an overwhelming majority as chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia, which made him de facto head of Georgia, albeit not a sovereign country yet. [17]

Georgia held a referendum on restoring its pre-Soviet independence on 31 March 1991 in which 98.9% of those who voted declared in its favour. The Georgian parliament passed a declaration of independence on 9 April 1991, in effect restoring the 1918–1921 Georgian Sovereign state. [18] However, it was not recognized by the Soviet Union and although a number of foreign powers granted early recognition, universal recognition did not come until the following year. Gamsakhurdia was elected president in the election of 26 May with 86.5% per cent of the vote on a turnout of over 83%. [19]


According to Stephen F. Jones, a historian and specialist on Russian and Eurasian studies, Gamsakhurdia promoted the concept of pan-Caucasian unity, "Caucasian House". [20] Gamsakhurdia favored regional cooperation between peoples of the Caucasus and considered concepts such as a common economic zone, a "Caucasian Forum" (a regional United Nations) and an alliance against foreign interference. [20] [21] "Caucasian House" was based on the idea of shared Ibero-Caucasian languages and common tribal and cultural identity among autochthonous Caucasian nations, such as Chechens, Circassians, Abkhazians and Georgians. An allegiance between Gamsakhurdia and Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev was seen as pivotal to its success. [20] However, Gamsakhurdia was soon overthrown after taking office, so the "realisation of the idea of Caucasianness and the Caucasian House has never gone beyond the declaratory level or imaginative projects...". [21]

In his election program, Gamsakhurdia argued for gradual privatization and transition from socialist command economy to capitalist market economy. He supported social market economy, a model which would synthetize "free labor and guarantees of social rights, respect for private property and social utility, free entrepreneurship and honest competition". This included support for: wage indexation, consumer protection, social protection of vulnerable groups, unemployment benefits and etc. Gamsakhurdia supported price controls for certain and the most basic products. [22]


Domestic policy

Upon Gamsakhurdia taking office in November 1990, the Georgia’s Supreme Council under his leadership renamed the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic into “Republic of Georgia” and restored the state hymn, flag and seal of the Georgian Democratic Republic. [23] The Supreme Council appointed Tengiz Sigua, a member of an opposition Rustaveli Society, as the chairman of the Georgian Council of Ministers (later renamed into a post of prime minister). [17]

Though state authorities continued to operate under the 1976 Soviet Georgian Constitution, several changes were adopted following independence to create a presidential republic. [24] Gamsakhurdia took steps to create a new military structure independent from the Soviet control. In December 1990, the Georgia’s Supreme Council adopted the law which ended Soviet military draft in Georgia. As a result, only 10 percent of eligible draftees responded to call-up, the lowest percentage among all Soviet republics. Instead, in January 1991 the Georgia’s Supreme Council approved the legislation which created the National Guard of Georgia. [25] The first military parade was held on Independence Day in 1991, with 10,000 soldiers of the National Guard taking their oath of service in front of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia at Boris Paichadze Stadium. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, through the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Anatoly Lukyanov, instructed Gamsakhurdia to ban the creation of the Guard. The official newspaper of the Soviet Army, Krasnaya Zvezda , published an article mocking the National Guard entitled "Mr. Prefects and Mr. Guardsmen". [26]

In August 1991, Georgia created a national bank and the legislature committed Georgia to issue its own currency in the future. In September 1991, the law on privatization was passed after long discussions on how to prevent "party-economic mafia" (a term used by Gamsakhurdia to refer to Communist Party leaders and administrators at various levels who controlled shadow economy of the Soviet Georgia) from becoming the primary beneficiary. On 3 May 1991, Gamsakhurdia issued a decree implementing fixed prices for some basic goods and lifting the national 5-percent sales tax on some food and services. [27]

During the Soviet period, Gamsakhurdia, a major dissident, criticized concessions made by Soviet authorities to ethnic minorities in Georgia. [28] Upon taking office in November 1990, Gamsakhurdia faced the situation of ethnic minorities, making up 30% of the population. [29] Georgians feared that minorities, particularly Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Ossetians, would secede to join their co-ethnics outside of Georgia, which had already happened during Georgia's First Republic in 1918-1921. [30] Anti-Georgian riots in Abkhazia and South Ossetia[ when? ] fueled by local and Russian conservative military elites exacerbated Georgian concerns of fragmentation. [31] In turn, minorities were scared by Gamsakhurdia's statements and policies, such as the repelling of Soviet treaties protecting minority rights. [32] They started forming cultural and political organisations.[ when? ] [lower-alpha 1] [32]

For Gamsakhurdia, the state embodied the Georgian nation, while ethnic and religious minorities, such as Abkhazians, Adjarians, [33] [34] [35] Armenians, Azeris, Greeks, Meskhetians, [36] Muslims, [37] Russians, and Ossetians, were "ungrateful guests", not proper Georgians, or Russia's fifth column, threatening Georgia's territorial integrity and national identity. [38] [39] [40] According to Georgian philosopher George Khutsishvili, the nationalist slogan "Georgia for the Georgians" launched by Gamsakhurdia's followers, part of the Round Table—Free Georgia coalition, "played a decisive role" in "bringing about Bosnia-like inter-ethnic violence." [41] [42] While Gamsakhurdia may not have actually used the slogan, according to Georgian politician Ghia Nodia, "it probably expressed his true attitude". [43] [44]

Gamsakhurdia's ethnoreligious chauvinism, his nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric and his negative policies toward minorities stirred ethnic tensions in the country. [45] [46] [47] [48] [49] Gamsakhurdia's stance particularly threatened the Abkhazian and Ossetian elites' privileges. [50] Therefore, ethnic minority leaders such as Vladislav Ardzinba in Abkhazia and Torez Kulumbegov in South Ossetia employed similar rhetoric, also focusing on demographic issues. [51]

Still, according to historian Stephen F. Jones, although Gamsakhurdia oppressed minorities, he was pragmatic. [52] For instance, he took steps to diffuse tensions with Abkhazians and granted them over-representation in the local Abkhazian parliament with 43% of seats for 18% of the population. [53] This proposal failed to pacify the conflict. [54]

On 27 December 1991, the U.S. based NGO Helsinki Watch issued a report on human rights violations made by the government of Gamsakhurdia. [55] The report included information on documented freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press violations in Georgia, on political imprisonment, human rights abuses by the Georgian government and paramilitary in South Ossetia, and other human rights violations. In a report published in April 1992, Human Rights Watch noted that Gamsakhurdia had "quasi-dictatorial powers". [41]

The first steps towards the abolition of death penalty in Georgia came during the government of Gamsakhurdia on 20 March 1991, when the Georgian Supreme Council removed this possible punishment for four economic offences not involving the use of violence. [56] Thus, Georgia became a first former Soviet republic to take steps to abolish the death penalty. [56] [57]

Foreign policy

During his rule, Gamsakhurdia maintained that Georgia would not sign New Union Treaty or interrepublican economic treaty. Gamsakhurdia called for a boycott of the 1991 Soviet Union referendum on preserving the Union and the Georgia's Supreme Council voted to do so. [58] On 15 June 1991, in an interview to Saarländischer Rundfunk, Gamsakhurdia said that Georgia sought an eventual membership in the European Community and the United Nations, while it would develop relations with the USSR as a foreign state. [59]

On 6 and 7 April 1991, representatives of Armenia, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova met in Chișinău, Moldova and pledged to cooperate in their independence efforts. [60]

Gamsakhurdia forged close ties with Chechnya, Russia’s breakaway republic. Gamsakhurdia welcomed Chechnya’s declaration of independence and attended inauguration of Dzokhar Dudayev as Chechnya’s President in Grozny. While Chechnya did not receive backing from the international community, it received support and attention from Georgia, which became its only gateway to the outside world that was not controlled by Russia. [61] As a sign of moral support, on 11 November 1991 Gamsakhurdia wrote a letter to the United Nations and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, condemning his declaration of the state of emergency in Chechnya amid its proclamation of sovereignty as "a show of force against the Chechen people". [62]

In response to George H. W. Bush's Chicken Kiev speech which supported Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his New Union Treaty, the government of Georgia issued a statement declaring that "the heir of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and others arrives ... and carries on propaganda in favor of the Union Treaty. Why didn't he call on Kuwait to sign the Union Treaty with Iraq?". [63]

Civil conflicts

South Ossetia

In 1989, violent unrest broke out in South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast between the Georgian independence-minded population of the region and Ossetians loyal to the Soviet Union. South Ossetia's regional soviet announced that the region would secede from Georgia to form a "Soviet Democratic Republic". In response, the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR annulled the autonomy of South Ossetia in March 1990. [64]

The rise of the opposition

During the 1991 Soviet coup attempt, the Russian news agency Interfax reported that Gamsakhurdia had agreed with the Soviet military that the Georgian National Guard would be disarmed, and on 23 August, he issued decrees abolishing the post of commander of the Georgian National Guard and redesignating its members as interior troops subordinate to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs. In reality, the National Guard was already a part of the Ministry of the Interior, and Gamsakhurdia's opponents, who claimed he was seeking to abolish it, were asked to produce documents they claimed they possessed which verified their claims, but did not do so. Gamsakhurdia always maintained he had no intention of disbanding the National Guard. [65] In defiance of the alleged order of Gamskhurdia, the sacked National Guard commander Tengiz Kitovani led most of his troops out of Tbilisi on 24 August. By this time, however, the coup had clearly failed and Gamsakhurdia publicly congratulated Russia's President Boris Yeltsin on his victory over the putschists. [66]

Gamsakhurdia reacted angrily, accusing shadowy forces in Moscow of conspiring with his internal enemies against Georgia's independence movement. In a rally in early September, he told his supporters: "The infernal machinery of the Kremlin will not prevent us from becoming free.... Having defeated the traitors, Georgia will achieve its ultimate freedom." He shut down an opposition newspaper, "Molodiozh Gruzii," on the grounds that it had published open calls for a national rebellion. Giorgi Chanturia, whose National Democratic Party was one of the most active opposition groups at that time, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of seeking help from Moscow to overthrow the legal government. It was also reported that Channel 2, a television station, was closed down after employees took part in rallies against the government. [67]

Coup d'état

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. [68]

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. [69]

A Military Council made up of Gamsakhurdia opponents took over the government on an interim basis. [70] One of its first actions was to remove 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. [71]

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). [72] [73] 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 [74]


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, his body was found with a single bullet wound to the head but, in fact, it was found with two 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. [75]

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. [76] [75] Some remains and ashes, never identified, were found 17 years later. [76]


A variety of reasons has been given for Gamsakhurdia's death, which is still controversial and remains unresolved. 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. [77]

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. [77] [78] [79]

On 26 December, following the setting-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. However, the investigation failed to reach any conclusion to this day, with numerous theories about Gamsakhurdia's death floating in public discourse.. [80]


According to former deputy director of Biopreparat Ken Alibek, that laboratory was possibly involved in the design of an undetectable chemical or biological agent to assassinate Gamsakhurdia. [81] BBC News reported that some of Gamsakhurdia's friends believed he committed suicide, "although his widow insists that he was murdered." [82]


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. [83]

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

Gamsakhurdia's death was announced by the Georgian government on January 5, 1994. Some refused to believe that Gamsakhurdia had died at all but the 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. [84] 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. [82] Thousands of people throughout Georgia had arrived in Mtskheta's medieval cathedral to pay tribute to Gamsakhurdia. [85]

Personal life

In addition to Georgian, Gamsakhurdia was fluent in Russian, French, English and German. [86]

Gamsakhurdia's second wife, Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, was the inaugural First Lady of independent Georgia. [87] The couple had two sons, Tsotne and Giorgi. [87]

Gamsakhurdia was a proponent of Georgian messianism: the "spiritual mission of Georgia" to be a moral example to the rest of the world. He believed that he was divinely appointed by God to lead Georgia. [88] [89] [90]


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, Gamsakhurdia was posthumously awarded the title and Order of National Hero of Georgia by President Mikheil Saakashvili. Along with Gamsakhurdia, the title and Order of National Hero of Georgia was also awarded to his fellow dissident and friend Merab Kostava. [91] Saakashvili called Gamsakhurdia "a leading light of the national idea" who fought for his country's freedom "when no one could even image it". [91] In parallel, in March 2005 the Parliament of Georgia passed resolution "About the Legal Assessment of the Events of December–January 1991-92", which denounced the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia as an "unconstitutional armed coup". [92] Government officials as well as people pay tribute to memory of Zviad Gamsakhurdia every year on his birthday. [93]

In 2014, the Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili announced a scholarship dedicated to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, awarded to an outstanding student studying historic literature. [86]

In 2019, the plenary room of the Parliament of Georgia was named after Zviad Gamsakhurdia, with Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of Parliament, describing Gamsakhurdia as "the symbol of our statehood". [94] [95]

The museum honoring the life of the Gamsakhurdia is located in the village of Dzveli Khibula, where Gamsakhurdia spent the last days of his life. On 3 August 2018, by order of the director of the National Agency for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Georgia, the museum received the status of an immovable monument of cultural heritage. [96] [97]


Gamsakhurdia published important scientific works (including 4 monographs) on issues of Russian history, history of Georgian culture, history of Georgian literature, theology, and history of American poetry. He translated into Georgian language the works of William Shakespeare, Charles Baudelaire, Nikolai Gogol and others. He also wrote poems and fables, which have been published. In 1970, Zviad Gamsakhurdia became a member of the Writers' Union of Georgia, but later was expelled in 1977 for his anti-Soviet dissident activity. [13] Gamsakhurdia was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Georgian National Academy of Sciences for his work The Language of the Forms of the Knight in a Lordly Skin. [86]

Public image

Gamsakhurdia is acknowledged as a symbol of Georgian nationalism and Georgia's national liberation in 1990s. [95] [98] According to the 2020 Caucasus Research Resource Centers poll, 81% of Georgians consider Gamsakhurdia to be a true Georgian patriot, while 76% think that the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia was a bad thing for Georgia. 50% consider that independence would not be possible without Gamsakhurdia. [99] According to the Cambridge University study, Gamsakhurdia is seen as one of the main Georgian national heroes of the 20th century, while his arch enemy Eduard Shevardnadze is perceived as a villain. [100]

Selected works

See also


  1. Adamon Nikhas in South Ossetia, Aidgylara in Abkhazia, Javakh in Akhalkalaki, Gayret in Marneuli, and Votan for Meskhetians. [32]

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The Georgian Civil War lasted from 1991 to 1993 in the South Caucasian country of Georgia. It consisted of inter-ethnic and international conflicts in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as the violent military coup d'état against the first democratically-elected President of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and his subsequent uprising in an attempt to regain power.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abkhazia conflict</span> 1989–present conflict between Georgia and the partially recognized Abkhazia

The Abkhazia conflict is a territorial dispute over Abkhazia, a region on the eastern coast of the Black Sea in the South Caucasus, at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The conflict involves Georgia, Russian Federation and Russian-backed self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia, internationally recognised only by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Syria; Georgia and all other United Nations members consider Abkhazia a sovereign territory of Georgia. However, as of 2023, Georgia lacks de facto control over the territory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tengiz Kitovani</span> Georgian politician and military commander (1938–2023)

Tengiz Kitovani was a Georgian politician and military commander with high-profile involvement in the Georgian Civil War early in the 1990s when he commanded the National Guard of Georgia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Giorgi Chanturia</span> Georgian politician

Giorgi Chanturia was a Georgian politician and the National Democratic Party leader who was murdered in Tbilisi, Georgia in December 1994.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic</span> Former autonomous soviet socialist republic of a union republic of the Soviet Union

The Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, abbreviated as Abkhaz ASSR, was an autonomous republic of the Soviet Union within the Georgian SSR. It came into existence in February 1931, when the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia, originally created in March 1921, was transformed to the status of Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Georgian SSR.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Ossetia war (1991–1992)</span> 20th-century war

The 1991–1992 South Ossetia War was fought between Georgian government forces and ethnic Georgian militias on one side and the forces of South Ossetian separatists and Russia on the other. The war ended with a Dagomys Agreement, signed on 24 June 1992, which established a joint peacekeeping force and left South Ossetia divided between the rival authorities.

On 14 April 1978, demonstrations in Tbilisi, capital of the Georgian SSR, took place in response to an attempt by the Soviet government to change the constitutional status of languages in Georgia. After a new Soviet Constitution was adopted in October 1977, the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR considered a draft constitution in which, in contrast to the Constitution of 1936, Georgian was no longer declared to be the sole state language. A series of indoor and outdoor actions of protest ensued and implied with near-certainty there would be a clash between several thousands of demonstrators and the Soviet government, but Georgian Communist Party chief Eduard Shevardnadze negotiated with the central authorities in Moscow and managed to obtain permission to retain the previous status of the Georgian language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1991 Georgian independence referendum</span>

An independence referendum was held in the Republic of Georgia on 31 March 1991. It was approved by 99.5% of voters.

Giorgi (Gia) Karkarashvili is a Georgian politician and retired major general who served as Georgia's Minister of Defense from May 1993 to March 1994. A former Soviet army captain, he was a high-profile military commander during the civil war and wars against the secessionists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s. A gunshot wound received in the 1995 attack in Moscow left him severely disabled. He was member of the Parliament of Georgia from 1999 to 2004. He is currently member of the Our Georgia – Free Democrats party led by Irakli Alasania.

Zviad Dzidziguri is a Georgian politician. He has been the chairman of the Conservative Party of Georgia since 2004 and a vice-speaker of the Parliament of Georgia since 2012.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Independence Day (Georgia)</span> National holiday in Georgia

Independence Day is an annual public holiday in Georgia observed on 26 May. It commemorates the 26 May 1918 adoption of the Act of Independence, which established the Democratic Republic of Georgia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917. It is the national day of Georgia. Independence Day is associated with military parades, fireworks, concerts, fairs, and political speeches and ceremonies, in addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history and culture of Georgia.

South Ossetia is an de facto state, approximately 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) above sea level on the slopes of the Greater Caucasus. Although it declared independence in 2008, only a few countries acknowledge it. The region is inhabited by Ossetians, an Iranian ethnic group. According to Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria and Nauru, it is one of the world's newest independent states. All other states and international organisations consider South Ossetia an autonomous region of Georgia, functioning as a de facto state for twenty years after declaring independence and conducting a successful armed rebellion. Its Georgian inhabitants have been displaced. South Ossetia has been a source of tension for a number of years, with Georgia and Russia's political differences impeding peaceful independence and breeding a turbulent series of events which undermine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1991–1992 Georgian coup d'état</span> Coup détat against Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia

The 1991–1992 Georgian coup d'état, also known as the Tbilisi War, or the Putsch of 1991–1992, was an internal military conflict that took place in the newly independent Republic of Georgia following the fall of the Soviet Union, from 22 December 1991 to 6 January 1992. The coup, which triggered the Georgian Civil War, pitted factions of the National Guard loyal to President Zviad Gamsakhurdia against several paramilitary organizations unified at the end of 1991 under the leadership of warlords Tengiz Kitovani, Jaba Ioseliani and Tengiz Sigua.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Poti (1993)</span> Battle of Poti, Georgian Civil War

The Battle of Poti was a series of engagements around Poti, Georgia during the Georgian Civil War, between rebels supporting the ousted Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the so-called 'Zviadists', and Russian forces supporting the Georgian Head of State Eduard Shevardnadze. A group of Russian Marines of the Black Sea Fleet landed in the Georgian port city in late October 1993 to protect an important railway between Poti and the Georgian capital Tbilisi. In November clashes between the Russians and the Zviadists erupted, with the Russian Major General Boris Djukov, claiming no Russian casualties. The fighting ended when the Georgian Armed Forces broke through the rebels' defenses and entered their capital Zugdidi on the 6th of November.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pan-Caucasianism</span> Political ideology in the Caucasus

Pan-Caucasianism is a political current supporting the cooperation and integration of some or all peoples of the Caucasus. Pan-Caucasianism has been hindered by the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of the Caucasus, and frequent regional conflicts. Historically popular during the Russian Civil War, pan-Caucasianism has formed a part of the foreign policy of Georgia and Chechen militants since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Georgia–Ichkeria relations</span> Relations between Georgia and Ichkeria

Relations between Georgia and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria began in 1991, when both countries declared independence from the Soviet Union. They continued to pursue relations until Chechnya was re-annexed by Russia in 2000.


  1. Particularly in Soviet-era sources, his patronymic is sometimes given as Konstantinovich in the Russian style.
  2. Dominic Erdozain (2017). The Dangerous God: Christianity and the Soviet Experiment. Cornell University Press. p. 153. ISBN   9781501757693.
  3. Suny 1994, pp. 308–309.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Gamsakhurdia, Zviad (Georgia)". The Statesman's Yearbook Companion. Springer. 2019. p. 132. doi:10.1057/978-1-349-95839-9_263. ISBN   978-1-349-95838-2. S2CID   239217863 . Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  5. Suny 1994, p. 308.
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  13. 1 2 "საქართველოს პრეზიდენტი 1991-1992 წლებში: ზვიად გამსახურდია". Website of President of Georgia (in Georgian).
  14. Darrell Slider (1991). "Georgia's independence". Problems of Communism: November—December 1991. Vol. 15. Documentary Studies Section, International Information Administration. p. 66. The April 9 "Tragedy", as it came to be called, had a searing effect on Georgian public. The republic leadership lost what authority it had enjoyed in the eyes of Georgians, and support for independence became overwhelming— developments confirmed by polls initiated by the Communist leadership itself.
  15. Darrell Slider (1991). "Georgia's independence". Problems of Communism: November—December 1991. Vol. 15. Documentary Studies Section, International Information Administration. pp. 67–68. Gorbachev dispatched Shevardnadze, as well as the CPSU Central Committee's secretary responsible for personal matters, Georgiy Ruzumovskiy, to the republic to calm the outrage among Georgians, particularily intelligentsia, as well as to make significant changes in the republic's leadership. At an April 14 meeting of the Georgian party Central Committee, Patiashvili was removed along with second secretary Borish Nikolskiy and the recently elected chairman of the Council of Ministers, Zurab Chkheidze... The new Communist Party leadership sought to create a dialogue with dissenting opposition groups. It released opposition leaders, and starting in the summer of 1989, they gained access to relevision and the print media. In recognition of his enormous popularity and potential influence, Gamsakhurdia was brought into negotiations with Gumbaridze over impending legislation in the republic Supreme Soviet. While this body was essentially conservative, having been elected under the old system, it quickly saw the writing on the wall and began adopting a number of measures demanded by opposition forces... In February 1990, the Georgian sports association announced that its teams would no longer compete in the Soviet soccer league or in the USSR chaimpionship games. Georgia held its own championship series and hoped to send a team to compete internationally. Gamsakhurdia gave opening remakrs at the ceremoies inaugurating the independent republic games. Gamsakhurdia also played a prominent role in decisions of a number of other Georgian institutions to break their ties with Moscow, often by appearing at high-level meatings of their leadership organs. Gamsakhurdia's organization, the Round Table, soon had large number of adherents in almost all Georgian institutions. One of the earliest example was the Georgian trade union organization, which reconstituted itself as a confederation independent of the all-Union trade union organization. The republic Komsomol went through the most thorough upheaval... At the very least, it decided to declare indepdendence from the Communist Party and from the all-Union Komsomol... Ultimately, new youth groups were formed, often oriented towards setting up money-making operations in trade, tourism and publishing.
  16. "Georgia Votes for Change". Tampa Bay Times . 30 October 1990.
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  22. Khositashvili, Mzia (2013). "Election Program of Mister Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Candidate for Presidency of Republic of Georgia: Economic Part". საქართველოს სახელმწიფოს ხელმძღვანელები: ოფიციალური დოკუმენტები, მიმართვები და ინტერვიუები ზვიად გამსახურდია საქართველოს რესპუბლიკის პრეზიდენტი (1991) [Georgian State Leaders: Official Documents, Appeals and Interviews, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, President of Republic of Georgia (1991)] (in Georgian). Vol. 2. Tbilisi: Iridagroup - Printing Service. pp. 110–127. ISBN   9789941062469.
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  30. Jones 2012, p. 43: "Georgians feared that with separation from the Union, their national minorities, particularly the Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Ossetians, would seek union with their co-ethnics and dismember Georgian territory. This had happened during the first Republic of 1918–21.".
  31. Jones 2012, p. 40: "Anti-Georgian riots in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whipped up by local intelligentsias fearful of losing their privileges and supported by conservative Russian military circles, intensified Georgian fears of fragmentation.".
  32. 1 2 3 Jones 2012, p. 43.
  33. de Waal, Thomas (2 November 2018). The Caucasus: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN   978-0-19-068311-5. Gamsakhurdia did his best to inflame the situation, telling Ajarians provocatively that as Muslims they were not proper Georgians.
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  43. Nodia, Ghia (31 December 1997). Walker, Edward W.; Wood, Alexandra; Radovich, A. Sasha (eds.). "Causes and Visions of Conflict in Abkhazia". Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. UC Berkeley. Of course Georgian nationalists, especially in the Gamsakhurdia period, were far from sensitive to minority issues. According to many accounts, Georgia for the Georgians was Gamsakhurdia's slogan, which in fact is not true. I personally never heard anything like this slogan at his rallies and have never seen anybody cite a source for it. But it probably expressed his true attitude. Moreover, one can find many truly racist quotations in the Georgian press in that period.
  44. Toft, Monica Duffy (2003). The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory. Princeton University Press. ISBN   978-0-691-12383-7. The individual who came the closest to fitting this description is Zviad Gamsakhurdia, an outspoken Georgian chauvinist. [...] Although it could be argued that Gamsakhurdia in fact stirred nationalist passions among Georgians prior to his ouster, more than eight months passed between his ouster and the firing of the first shots in the Abkhaz civil war. [...] His earlier dissident writings often invoked the peril of the Georgian nation and blamed both Moscow and the minorities for the destruction of its land, language, and culture. So his slogan "Georgia for the Georgians" was interpreted as a battle cry for the suppression of minorities.
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Political offices
Preceded by
Soviet era
President of Georgia
Succeeded by