Academy of Georgian Heritage

The Georgian Association in the USA is a proud supporter of the Academy of Georgian Heritage. The Academy emerged from a Sunday school project that the Georgian Association initiated in 2009-2010 together with St. Tamar’s Georgian Orthodox Church. Thanks to the efforts of the first teacher of the school, Ms. Nino Meladze, the project attracted tens of Georgian children from the Washington, DC area. Nino’s contribution was very important for building up trust for this new project.

In 2013 thanks to the energy and dedication of Ms. Tamara Kalandiya, the project evolved to the next level and the Academy of Georgian Heritage was formed as an independent 501 C (3) organization. Tamara is a Georgian-American from Abkhazia and mother of three. She spends significant time and effort to make this new organization a success. The academy, based in Maryland, currently educates up to fifty Georgian-American children in Georgian language, history, literature, art, panduri, dance, and physical theater by Synetic. 

The Georgian Association initially provided limited financial support to the Academy, using funds from a trust inherited from Martha Alshibaya and her husband Stanley Garstka, an American family of Georgian-Polish descent.  More recently, the Association is providing support from a scholarship fund endowed by the Chatara family of Illinois. 


Georgian Heritage School in San Francisco

The School of Georgian Heritage of the Georgian Heritage Foundation in Santa Clara, CA (https://www.facebook.com/GeorgianHeritageFoundation) was founded in August 2020. The goal of the organization is to promote, preserve and popularize Georgian Heritage among the Bay Area’s Georgian community and friends of Georgia. The school currently conducts online classes free of charge for over 40 students concentrating on teaching the Georgian language. The donation was made possible by a scholarship fund managed by the Georgian Association in the US.


Georgian Female Artists

In this series of conversations, Tbilisi-born and New York-based curator and art writer Nina Mdivani will profile twelve Georgian women artists. Some of them are known to the wider audience, while some deserve to be rediscovered. Each presentation will include interviews with experts or artists and will be followed by a Q&A session.

In this series of conversations, Tbilisi-born and New York-based curator and art writer Nina Mdivani will profile twelve Georgian women artists. Some of them are known to the wider audience, while some deserve to be rediscovered. Each presentation will be followed by a Q&A session. Below you can find the schedule of our meetings:

Meeting One: Natela Grigalashvili & Rusudan Khizanishvili
Date: June 13, Sunday 2:00 PM EST

Meeting Two: Vera Pagava
Date: July 18, Sunday 2:00 PM EST

Meeting Three: Elene Akhvlediani
Date: August 15, Sunday 2:00 PM EST

Meeting Four: Natela Iankoshvili & Tamar Abakelia
Date: September 12, Sunday 2:00 PM EST

Meeting Five: Gayane Khachaturian & Ema Lalaeva-Ediberidze
Date: October 10, Sunday 2:00 PM EST

Meeting Six: Esma Oniani & Keti Kapanadze
Date: November 14, Sunday 2:00 PM EST

Meeting Seven: Tamara Kvesitadze & Mariam Natroshvili
Date: December 12, Sunday 2:00PM

You choose below which session or sessions you would like to attend. Please note that we will send everyone who registered reminders one week ahead of each meeting and you may thus get an email about a meeting that you might not have selected.

The King Is Female


Georgian Literature Reading Series

As part of our mission to promote Georgian culture, we were pleased to launch the “Virtual Georgian Literature Reading Series.” The goal of the series is to create an informal and interactive forum for those with interest in Georgian history and culture to read and discuss important Georgian books, both classic and contemporary. To that end, the meetings are discussion-based, and limited to 20 participants. The first edition of the series met a total of four times to discuss Nino Haratischvili’s internationally acclaimed novel “The Eighth Life.” Members of the Association’s Board of Directors, Stephen Jones and Valerian Sikhuashvili, led the sessions. The association will provide complimentary copies of the book to those who are currently undergraduate students.

Nino Haratischvili - The Eighth Life

Mamia Zakradze

Georgian Association’s former Board Member, Mamia Zakradze has celebrated his 100th birthday!

Mamia Zakradze’s life story is a tribute to the struggles of his generation of Georgians. Born in Gomi, Georgia, on April 10, 1920, Mamia Zakradze’s youth fell on fighting the Nazis in WWII. After the war ended, Mamia stayed in Germany where he met the love of his life, Helena Seitz. They had two children together, Alfred and Vera Zakradze. However, because of the Iron Curtain he lost touch with his parents and relatives in Georgia, who did not even know that he survived the war until early 60s.

In 1950s, Mamia got involved with the work of the Georgian Association in the United States, which sponsored his and his family’s arrival to the US. The family arrived via Ellis Island like many other post-WWII immigrants. They originally settled in New York City before moving to College Point, NY where Mamia Zakradze currently resides.

For almost 30 years, Mamia Zakradze’s life was closely intertwined with the Georgian Association in the US where he was a member of the Board and proud supporter of all Georgian causes from 1950 through 1989. Mamia supported many noble Georgian initiatives, including the creation of Camp Alaverdi in Cold Spring, NY, a summer camp for kids from the Caucasus. At the invitation of the founder of the camp, Siko Eristavi, Mamia Zakradze became Vice President of Camp Alaverdi in 1964 and served there until his retirement in 1996. Even though the camp had to close soon after his retirement, Mamia remains optimistic that one day it will open again.

Despite all the struggles, Mamia Zarkadze’s life gives us optimism and belief in bright future for Georgia and the US.

The GA Board is wishing Mamia Zakradze a Very Happy 100th Birthday! Congratulations on this amazing milestone! What an honor it is to celebrate a century of life with you. May you continue to enjoy the journey of life.


The Event that shook the World

By Irakli Kakabadze

April 9, 1989 was a historic date that contributed to the demise of the Soviet Empire. Ten years ago on this date, a bloody massacre on Rustaveli Avenue in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi occurred when 4,000 unarmed nonviolent protesters were beaten, killed and dispersed by the Soviet Army.  This was the first “crack” that eventually led to the demise of the Soviet Union. I was 20 years old during these protests in 1989 actively participating as a member of the students central striking committee. Many of my friends, compatriots and colleagues were seriously wounded by the violent behavior of the Soviet occupation forces.

Leaders of the Georgian National Liberation movement, Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia, Merab Kostava, Gia Chanturia, Zurab Chavchavadze, Irakli Tsereteli, Tamar Chkheidze and others decided to demand independence from Soviet occupation that had begun in 1921. This was a very shocking and highly unusual demand even during the so called PERESTROIKA since no other Soviet Republic had demanded independence prior to these April 9th events. Yes, there were demands for more democracy and human rights, environmental protection and higher salaries – but there was no other precedent of demanding complete and total independence from Soviet leaders. Considering the high popularity of the then Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev among world leaders, it was generally felt that an independence struggle was a fruitless exercise. Most Western leaders were in the process of developing improved almost warm relations with the Soviet leadership; the Georgians were going against the tide. Nevertheless, the leaders of the Georgian Liberation Movement decided to follow the footsteps of Gandhi’s ‘Swaraj’ – total liberty with no spilling of blood. This decision proved to be difficult and tragic at the time, but in the long run, successful, as these steps led to the eventual defeat of one of the biggest empires in the history of human kind. Zviad Gamsakhurdia even had a picture of Mahatma Gandhi in his pocket when he was getting arrested right after the bloody massacre by Soviet Occupation Forces on that fateful April day.

What was amazing and totally unbelievable during the protest on April 9th was the fact that people self organized in a totally nonviolent way and met brute force with singing and dancing. The Georgian protesters were able to defeat one of the strongest armies of the world with creativity, empathy and nonviolence. On that day, 16 women and 4 men sacrificed their lives to the cause of independence, became heroes and paved the way not just for independence of Georgia, but the demolition of the entire Soviet Empire. No weapons had any strength when the will of the people manifested itself so strongly by nonviolent action.

I cannot forget the words of our national hero, perhaps the biggest influence of our struggle, Merab Kostava: “We have two choices to lead our independence struggle. One is an armed insurrection, that is doomed to fail, because violence never liberates from violence. We will always lose once we pick up the weapons of destruction and death. But we will always win, when we have the greatest strength of love and nonviolence the example of which was given by great Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior. There is no alternative to nonviolent struggle and we will destroy and deconstruct Soviet Empire – more then this, no Empire is immune to the power of nonviolent struggle and Georgian Polyphonic song ‘Mravaljhamieri’ (მრავალჟამიერი).

In the end, the words of Merab Kostava proved to be right as well as unforgettable – even more so today, 30 years after the bloody massacre of April 9th.


Guivy Zaldastani

G1Born 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.


Othar Zaldastani

Othar Zaldastani was born in Tbilisi on August 10, 1922, the son of Colonel Soliko Zaldastanishvili and Mariam Hirsely; and grandson of Nicholas Zaldastanishvili and Anna Tzitzishvili, and of Esthate Hirsely and Varvara Vatchnadze.  He left Georgia in 1925, with his mother and brother Guivy, to rejoin his father in Paris.  After the failure of the Georgian insurrection of 1924 against the Soviet occupying forces, Colonel Zaldastanishvili   (who had been one of the leaders of the insurrection) had taken refuge in Paris to join the exiled Georgian Government and its military staff under the command of General Kvintadze.

Othar Zaldastani grew up in France and was educated in some of its most prestigious academic institutions: the Sorbonne and the “Grandes Ecoles”.  He passed the Baccalaureat in 1939 with Honors, completed the program of Mathematiques Speciales at the Lycee E9 St. Louis in Paris, obtained a Degree of Sciences from the Sorbonne and the Diplome from the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chausses (the oldest school of engineering in the world) where he graduated second in his class in  1945. He left France in 1946 to pursue scientific studies and research at Harvard University and was awarded a Master of Science Degree in 1947 and a Doctor of Science Degree in 1950.  His fields of interest covered several branches of Applied Science and Engineering and Applied Mathematics.

Dr. Zaldastani settled in Boston where his mother and brother had come to join him in 1948.  He became an American citizen in 1956.  He started his professional career as a Consulting Engineer while also continuing to be involved in academic and research programs.  He was appointed Gordon MacKay Visiting Lecturer in Structural Mechanics at Harvard in 1961 and commissioned by the U. S. Navy, Institute of Naval Studies to analyze the dynamics of submarine flexible hulls.

As Dr. Zaldastani’s practice evolved, his major activities became more concentrated in the design of structures participating  in more than 1000 projects in the United States, Europe, Africa and the Middle East including college and university buildings, long span structures, housing, hospitals, small structures such as the World War  II United States Armed Services Memorial in Caen, France, and major transportation and commercial centers, cultural and religious buildings   like the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., the second largest church in the United States.  Dr. Zaldastani was President of Zaldastani Associates, Inc. from 1964 to 1989 and Chairman until 1997. He is listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World.

Dr. Zaldastani was a recognized authority in his engineering fields.  He was the recipient of many of the National Awards given yearly to the best engineered projects in the United States by professional institutes.  For example, he received the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) Awards in 1973, 1977, 1978, 1985, 1986, and 1987.  He is Co-Inventor of a Prestressed Concrete Beam and Deck System – U. S. Patent #3, #465, #484.

Othar served on the Board of several academic, business   and civic organizations such as a Trustee of Brooks School (Massachusetts) and Acting Chairman of its Building Department Committee 1987-1996; Trustee and Corporation Member of Wheelock College, Boston, Massachusetts, 1975-1995.  He was elected President of the Georgian Association in the United States in 1958 and served until 1965, and a Director of the American Friends of Georgia.

On June 22, 1963 Othar Zaldastani married Elizabeth Reily Bailey of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Zaldastani is a descendant of distinguished families from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.  Together they have three children: Elizabeth, who also served as President of the Georgian Association, Anne and Alexander.

From his early days in France, Othar Zaldastani was exposed to and involved in Georgian Affairs.  The Georgian colony in Paris, determined to free Georgia from the Soviet occupation and communist oppression, was politically very active, but it was also very conscious of the need to nurture the younger generation with Georgian values.  Othar Zaldastani grew up in this political and cultural environment sustained by his father and godfather, Kakoutza Tcholokhashvili and his family’s dedication held the Georgian legacy alive in the Zaldastani Family.  Othar Zaldastani, Guivy Zaldastani and Elizabeth Zaldastani Napier and all their family have taken many initiatives to develop the educational, cultural and economic conditions of Georgia and maintain its heritage and identity.  In 1997, Othar Zaldastani and Guivy Zaldastani were granted Honorary Citizenship from the Georgian Government.


George Balanchine, Georgian Ballet Choreographer Extraordinaire

George Balanchine made his mark in the world of ballet for over 50 years. He gained fame as a young choreographer and was the co-founder, artistic director and chief choreographer of the New York City Ballet. With his over 400 choreographed works, Balanchine transformed American dance and created modern ballet, developing a unique style with his dancers highlighted by brilliant speed and attack. With the School of American Ballet and later with the New York City Ballet, Balanchine established himself as one of the world’s leading classical choreographers. He almost single-handedly brought standards of excellence and quality performance to American ballet, and nearly every ballet company in the world has performed his work. He received several prestigious honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed on an American citizen.

George Balanchine was born Giorgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in 1904 in Saint Petersburg, in the family of noted Georgian opera singer and composer Meliton Balanchivadze, one of the founders of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre and later as the culture minister of Georgia. The rest of Balanchine’s Georgian side of the family comprised largely artists and soldiers. Balanchine was not particularly interested in ballet as a child, but his mother insisted that he audition with his sister Tamara, who shared her mother’s interest in the art, and viewed it as a form of social advancement. George’s brother Andria Balanchivadze followed his father’s love for music and became a well-known composer in Georgia. At the age of 10, Giorgi enrolled at the Mariinsky Theatre’s ballet school where he learned the precise and athletic Russian dancing style. He graduated in 1921 and subsequently attended the Petrograd State Conservatory of Music, leaving the conservatory after three years. While still in his teens, Balanchine choreographed his first work. In 1923, with fellow dancers, Balanchine formed a small ensemble, the Young Ballet, and used a group of dancers from the school to present his earliest choreographed works.

Balanchine was invited to tour Germany in 1924 as part of the Soviet State Dancers, and at the completion of the tour refused to return to the Soviet Union and remained in Europe. He later joined the impresario Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. After Diaghilev’s most famous choreographer, Nijinska, left the group, Balanchine took her place. At the age of 21 he became the main choreographer of the most famous ballet company in the world. Balanchine did ten ballets for Diaghilev, who insisted that Balanchivadze be changed to Balanchine.

In addition to the major works with Diaghilev, Balanchine also worked with composers such as Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, and artists who designed sets and costumes, such as Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, creating new works that combined all the arts. In 1928 in Paris, Balanchine premiered one of his most innovative ballets, Apollon musagète (Apollo and the muses) in collaboration with Stravinsky combining classical ballet and classical Greek myth and images with jazz movement. He described it as the turning point in his life. Balanchine considered music to be the primary influence on choreography, as opposed to the narrative.

Following the collapse of the Ballet Russes, Balanchine moved from one company to another until he formed his own company, Les Ballets. The American dance aficionado and arts patron Lincoln Kirstein, who wanted to establish a ballet company in America with American dancers, approached Balanchine about collaboration and the two began a 50-year creative partnership, co-founding the School of American Ballet in 1934, less than three months after Balanchine’s arrival in the U.S. The following year, the professional company known as the American Ballet emerged, becoming the official company of New York’s Metropolitan Opera until 1936.

In 1946 Kirstein and Balanchine established a new company, the Ballet Society. The performance of Balanchine’s Orpheus was so successful that his company was invited to establish permanent residence at the New York City Center, which it did and was renamed the New York City Ballet. Balanchine finally had a school, a company, and a permanent theater. He developed the New York City Ballet into the leading classical company in America—and, to some critics, in the world.

Balanchine served as artistic director of the company, based out of New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. He produced more than 150 works for the company, including “The Nutcracker.” in which he played the mime role of Drosselmeyer. The company has since performed the ballet every year in New York City during the Christmas season. With the School of American Ballet and later with the New York City Ballet, Balanchine established himself as one of the world’s leading classical choreographers. Almost single-handedly he brought standards of excellence and quality performance to the American ballet, which up to that point had been merely a weak copy of the great European companies.

In addition to ballet, Balanchine choreographed Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals. He is known for his connection to Igor Stravinsky, where Balanchine created many ballets to his work, some in collaboration with the composer. Over his prolific career, he made over 460 works, which have been performed by nearly every ballet company in the world.

Balanchine created plotless ballets, where the dancing upstaged glitz and storytelling. His work didn’t feature a star, because he believed the performance should outshine the individual. He is credited with developing the neo-classical style distinct to the 20th century. Balanchine’s choreography was dependent on pure dance rather than on the ballerina, plot, or the sets. The drama was in the dance, and movement was solely related to the music. For Balanchine the movement of the body alone created artistic excitement. He placed great importance on balance, control, precision, and ease of movement. He rejected the traditional sweet style of romantic ballet, as well as the more acrobatic style of theatrical ballet, in favor of a style that was stripped to its essentials—motion, movement, and music. His dancers became instruments of the choreographer, whose ideas and designs came from the music itself.

Balanchine served as the artistic director of the New York City Ballet until his death, in April 1983, in New York City. The night of his death, the company went on with its scheduled performance, at Lincoln Center. Clement Crisp, one of the many writers who eulogized Balanchine, assessed his contribution: “It is hard to think of the ballet world without the colossal presence of George Balanchine …”

Balanchine was honored numerous times in his career. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983. President Ronald Reagan praised Balanchine’s genius saying he had “inspired millions with his stage choreography… and amazed a diverse population through his talents. In 1975, the Entertainment Hall of Fame in Hollywood inducted Balanchine as a member, in a nationally televised special. He was the first choreographer to be so honored. He also received the Kennedy Center Honors (1978), Austrian Decoration for Science and Art (1980), National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame (1987 posthumously) and Induction into the American Theater Hall of Fame (1988). He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1954. A monument at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre was dedicated in Balanchine’s memory. A crater on the planet Mercury was named in his honor. Summing up his career in the New York Times, Anna Kisselgoff said, “More than anyone else, he elevated choreography in ballet to an independent art. In an age when ballet had been dependent on a synthesis (combination) of spectacle, storytelling, décor, mime, acting and music, and only partly on dancing, George Balanchine insisted that the dance element come first.”


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 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.


General John Shalikashvili

General Shalikashvili achieved the highest ranking position in the US military. He joined the United State Army as a private, served in every level of unit command from platoon to division, and rose to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As a Georgian he was also the first foreign-born Joint Chiefs Chairman. He was also the first draftee and first graduate of Officer Candidate School to hold the position.

John Malchase David Shalikashvili was born in Warsaw, Poland, a descendant of the Georgian noble house of Shalikashvili. His father, Prince Dimitri Shalikashvili served in the army of Imperial Russia, and was a grandson of Russian general Dmitry Staroselsky. The princely “Schalikashvili” family of Georgia traces its lineage back at least to the year 1400.

In 1952, when Shalikashvili was 16, the family immigrated to Peoria, Illinois. He spoke little English when he arrived in Peoria but learned the language by watching American movies. He attended Bradley University in Peoria and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1958. After graduation he received a draft notice and entered the Army as a private. He later applied to Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1959. Shalikashvili served in various Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery positions as a platoon leader, forward observer, instructor, and student, in various staff positions, and as a battery commander. He served in Vietnam as a senior district advisor from 1968 to 1969, and was awarded a Bronze Star with “V” for heroism during his Vietnam tour.

In 1970, he became executive officer of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery at Fort Lewis, Washington. Later in 1975, he commanded 1st Battalion, 84th Field Artillery, 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis. In 1977, he attended the U.S. Army War College and served as the Commander of Division Artillery for the 1st Armored Division in Germany. He later became the assistant division commander. In 1987, Shalikashvili commanded the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, where he oversaw a “high technology test bed” tasked to integrate three brigades—one heavy armor, one light infantry, and one “experimental mechanized”—into a new type of fighting force.

One of his most notable achievements was directing the relief program, Operation Provide Comfort. In April 1991 Lieutenant General Shalikashvili went to northern Iraq to avert a humanitarian crisis following the end of the first Gulf War. The Iraq army forced over 500,000 Kurds into the inhospitable mountains along the Turkish border. Lacking food, water, and shelter, approximately 1000 Kurdish men, women, and children were dying each day. Shalikashvili led a massive relief mission to rescue the Kurds. The operation eventually involved 35,000 soldiers from 13 countries as well as volunteers from over 50 Non-Government Organizations working together effectively. The operation first delivered life-saving supplies and then turned the effort to establishing safe refuge. His troops worked with relief agencies to build the camps while also confronting threats from hostile Iraqi army forces. Shalikashvili met with Iraqi forces, warning them of the risks of attacking the relief effort. Hostilities were avoided, leaving the coalition troops to focus on assisting the displaced. Shalikashvili’s command saved lives, brought order, and allowed the more than 500,000 displaced to return to their homes within several months. General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time, would later say that General Shalikashvili had worked “a miracle.”

In August 1991 General Powell recognizing Shalikashvili’s leadership skills and organizational ability, called him back to Washington, D.C., as his assistant. Shalikashvili had demonstrated great diplomacy and logistics skills and Powell noted that he was able to operate in new conceptual territory with ease. In 1992 Shalikashvili was named Supreme Allied Commander Europe, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). His knowledge of Europe and ability to speak Polish, Russian, and German played a role in this assignment.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Shalikashvili as the 13th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. President Clinton referred to him as “General Shali,” a soldier’s soldier. The president, in calling him General Shali, followed the affectionate name used by the general’s staff. As chairman, Shalikashvili advised President Clinton on military and humanitarian missions to Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf. He oversaw more than 40 operations and sought greater integration of military and civilian agencies operating jointly to respond to humanitarian crises. He also continued the efforts of his predecessor Colin Powell at improving joint operations with the various military branches. Shalikashvili had the difficult task of reducing the military budget to realize a “peace dividend.” This included cutting unneeded weapons systems and the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Act. He completed his chairman’s tour in 1997 and retired. At his retirement ceremony President Clinton awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award recognizing the General for working “tirelessly to improve our Nation’s security and promote world peace.

General Shalikashvili visited Georgia together with his brother, a retired colonel from the US Special Forces Othar Shalikashvili, in May, 1995. While in Georgia, they travelled to Kakheti region, to the home region of their ancestors – Gurjaani. They also met with the then head of Georgian state, Eduard Shevardnadze.

Following retirement, Shalikashvili was an advisor to John Kerry’s 2004 Presidential campaign. He was a visiting professor at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, and served in various capacities with a number of businesses. In 2006 the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) launched the John M. Shalikashvili Chair in National Security Studies to recognize Shalikashvili for his years of military service and for his leadership on NBR’s Board of Directors.

Shalikashvili died at the age of 75 on July 23, 2011, at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Upon his passing, President Barack Obama said that the United States lost a “genuine soldier-statesman,” adding in a statement that Shalikashvili’s “extraordinary life represented the promise of America and the limitless possibilities that are open to those who choose to serve it.”

Former president Clinton pointed out that “Gen. Shali” made the recommendations that sent U.S. troops to Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf and a host of other world hotspots that had proliferated since the end of the Cold War. “He never minced words, he never postured or pulled punches, he never shied away from tough issues or tough calls, and most important, he never shied away from doing what he believed was the right thing,” Clinton said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement that he relied on Shalikashvili’s advice and candor when he served as Clinton’s chief of staff during the foreign policy crises in Haiti, the Balkans and elsewhere. “John was an extraordinary patriot who faithfully defended this country for four decades, rising to the very pinnacle of the military profession,” Panetta said. “I will remember John as always being a stalwart advocate for the brave men and women who don the uniform and stand guard over this nation.”

The then chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, said Shalikashvili “skillfully shepherded our military through the early years of the post-Cold War era, helping to redefine both U.S. and NATO relationships with former members of the Warsaw Pact.”

John Shalikashvili left a proud legacy for all Georgians.


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 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.


Biographical sketch – Irakli Orbeliani, the first director of the Georgian Service in the Voice of America

The Georgian Association in the United States will launch a series of short biographical sketches showcasing some of the more illustrious members of the Georgian diaspora. Our first profile is Irakli Orbeliani, the first director of the Georgian Service in the Voice of America and one of the co-founders of the Georgian Association in the USA in 1932.

Irakli Orbeliani, who was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, on November 14, 1901, came from one of the most illustrious families in Georgia. Beginning from the 6th century AD, the princely house of Orbeliani gave to Georgia a remarkably large number of distinguished men: statesmen, soldiers, ambassadors, scientists, writers and poets. Irakli’s mother, the Princess Elisabeth of the Royal House of Georgia, Bagrationi, was the direct descendent of Georgian kings and throughout her life was a bitter, active and open enemy of the Russian rule of Georgia.  Irakli’s father, Prince Mamuka Orbeliani, was an officer in the Russian Imperial Guards, who gave up his commission and refused to serve the Russian tsar upon the exile of his wife for her opposition to Russia’s rule over Georgia.

Irakli was a great musical talent who performed many concerts in Europe and the United States before ill health forced him to give up his musical career. By then he had emigrated and become a citizen of the United States. In 1950 he accepted a request by the USG and became head of the Georgian Service of the Voice of America. Later he was appointed Chief of the South USSR Branch which comprised Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaidjani,,Turko-Tartar and Turkestani services. When the later three services were abolished in 1953, Irakli reverted to the Head of the Georgian Service where he remained until he died in March, 1954. The Georgian community in the U.S. at the time greatly mourned his loss lauding his brilliance and great personal charm. *

*taken from The Voice of Free Georgia, Vol. 5, April, 1954