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Zviad Gamsakhurdia

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Subject: Protection log/Archive 1, Requests for arbitration/ChrisO and Levzur/Evidence, President of Georgia, Requests for investigation/Archives/2004/06, Protection log/Archive 2
Collection: 1939 Births, 1993 Deaths, Anthroposophists, Burials in Georgia (Country), Democracy Activists from Georgia (Country), Dissidents from Georgia (Country), Eastern Orthodox Christians from Georgia (Country), Georgian Nationalists, Georgian Orthodox Christians, Leaders Ousted by a Coup, Members of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Mingrelians, National Heroes of Georgia, People from Tbilisi, Politicians from Georgia (Country) Who Committed Suicide, Presidents of Georgia (Country), Soviet Democracy Activists, Soviet Dissidents, Suicides by Firearm in Georgia (Country)
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Zviad Gamsakhurdia

Zviad Gamsakhurdia
ზვიად გამსახურდია
President of Georgia
In office
April 14, 1991 – January 6, 1992
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished;
Military Council as the interim head of state
Chairman of the Supreme Council of Georgia
In office
November 14, 1990 – April 14, 1991
Succeeded by Himself as the Head of state;
Akaki Asatiani as the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia
Personal details
Born (1939-03-31)March 31, 1939
Soviet Union
Died December 31, 1993(1993-12-31) (aged 54)
Nationality Georgian
Religion Georgian Orthodox Church

Zviad Gamsakhurdia[1] (post-Soviet era. Gamsakhurdia is the only Georgian President to have died whilst formally in office.


  • Gamsakhurdia as dissident 1
    • Early career 1.1
    • Human rights activism 1.2
    • Moves towards independence 1.3
  • Gamsakhurdia as President 2
    • Human rights violations criticism 2.1
    • The rise of the opposition 2.2
    • Coup d'état 2.3
  • Gamsakhurdia in exile 3
    • The 1993 civil war 3.1
    • Gamsakhurdia's death 3.2
      • Assassination 3.2.1
      • Suicide 3.2.2
      • Died in infighting 3.2.3
    • Legacy 3.3
  • Selected works 4
  • References 5
  • Links and literature 6
  • 7 Media articles and references

Gamsakhurdia as dissident

Early career

Zviad Gamsakhurdia was born in the Georgian capital philology and began a professional career as a translator and literary critic.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the country's association with demonstrations in Tbilisi against the Soviet policy of de-stalinization and was arrested again in 1958 for distributing anti-communist literature and proclamations. He was confined for six months to a mental hospital in Tbilisi where he was diagnosed as suffering from "psychopathy with decompensation", thus perhaps becoming an early victim of what became a widespread policy of using psychiatry for political purposes.

Human rights activism

He achieved wider prominence in 1972 during a campaign against the corruption associated with the appointment of a new International Society for Human Rights (ISHR-IGFM).

Perhaps seeking to emulate his father, Zviad Gamsakhurdia also pursued a distinguished academic career. He was a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Georgian Literature of the Georgian Academy of Sciences (1973–1977, 1985–1990), Associate Professor of the Tbilisi State University (1973–1975, 1985–1990) and member of the Union of Georgia's Writers (1966–1977, 1985–1991), PhD in the field of Philology (1973) and Doctor of Sciences (Full Doctor, 1991). He wrote a number of important literary works, monographs and translations of British, French and American literature, including translations of works by T. S. Eliot, William Shakespeare, Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde. He was also an outstanding Rustvelologist (Shota Rustaveli was a great Georgian poet of the 12th century) and researcher of history of the Iberian-Caucasian culture.

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. His luck ran out in 1977 when the activities of the Helsinki groups in the Soviet Union became a serious embarrassment to the Soviet government of Merab Kostava. The two men were sentenced to three years' hard labour plus three years' exile for "anti-Soviet activities". Their imprisonment attracted international attention,.[3] Kostava was exiled to Siberia, while Gamsakhurdia was exiled to the Russian autonomous republic of Dagestan.

At the end of June 1979, Gamsakhurdia was released from jail and pardoned in controversial circumstances after serving only two years of his sentence (Kostava remained in prison until 1987). The authorities claimed that he had confessed to the charges and recanted his beliefs; a film clip was shown on Soviet television to substantiate their claim.[4] According to a transcript published by the Soviet news agency TASS, Gamsakhurdia spoke of "how wrong was the road I had taken when I disseminated literature hostile to the Soviet state. Bourgeois propaganda seized upon my mistakes and created a hullabaloo around me, which causes me pangs of remorse. I have realized the essence of the pharisaic campaign launched in the West, camouflaged under the slogan of 'upholding human rights.'"

His supporters, family and Merab Kostava claimed that his recantation was coerced by the KGB, and although he publicly acknowledged that certain aspects of his anti-Soviet endeavors were mistaken, he did not renounce his leadership of the dissident movement in Georgia. Perhaps more importantly, his actions ensured that the dissident leadership could remain active. Kostava and Gamsakhurdia later both independently stated that the latter's recantation had been a tactical move. In an open letter to Shevardnadze, dated April 19, 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."[5]

Gamsakhurdia returned to dissident activities soon after his release, continuing to contribute to samizdat periodicals and campaigning for the release of Merab Kostava. In 1981 he became the spokesman of the students and others who protested in Tbilisi about the threats to Georgian identity and the Georgian cultural heritage. He handed a set of "Demands of the Georgian People" to Shevardnadze outside the Congress of the Georgian Writers Union at the end of March 1981, which earned him another spell in jail.

Moves towards independence

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

When the Soviet leader Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia.

Georgia held a referendum on restoring its pre-Soviet independence on March 31, 1991 in which 90.08% of those who voted declared in its favour. The Georgian parliament passed a declaration of independence on April 9, 1991, in effect restoring the 1918–1921 Georgian Sovereign state. 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 May 26 with 86.5% per cent of the vote on a turnout of over 83%.

Gamsakhurdia as President

On taking office, Gamsakhurdia was faced with major economic and political difficulties, especially regarding Georgia's relations with the Soviet Union. A key problem was the position of Georgia's many ethnic minorities (making up 30% of the population). Although minority groups had participated actively in Georgia's return to democracy, they were underrepresented in the results of the October 1990 elections with only nine of 245 deputies being non-Georgians. Even before Georgia's independence, the position of national minorities was contentious and led to outbreaks of serious inter-ethnic violence in Abkhazia during 1989.

In 1989, violent unrest broke out in Supreme Soviet annulled the autonomy of South Ossetia in March 1990.[6]

A three-way power struggle between Georgian, Ossetian and Soviet military forces broke out in the region, which resulted (by March 1991) in the deaths of 51 people and the eviction from their homes of 25,000 more. After his election as Chairman of the newly renamed Supreme Council, Gamsakhurdia denounced the Ossetian move as being part of a Russian ploy to undermine Georgia, declaring the Ossetian separatists to be "direct agents of the Kremlin, its tools and terrorists." In February 1991, he sent a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev demanding the withdrawal of Soviet army units and an additional contingent of interior troops of the USSR from the territory of former Authonomous District of South Ossetia.

According to George Khutsishvili, the nationalist "[7]

Human rights violations criticism

On December 27, 1991, U.S. based Political Imprisonment, Human Rights abuses by Georgian government and paramilitary in South Ossetia, and other human Rights violations.

The rise of the opposition

Gamsakhurdia's opponents were highly critical of what they regarded as "unacceptably dictatorial behaviour", which had already been the subject of criticism even before his election as President. Prime Minister Tengiz Sigua and two other senior ministers resigned on August 19 in protest against Gamsakhurdia's policies. The three ministers joined the opposition, accusing him of "being a demagogue and totalitarian" and complaining about the slow pace of economic reform. In an emotional television broadcast, Gamsakhurdia claimed that his enemies were engaging in "sabotage and betrayal" within the country.

Gamsakhurdia's response to the coup against President Gorbachev was a source of further controversy. On August 19, Gamsakhurdia, the Georgian government, and the Presidium of the Supreme Council issued an appeal to the Georgian population to remain calm, stay at their workplaces, and perform their jobs without yielding to provocations or taking unauthorized actions. The following day, Gamsakhurdia appealed to international leaders to recognize the republics (including Georgia) that had declared themselves independent of the Soviet Union and to recognise all legal authorities, including the Soviet authorities deposed by the coup. He claimed publicly on August 21 that Gorbachev himself had masterminded the coup in an attempt to boost his popularity before the Soviet presidential elections, an allegation rejected as "ridiculous" by US President George H. W. Bush.

In a particularly controversial development, the Russian news agency

Political offices
Preceded by
Soviet era
President of Georgia
Succeeded by
Eduard Shevardnadze
  • "Soviets Release Penitent Dissident" — The Washington Post, June 30, 1979
  • "New Leaders Show Their Old Habits; Georgia, Some Other Soviet Republics Cling to Authoritarian Ways" — The Washington Post, September 18, 1991
  • (Russian) "Russki Curier", Paris, September 1991.
  • (Finnish) Aila Niinimaa-Keppo. "Shevardnadzen valhe" ("The Lie of Shevardnadze"), Helsinki, 1992.
  • (German) Johann-Michael Ginther, "About the Putch in Georgia" — Zeitgeschehen – Der Pressespiegel (Sammatz, Germany), No 14, 1992.
  • "Repression Follows Putsch in Georgia!" — "Human Rights Worldwide", Frankfurt/M., No 2 (Vol. 2), 1992.
  • (Finnish) "Purges, tortures, arson, murders..." — Iltalehti (Finland), April 2, 1992.
  • (Finnish) "Entinen Neuvostoliito". Edited by Antero Leitzinger. Publishing House "Painosampo", Helsinki, 1992, pp. 114–115. ISBN 952-9752-00-8.
  • "Attempted Coup Blitzed in Georgia; Two Killed" — Chicago Sun-Times, June 25, 1992.
  • "Moskovskie Novosti" ("The Moscow News"), December 15, 1992.
  • (Georgian) "Iberia-Spektri", Tbilisi, December 15–21, 1992.
  • J. "Soviet Analyst". Vol. 21, No: 9-10, London, 1993, pp. 15–31.
  • Otto von Habsburg.- ABC (Spain). November 24, 1993.
  • Robert W. Lee. "Dubious Reforms in Former USSR".- The New American, Vol. 9, No 2, 1993.
  • (English)/(Georgian) "Gushagi" (Journal of Georgian political émigrés), Paris, No 1/31, 1994. ISSN 0763-7247, OCLC 54453360.
  • Mark Almond. "The West Underwrites Russian Imperialism" — The Wall Street Journal, European Edition, February 7, 1994.
  • "Schwer verletzte Menschenrechte in Georgien" — Neue Zürcher Zeitung. August 19, 1994.
  • "Intrigue Marks Alleged Death Of Georgia's Deposed Leader" — The Wall Street Journal. January 6, 1994
  • "Georgians dispute reports of rebel leader's suicide" — The Guardian (UK). January 6, 1994
  • "Ousted Georgia Leader a Suicide, His Wife Says" — Los Angeles Times. January 6, 1994
  • "Eyewitness: Gamsakhurdia's body tells of bitter end" — The Guardian (UK). February 18, 1994.
  • (German) Konstantin Gamsachurdia: "Swiad Gamsachurdia: Dissident — Präsident — Märtyrer", Perseus-Verlag, Basel, 1995, 150 pp. ISBN 3-907564-19-7.
  • Robert W. Lee. "The "Former" Soviet Bloc." — The New American, Vol. 11, No 19, 1995.
  • "CAUCASUS and unholy alliance." Edited by Antero Leitzinger. ISBN 952-9752-16-4. Publishing House "Kirja-Leitzinger" (Leitzinger Books), Vantaa (Finland), 1997, 348 pp.
  • (Dutch) "GEORGIE — 1997" (Report of the Netherlands Helsinki Union/NHU), s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands), 1997, 64 pp.
  • "Insider Report" — The New American, Vol. 13, No 4, 1997.
  • Levan Urushadze. "The role of Russia in the Ethnic Conflicts in the Caucasus."- CAUCASUS: War and Peace. Edited by Mehmet Tutuncu, Haarlem (The Netherlands), 1998, 224 pp. ISBN 90-901112-5-5.
  • "Insider Report" — The New American, Vol. 15, No 20, 1999.
  • "Gushagi", Paris, No 2/32, 1999. OCLC 54453360.
  • (Dutch) Bas van der Plas. "GEORGIE: Traditie en tragedie in de Kaukasus." Publishing House "Papieren Tijger", Nijmegen (The Netherlands), 2000, 114 pp. ISBN 90-6728-114-X.
  • (English) Levan Urushadze. "About the history of Russian policy in the Caucasus."- IACERHRG's Yearbook — 2000, Tbilisi, 2001, pp. 64–73.

Media articles and references

  • President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's Memorial Page at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
  • Reports of the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR-IGFM)
  • Reports of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG)
  • Georgian Media in the 90s: a Step To Liberty
  • Country Studies: Georgia — U.S. Library of Congress
  • SHAVLEGO at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
  • [1] "The Lion in Winter — My Friend Zviad Gamsakhurdia", Todor Todorev, May 2002
  • Zviad Gamsakhurdia. "Open Letter to E. Shevardnadze"
  • Zviad Gamsakhurdia. "The Nomenklatura Revanche in Georgia" at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
  • "The Transcaucasian Republics and the Coup", Elizabeth Fuller, August 1991

Links and literature

  1. ^ Particularly in Soviet-era sources, his patronymic is sometimes given as Konstantinovich in the Russian style.
  2. ^ Kolstø, Pål. Political Construction Sites: Nation-Building in Russia and the Post-Soviet States, p. 70. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 2000.
  3. ^
  4. ^ GEORGIA 1992: Elections and Human Rights at British Helsinki Human Rights Group website
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Human Rights Violations by the Government of Zviad Gamsakhurdia (Helsinki Watch via Human Rights Watch), December 27, 1991
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Ken Alibek and S. Handelman. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World - Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran it. 1999. Delta (2000) ISBN 0-385-33496-6
  13. ^ Reburial for Georgia ex-president. The BBC News. Retrieved on April 1, 2007.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^


  • 20th century American Poetry (a monograph). Ganatleba, Tbilisi, 1972 (Georgian)
  • The Man in the Panther's Skin" in English, a monograph, Metsniereba, Tbilisi, 1984, 222 pp. (In Georgian, English summary).
  • "Goethe's Weltanschauung from the Anthroposophic point of view.", Tsiskari, Tbilisi, No 5, 1985 (Georgian)
  • Tropology (Image Language) of "The Man in the Panther's Skin", monograph). Metsniereba, Tbilisi, 1991 (Georgian)
  • Collected articles and Essays. Khelovneba, Tbilisi, 1991 (Georgian)
  • (1990)The Spiritual mission of Georgia
  • (1989)The Spiritual Ideals of the Gelati Academy
  • "Dilemma for Humanity", Nezavisimaia Gazeta, Moscow, May 21, 1992 (Russian)
  • "Between deserts" (about the creative works of L. N. Tolstoy), Literaturnaia Gazeta, Moscow, No 15, 1993 (Russian)
  • Fables and Tales. Nakaduli, Tbilisi, 1987 (Georgian)
  • The Betrothal of the Moon (Poems). Merani, Tbilisi, 1989 (Georgian)

Selected works

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

[17] On January 26, 2004, in a ceremony held at the Kashueti Church of Saint George in Tbilisi, the newly elected President


He and his second wife Manana had two sons.

internet news website reported on March 31. Civil Georgia told reporters, the Mikheil Saakashvili "We are implementing the decision which was [taken] in 2004 – to bury President Gamsakhurdia on his native soil. This is a fair and absolutely correct decision," President [16] Gamsakhurdia's death was announced by the Georgian government on January 5, 1994. Some refused to believe that Gamsakhurdia had died at all but this question was eventually settled when his body was recovered on February 15, 1994. Zviad Gamsakhurdia's remains were re-buried in the Chechen capital

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

Gravestone of President Gamsakhurdia in Tbilisi.

Died in infighting

Gamsakhurdia's widow later told the Interfax news agency that her husband shot himself on December 31 when he and a group of colleagues found the building where he was sheltering surrounded by forces of the pro-Shevardnadze Mkhedrioni militia. The Russian media reported that his bodyguards heard a muffled shot in the next room and found that Gamsakhurdia had killed himself with a shot to the head from a


According to former Deputy Director of Biopreparat Ken Alibek, this laboratory was possibly involved in the design of an undetectable chemical or biological agent to assassinate Gamsakhurdia.[12] BBC News reported that some Gamsakhurdia friends believed he committed suicide, "although his widow insists that he was murdered."[13]


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

Gamsakhurdia's death

Shevardnadze's government imposed a harshly repressive regime throughout Georgia to suppress "Zviadism", with security forces and the pro-government Azerbaijan. In an apparent and very controversial quid pro quo, all three countries expressed their support for Shevardnadze's government, which in turn agreed to join the Commonwealth of Independent States. While the support from Armenia and Azerbaijan was purely political, Russia quickly mobilized troops to aid the Georgian government. On October 20, around 2,000 Russian troops moved to protect Georgian railroads and provided logistical support and weapons to the poorly armed government forces. The uprising quickly collapsed and Zugdidi fell on November 6.

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

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

Gamsakhurdia in exile

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

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

On December 22, 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 January 6, 1992, leaving at least 113 people dead. On January 6, 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 demand 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 rebellious government of General Dzhokhar Dudayev.[11]

Coup d'état

The political dispute turned violent on September 2, when an anti-government demonstration in Tbilisi was dispersed by police. The most ominous development was the splintering of the Georgian National Guard into pro- and anti-government factions, with the latter setting up an armed camp outside the capital. Skirmishes between the two sides occurred across Tbilisi during October and November with occasional fatalities resulting from gunfights. Paramilitary groups — one of the largest of which was the anti-Gamsakhurdia "Mkhedrioni" ("Horsemen" or "Knights"), a nationalist militia with several thousand members — set up barricades around the city.

The government's activities aroused controversy at home and strong criticism abroad. A visiting delegation of Romania, Turkey, Canada, Finland, Ukraine, the Baltic States and others) but recognition by major countries eventually came during Christmas 1991, when the U.S., Sweden, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Pakistan, India and others formally recognized Georgian independence.


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