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TIBLISI: GEORGIA: Caucasus PDF Print E-mail

Flag of Georgia (country) Coat of arms of Georgia (country)Alternate name:Sakartvelo. A transcontinental country in the Caucasus region located at the dividing line between Europe and Asia and bordered by the Russian Federation to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, Armenia to the south, and Turkey to the southwest. Its population, excluding Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is 4.4 million, of whom nearly 84% are ethnic Georgians. Georgian history can be traced back to the ancient Kingdom of Colchis and Iberia, one of the first countries to adopt Christianity as an official religion early in the 4th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, Georgia became a part of the Russian Empire. After independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922 with independence restored in 1991. See detailed history at Wikipedia.

The city of Tbilisi, founded 1,500 years ago, is the capital of the Republic of Georgia.The first Jews probably arrived in Western Georgia (part of the Byzantine Empire) in the sixth century.With a 2,600-year history in the region, the origin of Georgian Jews, also known as Gurjim or kartveli ebraelebi, is debated with the most popular view beging the first Jews made their way to southern Georgia after Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and exile in Babylon. Others believe that the Jews arrived with the Romans. Some went to Eastern Georgian regions ruled by the Persians where Jews were tolerated unlike the oppressive rule of the Byzantine Empire. From about 750 CE to 1122,  Georgia was an Arab caliphate. From the Middle Ages through the 1850, feudalism existed in Georgia meaning Jews were considered serfs.  Initially protected by feudal lords, the Jews eventually were deprived from their property and oppressed in a later feudal period, but being serfs, they were not forced to convert to Christianity. Jews of Georgia spoke Judeo-Georgian, a dialect of Georgian with Hebrew words. Georgian annexation by the Russian Empire in 1801 ended  previous centuries' of toleration of he Jews. Anti-Semitism in Georgia began,fanned by Tsarist officials and the Russian Orthodox Church. Blood libels occurred between 1850 and 1884. Ashkenazi Russian Jews were settled in Georgia by the Russian government about 1810. Zionism was the first cooperation between the Georgian and Russian Jews. The first Zionist organization in Georgia was founded in Tbilisi in 1897 with the First Congress of Caucasus Zionists held in Tbilisi on August 20, 1901. After 1905, the Russians took a hard line with the Jews.. Georgian Jews shunned the Russian Jews to save themselves. The May 26, 1918 Georgian Republic declaration of independence radically changed these Jewish communities. With  freedom of speech, press, and meeting came renewed involvement in public life, emphasizeing the differences between Zionists and their detractors. A Hebrew school with a Zionist orientation  was founded in 1917.The Red Army squashed the blossoming of freedom in 1921. By 1924., hostile treatment of the Jews of Georgia and a deteriorating economic situation encouraged Zionists to make aliyah to Israel (opposed by the Soviets). During the 1930's, the situation worsened as political suppression increased. During WWII, thousands of Georgian Jews fought in the Soviet Army yet after the war, persecution of the Jews of Georgia by the Soviet authorities continued with many arrests. Synagogues were closed and/or destroyed. The only Jewish cultural institution tolerated in Tblisi was the History and Ethnographic Museum opened in Tbilisi in 1933 and closed in 1951, several years after its director, Aharon Krikheli, was arrested in 1948. Valuable history disappeared. Mass emigration took place in the 1970s when about 30,000 Georgian Jews left for Israel and other countries. Jewish population in Georgia decreased from 28,300 in 1979 to 24,800 in 1989. In 1991, when Georgia declared its independence, thousands of Georgian Jews immigrated to Israel. The 1993 Jewish population was about 14,500. Tbilisi  Jewish population of about 10,000 out of a general population of 1.5 million in 1990 founded the Rachamim Society to provide financial and medical support to needy Jews in Tbilisi, even heating fuel and hot kosher meals. The Society also functions as Chevra Kaddisha. Ariel Levine became Chief Rabbi and director of all Tbilisi Jewish institutions in 1993. In 1998, an Academy for Jewish Studies was established. Jewish Day School, a high school established in 1990, and a Beth Midrash for adults also opened. The Jewish Community sponsors holiday celebration, concerts, and lectures. The Jews of Tbilisi can pray at the Georgian Synagogue confiscated by the USSR in 1923 and used as a theater due to be returned in 1997 or two Ashkenazy synagogues on Kozeveny Street. Prospective return of the building sparked anti-Semitic media reaction. Tbilisi  has a mikvah, kosher butcher, matzoth bakery, and a kosher food store. Tbilisi mayor B.Shoshitaishvili canceled this decision. On January 31, 2001, the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Jewish Community of Georgia signed an agreement aimed at mutual respect and support and vow edto work together to advance democracy, peace and stability. According to the 2002 First General National Census of Georgia there are 3,541 Jews. As of 2004, only about 13,000 Georgian Jews remained in Georgia. In 2008, additional strife with Russia led to problems between the Georgia and Ashkenazi Jewish groups. [February 2009]


Old Georgian Jewish Cemeter):

New Georgian Jewish Cemetery: In 2004, dozens Tbilisi Jewish community members took part in maintenance Initiated by the local Jewish community and City Administration. Over a few decades, vandals ave significantly vandalized the graves and monuments on at least two occasions. In both cases, the monuments were re-erected at the government's expense. This time, the main responsibility was assumed by the Jewish community, though the government allotted building materials for this task. Under the leadership of Jewish Center Professor Givi Tzitzulashvili and its Vice-Director Zaira Davarashvili, local Jews were joined by Georgians in cleaning up the cemetery's paths, repairing fences, and righting and cleansing the gravesites. [February 2009]

Ashkenazi Cemetery: [NOTE: This probably is the Ashkenazi Cemetery] Jewish Cemetery at NAVTLUGI: A similar cleanup was anticipated at the Jewish cemetery in Navtlugi, now closed to new burials. Many renowned personalities from the Georgian Jewish Diaspora, including the grandmother of the Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, were buried there. [February 2009]


"50 headstones in a Jewish graveyard in the Ortachala district of Tbilisi were destroyed by vandals in late January" (1994?) Source: Dateline, World Jewry, Jan. 1999. World Jewish Congress. According to the newspaper, Georgian investigators have enough evidence that the January 1999 defilement of the Jewish Cemetery of Tbilisi was committed by soldiers of a Russian military unit which is deployed near the spot. However, the Georgian government preferred to hush up the scandal for political reasons. "Droni" No. 37, March 7-8, p. 5, Nana Vasadze, "A hushed up politicalscandal"

The Jewish cemetery in the Dampalo quarter outside Tbilisi was desecrated. Some thirty gravestones were damaged. The background to the incident is unclear. 1998

Evreiski nadpisi v Grizii, XVIII_XIX vv. (Jewish inscriptions in Georgian Republic, 18th - 19th centuries), by N.I. Babalikashvili. Tbilisi, 1971. 36 pages, illustrated, Russian. 72B1125. Notes: list 100 tombstones, 1756-1890, chronology, Hebrew inscriptions analysis and Russian translation.

Last Updated on Saturday, 28 February 2009 20:53
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