On Our Independence Day

Fellow Georgians:

Ninety-seven years ago on May 26, 1918 my father Noe Jordania proclaimed Georgian independence from the Hall of Mirrors, of what was then the Vorontsov Palace in Tbilisi .  I am now  93 years old, and although I am unable to be physically in Georgia, I would like to share with all of you the pride and joy of our national Independence Day.

When I was growing up in Paris in the 1920s, the 26 of May was the most important day of the year for me and my little Georgian friends. That was the day when all exiled Georgians, regardless of party, religion, sex or opinion would get together in celebration, sorrow, and remembrance. And even though I was very small, I remember it as a solemn occasion, with our revered flag – the three-colored one – in a prominent position together with our elegant coat of arms, unencumbered by gratuitous elements. And of course we all sang our national anthem with fervor, Dideba, with its Georgian sounding harmonies. That tradition went on during the long years of Soviet occupation. And then, in 1990, the first year I could come to Georgia, I had the joy of seeing our flag, symbol, and national hymn revived after these 70 years, with our flag soon to be hoisted on all public buildings, displacing the hated Soviet one.

Today we are once again celebrating the anniversary of our declaration of independence. It is without doubt the most important date of the 20th century, and I would venture to say the most important date in 700 years, yes, ever since the Mongols invaded Georgia in 1238. Consider:

For the very first time in centuries, in 1918 Georgia became truly united in a single modern state with an enlightened government led by President Noe Jordania. The road to unity was long and difficult. Georgians have a strong culture, but never had a true sense of nationality – a concept nonexistent in medieval times, where feudal allegiance was the norm. In fact, up until the 1805 takeover by Russia, Georgia was divided in principalities and kingdoms, such as Guria, Samegrelo, Imereti. It took the French and the American revolutions to bring to the fore the powerful feeling of belonging to one nation, that irresistible force which swept 19th century Europe and would eventually create our modern world.

But Georgia did not participate in that powerful current. As we know, Georgia was occupied and incorporated in the autocratic tsarist empire just about when nationalism started spreading in Western Europe, and thus that idea was prevented from taking hold in our country. As a result, up to the end of the 19th century the Georgian sense of belonging extended only to his family, his village, at most his province. It took decades of education and hard work by the great Georgian patriots, an overwhelming number of whom were social-democrats operating clandestinely, to bring about the change of attitude towards tsarism and the idea of nationality that resulted in a truly unified republic in 1918.

Despite the enormous difficulties of the period, the Georgian Democratic Republic (or First Republic, as commonly called today) proved very successful, so much so that it took the Soviet and Turkish invasion of 1921 to bring it to an end. (The GDR lived on de jure until 1933 and de facto to 1953 and in memorium in Leuville, France). Yet its relatively short existence was of the utmost importance since all the major institutions that make our modern Georgia were established in that period.  

I would also like to remind everybody that the GDR government was supported by practically all Georgians from all social classes. The result was that, contrary to what happened after 1991, in 1918 there was no destructive civil war of fratricide and pillage of national assets. Led by idealistic patriots, Georgia remained whole, including Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia, and of course Adjara.

All Western historians recognize the great accomplishments of the first republic and its selfless leaders, yet with the exception of the town of Lanshkhuti, birth place of Noe Jordania, and a small section of the Mtqvari embankment in Tbilisi, there is no public recognition in Georgia. It remains difficult to understand why, 24 years after Georgia again became independent, as Professor Stephen Jones earlier remarked, that the successive Georgian governments have done practically nothing to recognize publicly the enormous debt that our country owes to all those, from all political parties, who worked so long and sacrificed their lives to awaken the Georgian national spirit, conquer freedom, and in 1918 proclaim a sovereign, unified Georgia for the first time in centuries.

But things are changing. For the first time in centuries there is now a whole generation of young Georgians who have never known the soviets, or, for that matter, any foreign occupation! Many are getting to know and appreciate the first republic, as evidenced by the private initiave to assemble this May 26 at 5.20 p.m. in the garden of the former Vorontsov palace, at the exact time and place where independence was declared.  It certainly looks like the negative Bolshevik propaganda that left a profound imprint on three generations is finally on the wane. 

Today I’d simply like to remember a few names: Noe Jordania, Noй Khomeriki, Evgeni Gueguetchkori, Grigol Uratadze, Noй Ramishvili, Akaki Chkhengueli. And we should not forget our valiant national guard under the leadership of Valiki Jugeli, as well as the soldiers and officers who rallied to our first republic and valiantly struggled for the preservation of its freedom against insuperable odds.

Let us also remember that when the Red Army had almost conquered Georgia, the Turks took advantage of the situation to invade Adjara and occupy Batumi. That’s when, under direct orders from the government, and in a quixotic gesture, the remains of the Georgian army led by General Mamradze attacked and chased them back to Turkey before going themselves into exile. Without them, it is most probable that Adjara would today be Turkish.

As all reputable historians recognize, today’s Georgia is very much a continuation of the 1918 republic. We are confident that free Georgia will be around forever!

Gaomarjos Sakhartvelo!

Redjeb Jordania

May 26, 2015

New York

28 May 2015 23:06