|1st President of Georgia|
26 May 1991 – 6 January 1992
|Prime Minister||Murman Omanidze (Acting)|
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Succeeded by||Eduard Shevardnadze (1995)|
|Chairman of the Supreme Council of Georgia|
14 November 1990 – 26 May 1991
|Preceded by||Irakli Abashidze|
|Succeeded by||Himself as the Head of state;|
Akaki Asatiani as the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia
|Born||31 March 1939|
Tbilisi, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
|Died||31 December 1993 (aged 54)|
Dzveli Khibula, Georgia
|Political party||Round Table—Free Georgia|
Zviad Konstantines dze Gamsakhurdia (Georgian: ზვიად კონსტანტინეს ძე გამსახურდია; Russian: Звиа́д Константи́нович Гамсаху́рдия, romanized: Zviad Konstantinovich Gamsakhurdiya; 31 March 1939 – 31 December 1993) was a Georgian politician, dissident, professor of English language studies and American literature at Tbilisi State University, and writer who became the first democratically elected President of Georgia in May 1991.
A prominent exponent of Georgian nationalism and pan-Caucasianism, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was involved in Soviet dissident movement from his youth. His activities attracted attention of authorities in the Soviet Union and Gamsakhurdia was arrested and imprisonment numerous times. Gamsakhurdia co-founded the Georgian Helsinki Group, which sought to bring attention to human rights violations in the Soviet Union.
He organized numerous pro-independence protests in Georgia, one of which in 1989 was suppressed by the Soviet Army, with Gamsakhurdia being arrested. Eventually, a number of underground political organizations united around Zviad Gamsakhurdia and formed the Round Table—Free Georgia coalition, which successfully challenged the ruling Communist Party of Georgia in the 1990 elections. Gamsakhurdia was elected as the President of Georgia in 1991, gaining 87% of votes in the election. Despite popular support, Gamsakhurdia found significant opposition from the urban intelligentsia and former Soviet nomenklatura, as well as from his own ranks. In early 1992 Gamsakhurdia was overthrown by warlords Tengiz Kitovani, Jaba Ioseliani and Tengiz Sigua, two of which were formerly allied with Gamsakhurdia. Gamsakhurdia was forced to flee to Chechnya, where he was greeted by Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev. His supporters continued to fight the post-coup government of Eduard Shevardnadze. In September 1993, Gamsakhurdia returned to Georgia and tried to regain power. Despite initial success, the rebellion was eventually crushed by government forces with the help of the Russian military. Gamsakhurdia was forced into hiding in Samegrelo, a Zviadist stronghold. He was found dead in early 1994 in controversial circumstances. His death remains uninvestigated to this day.
After the civil war ended, the government continued to suppress Gamsakhurdia's supporters, even with brutal tactics. After Eduard Shevardnadze was overthrown during the 2003 Rose Revolution, Gamsakhurdia was rehabilitated by the President Mikheil Saakashvili. He has been named as a 3rd "Greatest Georgian" by a TV programme "100 Greatest Georgians" launched by First Channel of Georgia.
Early life and education
Zviad Gamsakhurdia was born in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on 31 March 1939; his father, Academician Konstantine Gamsakhurdia (1893–1975), was a prominent Georgian writer during the 20th century.</ref> He was a devote adherent of the Georgian Orthodox Church his entire life.
In 1955, Zviad Gamsakhurdia established a youth underground group. In 1956, he was arrested due to his dissemination of writings critical of communism that exposed Soviet human rights violations. during demonstrations in Tbilisi against the Soviet policy of de-stalinization. He was arrested again in 1958 for distributing anti-communist literature and was confined to a mental hospital in Tbilisi.
After his release, he continued studying western languages and literature at Tbilisi State University, eventually graduating with a degree in philology and becoming a lecturer (1963–1977) and professor (1981–1990) of English language and American literature at Tbilisi State University.
Human rights activism
In mid 1974 he co-founded a Human Rights Defense Group in Tbilisi; in 1977 he co-founded and became chairman of the Georgian Helsinki Group. He was also active in the underground network of samizdat publishers, contributing to a wide variety of underground political periodicals. Although he was frequently harassed and occasionally arrested for his dissidence, for a long time Gamsakhurdia avoided serious punishment, probably as a result of his family's prestige and political connections.
In 1977 the activities of the Helsinki Groups in the Soviet Union became an embarrassment to the government of Leonid Brezhnev.[how?] This started a nationwide crackdown on human rights activists across the Soviet Union; members of the Helsinki Groups, including Gamsakhurdia and fellow dissident Merab Kostava, were arrested in April 1977. Their imprisonment attracted international attention and in 1978 Gamsakhurdia was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He was eventually released in 1979.
In an open letter to Shevardnadze, dated 19 April 1992, Gamsakhurdia claimed that "my so-called confession was necessitated ... [because] if there had been no 'confession' and my release from the prison in 1979 had not taken place, then there would not have been a rise of the national movement."[better source needed]
When the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev initiated his policy of glasnost, Gamsakhurdia played a key role in organizing mass pro-independence rallies held in Georgia between 1987 and 1990, in which he was joined by Merab Kostava on the latter's release in 1987. In 1988, Gamsakhurdia became one of the founders of the Society of Saint Ilia the Righteous (SSIR), a combination of a religious society and a political party which became the basis for his own political movement. The following year, the brutal suppression by Soviet forces of a large peaceful demonstration held in Tbilisi on 4–9 April 1989 proved to be a pivotal event in discrediting the continuation of Soviet rule over the country.
Head of Georgia
Rise to power
The progress of democratic reforms was accelerated and led to Georgia's first democratic multiparty elections, held on 28 October 1990. Gamsakhurdia's SSIR party and the Georgian Helsinki Union joined with other opposition groups to head a reformist coalition called "Round Table — Free Georgia" ("Mrgvali Magida — Tavisupali Sakartvelo"). The coalition won a convincing victory, with 64% of the vote, as compared with the Georgian Communist Party's 29.6%. On 14 November 1990, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected by an overwhelming majority as chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia, which made him de facto head of Georgia, albeit not a sovereign country yet.
Georgia held a referendum on restoring its pre-Soviet independence on 31 March 1991 in which 98.9% of those who voted declared in its favour. The Georgian parliament passed a declaration of independence on 9 April 1991, in effect restoring the 1918–1921 Georgian Sovereign state. However, it was not recognized by the Soviet Union and although a number of foreign powers granted early recognition, universal recognition did not come until the following year. Gamsakhurdia was elected president in the election of 26 May with 86.5% per cent of the vote on a turnout of over 83%.
Gamsakhurdia was a prominent proponent of Georgian nationalism. He campaigned against what he considered as the demographic replacement of ethnic Georgians by Communist authorities, artificial increasing of ethnic minority population in Georgia and discrimination of Georgians. Gamsakhurdia considered Georgians to be inherently European nation and belonging to the European civilization.
According to Stephen F. Jones, a historian and specialist on Russian and Eurasian studies, Gamsakhurdia promoted the concept of pan-Caucasian unity, "Caucasian House". Gamsakhurdia favored regional cooperation between peoples of the Caucasus and considered concepts such as a common economic zone, a "Caucasian Forum" (a regional United Nations) and an alliance against foreign intereference. "Caucasian House" was based on the idea of shared Ibero-Caucasian languages and common tribal and cultural identity among autochthonous Caucasian nations, such as Chechens, Circassians, Abkhazians and Georgians. An allegiance between Gamsakhurdia and Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev was seen as pivotal to its success. However, Gamsakhurdia was soon overthrown after taking office, so the "realisation of the idea of Caucasianness and the Caucasian House has never gone beyond the declaratory level or imaginative projects...".
Policies towards minorities
During the Soviet period, Gamsakhurdia, a major dissident, criticized concessions made by Soviet authorities to ethnic minorities in Georgia. Upon taking office in November 1990, Gamsakhurdia faced the situation of ethnic minorities, making up 30% of the population. Georgians feared that minorities, particularly Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Ossetians, would secede to join their co-ethnics outside of Georgia, which had already happened during Georgia's First Republic in 1918-1921. Anti-Georgian riots in Abkhazia and South Ossetia[when?] fueled by local and Russian conservative military elites exacerbated Georgian concerns of fragmentation. In turn, minorities were scared by the statements of Georgian parties[who?][when?] and by Gamsakhurdia's policies, such as the repelling of Soviet treaties protecting minority rights. They started forming cultural and political organisations.[when?][a]
For Gamsakhurdia, the state embodied the Georgian nation, while ethnic and religious minorities, such as Abkhazians, Adjarians, Armenians, Azeris, Greeks, Meskhetians, Muslims, Russians, and Ossetians, were "ungrateful guests", not proper Georgians, or Russia's fifth column, threatening Georgia's territorial integrity and national identity. According to Georgian philosopher George Khutsishvili, the nationalist slogan "Georgia for the Georgians" launched by Gamsakhurdia's followers, part of the Round Table—Free Georgia coalition, "played a decisive role" in "bringing about Bosnia-like inter-ethnic violence." While Gamsakhurdia may not have actually used the slogan, according to Georgian politician Ghia Nodia, "it probably expressed his true attitude".
Gamsakhurdia's ethnoreligious chauvinism, his nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric and his negative policies toward minorities stirred ethnic tensions in the country. Gamsakhurdia's stance particularly threatened the Abkhazian and Ossetian elites' privileges. Therefore, ethnic minority leaders such as Vladislav Ardzinba in Abkhazia and Torez Kulumbegov in South Ossetia employed similar rhetoric, also focusing on demographic issues.
Still, according to historian Stephen F. Jones, although Gamsakhurdia oppressed minorities, he was pragmatic. For instance, he took steps to diffuse tensions with Abkhazians and granted them over-representation in the local Abkhazian parliament with 43% of seats for 18% of the population. This proposal failed to pacify the conflict.
Human rights violations criticism
On 27 December 1991, the U.S. based NGO Helsinki Watch issued a report on human rights violations made by the government of Gamsakhurdia. The report included information on documented freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press violations in Georgia, on political imprisonment, human rights abuses by the Georgian government and paramilitary in South Ossetia, and other human rights violations. In a report published in April 1992, Human Rights Watch noted that Gamsakhurdia had "quasi-dictatorial powers".
In 1989, violent unrest broke out in South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast between the Georgian independence-minded population of the region and Ossetians loyal to the Soviet Union. South Ossetia's regional soviet announced that the region would secede from Georgia to form a "Soviet Democratic Republic". In response, the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR annulled the autonomy of South Ossetia in March 1990.
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 the former Autonomous District of South Ossetia.
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 19 August, 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.
This article may be confusing or unclear to readers. In particular, Did Gamsakhuria support or opposed the coup leaders?. (August 2016)
He claimed publicly on 21 August 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 Interfax reported that Gamsakhurdia had agreed with the Soviet military that the Georgian National Guard would be disarmed, and on 23 August, he issued decrees abolishing the post of commander of the Georgian National Guard and redesignating its members as interior troops subordinate to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs. In reality, the National Guard was already a part of the Ministry of the Interior, and Gamsakhurdia's opponents, who claimed he was seeking to abolish it, were asked to produce documents they claimed they possessed which verified their claims, but did not do so. Gamsakhurdia always maintained he had no intention of disbanding the National Guard. In defiance of the alleged order of Gamskhurdia, the sacked National Guard commander Tengiz Kitovani led most of his troops out of Tbilisi on 24 August. By this time, however, the coup had clearly failed and Gamsakhurdia publicly congratulated Russia's President Boris Yeltsin on his victory over the putschists. Georgia had survived the coup without any violence, but Gamsakhurdia's opponents accused him of not being resolute in opposing it.
Gamsakhurdia reacted angrily, accusing shadowy forces in Moscow of conspiring with his internal enemies against Georgia's independence movement. In a rally in early September, he told his supporters: "The infernal machinery of the Kremlin will not prevent us from becoming free.... Having defeated the traitors, Georgia will achieve its ultimate freedom." He shut down an opposition newspaper, "Molodiozh Gruzii," on the grounds that it had published open calls for a national rebellion. Giorgi Chanturia, whose National Democratic Party was one of the most active opposition groups at that time, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of seeking help from Moscow to overthrow the legal government. It was also reported that Channel 2, a television station, was closed down after employees took part in rallies against the government.
The government's activities aroused controversy at home and strong criticism abroad. A visiting delegation of US Congressmen led by Representative Steny Hoyer reported that there were "severe human rights problems within the present new government, which is not willing to address them or admit them or do anything about them yet." American commentators cited the human rights issue as being one of the main reasons for Georgia's inability to secure widespread international recognition. The country had already been granted recognition by a limited number of countries (including Romania, Turkey, Canada, Finland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and others) but recognition by major countries, including the U.S., Sweden, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Pakistan, India, came only during Christmas of 1991.
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.
On 22 December 1991, armed opposition supporters launched a violent coup d'état and attacked a number of official buildings including the Georgian parliament building, where Gamsakhurdia himself was sheltering. Heavy fighting continued in Tbilisi until 6 January 1992, leaving hundreds dead and the centre of the city heavily damaged. On 6 January, Gamsakhurdia and members of his government escaped through opposition lines and made their way to Azerbaijan where they were denied asylum. Armenia finally hosted Gamsakhurdia for a short period and rejected Georgian demands to extradite Gamsakhurdia back to Georgia. In order not to complicate tense relations with Georgia, Armenian authorities allowed Gamsakhurdia to move to the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, where he was granted asylum by the rebel government of General Dzhokhar Dudayev.
It was later claimed that Russian forces had been involved in the coup against Gamsakhurdia. On 15 December 1992 the Russian newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti printed a letter claiming that the former Vice-Commander of the Transcaucasian Military District, Colonel General Sufian Bepayev, had sent a "subdivision" to assist the armed opposition. If the intervention had not taken place, it was claimed, "Gamsakhurdia supporters would have been guaranteed victory." It was also claimed that Soviet special forces had helped the opposition to attack the state television tower on 28 December.
A Military Council made up of Gamsakhurdia opponents took over the government on an interim basis. One of its first actions was to remove Gamsakhurdia as president. It reconstituted itself as a State Council and, without any formal referendum or election, in March 1992 appointed Gamsakhurdia's old rival Eduard Shevardnadze as chairman, who then ruled as de facto president until the formal restoration of the presidency in November 1995.
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
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 24 June 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.
Shevardnadze condemned Gamsakhurdia as a "parochial fascist". Shevardnadze's government imposed a harshly repressive regime throughout Georgia to suppress "Zviadism", with security forces and the pro-government Mkhedrioni militia carrying out widespread arrests and harassment of Gamsakhurdia supporters. Although Georgia's poor human rights record was strongly criticized by the international community, Shevardnadze's personal prestige appears to have convinced them to swallow their doubts and grant the country formal recognition. Government troops moved into Abkhazia in September 1992 in an effort to root out Gamsakhurdia's supporters among the Georgian population of the region, but well-publicized human rights abuses succeeded only in worsening already poor ethnic relations. Later, in September 1993, a full-scale war broke out between Georgian forces and Abkhazian separatists. This ended in a decisive defeat for the government, with government forces and 300,000 Georgians being driven out of Abkhazia and an estimated 10,000 people being killed in the fighting.
Return to Georgia
Gamsakhurdia soon took up the apparent opportunity to bring down Shevardnadze. He returned to Georgia on 24 September 1993, a couple of days before the ultimate Fall of Sukhumi, establishing a "government in exile" in the western Georgian city of Zugdidi. He announced that he would continue "the peaceful struggle against an illegal military junta" and concentrated on building an anti-Shevardnadze coalition, drawing on the support of the regions of Samegrelo (Mingrelia) and Abkhazia. He also built up a substantial military force that was able to operate relatively freely in the face of the weak security forces of the state. After initially demanding immediate elections, Gamsakhurdia took advantage of the Georgian army's rout to seize large quantities of weapons abandoned by the retreating governmental forces. A civil war engulfed western Georgia in October 1993 as Gamsakhurdia's forces succeeded in capturing several key towns and transport hubs. Government forces fell back in disarray, leaving few obstacles between Gamsakhurdia's forces and Tbilisi. However, Gamsakhurdia's capture of the economically vital Georgian Black Sea port of Poti threatened the interests of Russia, Armenia (totally landlocked and dependent on Georgia's ports) and 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 20 October 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 6 November.
On 31 December 1993, Zviad Gamsakhurdia died in circumstances that are still unclear. It is known that he died in the village of Dzveli Khibula in the Samegrelo region of western Georgia and later was re-buried in the village of Jikhashkari (also in the Samegrelo region). According to British press reports, his body was found with a single bullet wound to the head but, in fact, it was found with two bullet wounds to the head.
Years later Avtandil Ioseliani - counter-intelligence head of interim government - admitted that two special units were hunting Zviad on interim government's orders.
In the first days of December 1993 two members of President's personal guard also disappeared without a trace, after being sent on a scout mission. Some remains and ashes, never identified, were found 17 years later.
A variety of reasons has been given for Gamsakhurdia's death, which is still controversial and remains unresolved. On 14 December 2018, Constantine and Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, the former president's two sons, announced concerns about the expiration of the statute of limitations set at the end of the same year for a potential investigation into the death of their father, as Georgian law set a 25-year limit for serious crime investigations. They then announced the beginning of a hunger strike.
On 21 December, newly inaugurated President Salome Zurabishvili formally endorsed the request to expand the statute of limitations, calling Gamsakhurdia's death a “murder”, a move supported by opposition and ruling party members of Parliament. Less than a week later, Parliament approved a bill to expand the statute of limitations for serious crimes from 25 to 30 years after the crime, following Constantine Gamsakhurdia's hospitalization.
On 26 December, following the setting-up of a new investigative group under the leadership of General Prosecutor Shalva Tadumadze, Tsotne Gamsakhurdia ended his hunger strike, thus promising a new investigation into his father's death. However, the investigation failed to reach any conclusion to this day, with numerous theories about Gamsakhurdia's death floating in public discourse.
According to former deputy director of Biopreparat Ken Alibek, that laboratory was possibly involved in the design of an undetectable chemical or biological agent to assassinate Gamsakhurdia. BBC News reported that some of Gamsakhurdia's friends believed he committed suicide, "although his widow insists that he was murdered."
Gamsakhurdia's widow later told the Interfax news agency that her husband shot himself on 31 December when he and a group of colleagues found the building where he was sheltering surrounded by forces of the pro-Shevardnadze Mkhedrioni militia. 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 Stechkin pistol. The Chechen authorities published what they claimed was Gamsakhurdia's suicide note: "Being in clear state of mind, I commit this act in token of protest against the ruling regime in Georgia and because I am deprived of the possibility, acting as the president, to normalize the situation, and to restore law and order."
Died in infighting
The Georgian Interior Ministry under Shevardnadze's regime suggested that he had either been deliberately killed by his own supporters, or died following a quarrel with his former chief commander, Loti Kobalia.
Gamsakhurdia's death was announced by the Georgian government on January 5, 1994. Some refused to believe that Gamsakhurdia had died at all but the question was eventually settled when his body was recovered on 15 February 1994. Zviad Gamsakhurdia's remains were re-buried in the Chechen capital Grozny on 17 February 1994. On 3 March 2007, the newly appointed president of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov announced that Gamsakhurdia's grave – lost in the debris and chaos of a war-ravaged Grozny – had been found in the center of the city. Gamsakhurdia's remains were identified by Russian experts in Rostov-on-Don, and arrived in Georgia on 28 March 2007, for reburial. He was interred alongside other prominent Georgians at the Mtatsminda Pantheon on 1 April 2007. Thousands of people throughout Georgia had arrived in Mtskheta's medieval cathedral to pay tribute to Gamsakhurdia. "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 Mikheil Saakashvili told reporters, the Civil Georgia internet news website reported on 31 March.
Gamsakhurdia was married twice. He and his first wife, Dali Lolua, had one son, Konstantine Gamsakhurdia.
Gamsakhurdia was a proponent of Georgian messianism: the "spiritual mission of Georgia" to be a moral example to the rest of the world. He believed that he was divinely appointed by God to lead Georgia.
On 26 January 2004, in a ceremony held at the Kashueti Church of Saint George in Tbilisi, the newly elected President Mikheil Saakashvili officially rehabilitated Gamsakhurdia to resolve the lingering political effects of his overthrow in an effort to "put an end to disunity in our society", as Saakashvili put it. He praised Gamsakhurdia's role as a "great statesman and patriot" and promulgated a decree granting permission for Gamsakhurdia's body to be reburied in the Georgian capital, declaring that the "abandon[ment of] the Georgian president's grave in a war zone ... is a shame and disrespectful of one's own self and disrespectful of one's own nation". He also renamed a major road in Tbilisi after Gamsakhurdia and released 32 Gamsakhurdia supporters imprisoned by Shevardnadze's government in 1993–1994, who were regarded by many Georgians and some international human rights organizations as being political prisoners. In 2013, Gamsakhurdia was posthumously awarded the title and Order of National Hero of Georgia by President Mikheil Saakashvili. Along with Gamsakhurdia, the title and Order of National Hero of Georgia was also awarded to his fellow dissident and friend Merab Kostava. Saakashvili called Gamsakhurdia "a leading light of the national idea" who fought for his country's freedom "when no one could even image it". In parallel, in March 2005 the Parliament of Georgia passed resolution "About the Legal Assessment of the Events of December-January 1991-92", which denounced the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia as an "unconstitutional armed coup". Government officials as well as people pay tribute to memory of Zviad Gamsakhurdia every year on his birthday.
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.
In 2019, the plenary room of the Parliament of Georgia was named after Zviad Gamsakhurdia, with Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of Parliament, describing Gamsakhurdia as "the symbol of our statehood".
The museum honoring the life of the Gamsakhurdia is located in the village of Dzveli Khibula, where Gamsakhurdia spent the last days of his life. On 3 August 2018, by order of the director of the National Agency for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Georgia, the museum received the status of an immovable monument of cultural heritage.
Gamsakhurdia is acknowledged as a symbol of Georgian nationalism and Georgia's national liberation in 1990s. According to the 2020 Caucasus Research Resource Centers poll, 81% of Georgians consider Gamsakhurdia to be a true Georgian patriot, while 76% think that the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia was a bad thing for Georgia. 50% consider that independence would not be possible without Gamsakhurdia. According to the Cambridge University study, Gamsakhurdia is seen as one of the main Georgian national heroes of the 20th century, while his arch enemy Eduard Shevardnadze is perceived as a villain.
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- Jones 2012, p. 40: "Anti-Georgian riots in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whipped up by local intelligentsias fearful of losing their privileges and supported by conservative Russian military circles, intensified Georgian fears of fragmentation.".
- Jones 2012, p. 43.
- de Waal, Thomas (2 November 2018). The Caucasus: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-19-068311-5.
Gamsakhurdia did his best to inflame the situation, telling Ajarians provocatively that as Muslims they were not proper Georgians.
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The initial tension between Tbilisi and Batumi arose from the nature of Georgian nationalizing policies which emphasized a Georgianness that was tied explicitly to Christianity. Because the Ajars were Muslim, they were seen as falling outside this conception of national identity and, therefore, a threat to the unity and the legitimacy of the newly independent state.
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Of course Georgian nationalists, especially in the Gamsakhurdia period, were far from sensitive to minority issues. According to many accounts, Georgia for the Georgians was Gamsakhurdia's slogan, which in fact is not true. I personally never heard anything like this slogan at his rallies and have never seen anybody cite a source for it. But it probably expressed his true attitude. Moreover, one can find many truly racist quotations in the Georgian press in that period.
- Toft, Monica Duffy (2003). The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-12383-7.
The individual who came the closest to fitting this description is Zviad Gamsakhurdia, an outspoken Georgian chauvinist. [...] Although it could be argued that Gamsakhurdia in fact stirred nationalist passions among Georgians prior to his ouster, more than eight months passed between his ouster and the firing of the first shots in the Abkhaz civil war. [...] His earlier dissident writings often invoked the peril of the Georgian nation and blamed both Moscow and the minorities for the destruction of its land, language, and culture. So his slogan "Georgia for the Georgians" was interpreted as a battle cry for the suppression of minorities.
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Gamsakhurdia's increasingly xenophobic rule exhibited an intolerance and violence that rejected the political participation of 'minorities' that had lived as neighbours of the Georgians for centuries.
- Elbakidze, Marina (2008). "Multi-Ethnic Society in Georgia: A Pre-Condition for Xenophobia or an Arena for Cultural Dialogue?". Anthropology of East Europe Review. 26 (1): 38. ISSN 2153-2931.
The independent Georgia of the post-Soviet era, led by President Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1991), began to build a new state based on a mono-ethnic principle. The extreme nationalist position of the government and of certain sections of society is well illustrated by popular slogans of the time such as 'Georgia only for the Georgians' (Dzhavakhishvili & Frichova 2005). Against the background of the drive for independence, chauvinist rhetoric and extremist nationalism led to tensions in relations between ethnic groups and later to armed conflict in Southern Ossetia. The vast majority of ethnic minority citizens who emigrated from Georgia between the declaration of independence and the present day left the country at precisely this time.
- Janse, Diana. "Georgia and the Russian Aggression". www.ui.se. Swedish Institute of International Affairs. Retrieved 7 October 2023.
Nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments ran high and Georgia's then president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was calling for a Georgia for the (ethnic) Georgians.
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Gamsakhurdia took an overly hostile position towards minorities, showing little concern for accommodation of their claims and interests. [...] Nationalists, led by former Soviet dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia, formed the first government in post-Soviet Georgia. Their negative policies toward national minorities led in large part to their failure to gain international recognition. The decision to abolish South Ossetian autonomy in 1990, justified by the fear of territorial autonomies and their use by the Kremlin, triggered the first ethnic clashes and the de facto secession of the region.
- Jones 2006, p. 262.
- Jones 2006, p. 258: "Driven by a mystical vision of Georgian unity and the threat of multiple enemies, Gamsakhurdia's radical nationalist rhetoric helped shape a psychological state of siege. Leaders like Vladislav Ardzinba (Abkhazia) and Torez Kulumbegov (South Osetia) followed suit. They used the demographic card even more effectively, defending communities that numerically were in a far worse situation than the Georgian.".
- Jones 2006, p. 259.
- Donnacha, Beachain (2012). "The dynamics of electoral politics in Abkhazia" (PDF). Communist and Post-Communist Studies. Elsevier. 45 (1–2): 172.
Attempting to assuage the fears of the Abkhaz, Gamsakhurdia assented in 1991 to a legislature in Abkhazia that saw the largest portion of seats (28 out of 65) go to the Abkhaz despite numbering a mere 17.8% of the population, and exceeding representation afforded to the Georgians (26 seats) who constituted almost a majority (45.7%) of Abkhazia's population.
- Coppieters 2005, p. 366.
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- Under construction
Academic journal articles
- Cheterian, Vicken (2012). "The Origins and Trajectory of the Caucasian Conflicts". Europe-Asia Studies. 64 (9): 1625–1649. doi:10.1080/09668136.2012.718415. ISSN 0966-8136. JSTOR 23274948. S2CID 144837761.
- Quotations related to Zviad Gamsakhurdia at Wikiquote