On National, Political and Cultural Self-Identity of the Sharvashidze Princedom

Throughout the centuries the Sharvashidze princedom was at the head of Abkhazia, first having the status of eristavi (governor of a region) and later (from the 17th century) in the rank of the ruler. There is no consensus regarding the origination of this family and time of its promotion in historiography. The first representative of the Sharvashidze family - Dotaghod Sharvashidze (Eristavi of Abkhazia) - is mentioned (in connection with the events of the 1180's) in the composition Istoriani da Azmani Sharavandedtani ("Histories and Praises of Crowned Monarchs") [History... 1959: 33-34]. One part of the researchers consider that they must be the descendants of one of the representatives of the Shirvanshakh's court who was transferred by the King David Aghmashenebeli (David IV "the Builder") to Abkhazia after joining Anisi to Georgia [Brosse, 1895: 154; Gulia, 1925: 138, 208; Anchabadze, 1959: 192 Anchabadze, 2006: 72-80]. There also exists an opinion that the Sharvashidzes' ancestors played an active role within the Abkhazian Saeristavo (the administrative unit in Ancient Georgia) as far back as in the middle of the 11th century [Berdzenishvili, 1957]. Thus in the chronicle Matiane Kartlisai (The Chronicle of Kartli) there is mentioning of a certain Quabuleli Chachas-dze Otagho whose "troops (by order of the king Bagrat IV - Z.P.) besieged the fortress of Anakopia ... Abkhazia [Chronicle ... 1955: 295]. In this case, attention was paid to the similarity of the name of eristavi (Sharvashidze) D-otagho-d who lived in the 12th century with the name of Quabuleli Chachas-dze Otagho on the base of which some researchers consider "Chachas-dze" to be the Georgian form of the surname - Chachba [Inal-ipa, 1976: 141].

In our view the similarity between "Chachas-dze" and "Chachba" seems quite admissible, although it is hard to imagine for us how "Chachas-dze"-"Chachba" can be associated with Sharvashidze. As has been justly pointed out by Z. Anchabadze, the Georgian forms of the family names of the Abkhaz noblemen are directly derived from corresponding Abkhazian surnames: Marshania-Amarshan, Inalishvili-Inal-ipa, Anchabadze-Achba, Dziapshishvili-Dziapshipa, Marghania-Maan, etc. As to the surname of  Sharvashidze, this is an exception to the rule. The Abkhazian form of this surname has nothing to do with its Georgian form (Sharvashidze). In Z. Anchabadze's view, an old Georgian form of Sharvashidze-"Sharvash(i)s-dze literally means "the son of Shi(a)rvanshakh" [Anchabadze, 1959: 194; Papaskiri, 1999:179].

The contemporary historical science has no definite answer concerning the origination of the Sharvashidze family, although it is quite evident that in the late Middle Ages they themselves unambiguously expressed their belongness to the Abkhaz-Apsua ethnos. However, this does not mean that the mentioned Sharvashidze princedom created its own Abkhazian national state in isolation from the Georgian national-political and cultural world. On the contrary, without any doubt it can be stated that in spite of a certain estrangement caused by the intrusion of kindred tribes of Jiki-Abkhazs from the North Caucasia in the 16th-17th centuries and their expansion first within the boundaries of the Principality of Abkhazia and later more to the south, Abkhazia still remained an integral part of the united Georgian national, political and cultural world in the late medieval period, and the representatives of the Sharvashidze princedom unequivocally identified themselves with All Georgian social and political system.  

Georgian national and political world of that period also identified the Sharvashidze family, the rulers of Abkhazia to be an integral part of Georgian national-political and cultural world. This fact is most vividly expressed by the 17-th century Georgian poet Peshangi Khitarishvili in his poem Shakhnavaziani. According to the poem one of the rulers of that day Abkhazia Solomon Sharvashidze declined to confront the King by backing the Odishi Queen Elene Gurieli [Peshangi, 1935: 73-74; Khorava, 1996: 104]. It is quite correctly noted in historiography that Solomon Sharvashidze considered Vakhtang V to be not only the King of Kartli, but the King of All Georgia and thus his suzerain [Khorava, 1996: 103; Papaskiri, 2004: 101]. 

Despite the fact that they had deviated from Christian way of life, the rulers of Abkhazia even at that time they respected the Catholicoses of "Abkhazia" (West Georgia) and considered them their spiritual fathers, even in the period when the residence of a Catholicoses of "Abkhazia" was transferred from Bichvinta to Gelati. This is clearly evidenced from the fragment of Kvapu Sharvashidze's oath book to Catholicos of "Abkhazia" David Nemsadze: "We, the prince Kvapu Sharvashidze and my brother and Kerekim, have written this oath book and grant it to You, the Catholicos David of North and Abkhazia ..." [Kakabadze, 1921: 88; Khorava 1996: 117; Papaskiri 2004: 106]. There have been preserved other "oath books" including "Sapitsris Cigni" which was presented to the "Abkhazian" Catholicos Grigol" (Grigol Lordkipanidze, - Z.P.) by the same Kvapu Sharvashidze and his son Avtandil.

In spite of turning to primitive state that actually caused the fall of cultural level of the region, Abkhazia still remained in the sphere of Georgian written culture and literacy. This is evidenced from the "oath books" and other official documents composed in Georgian language, which were issued from the administration of the Abkhazian ruler. These materials directly indicate that the only official language at that time in Abkhazia was Georgian. Even in the second half of the 18th century when the Ottoman Empire intensified the pressure on Abkhazia and forced some representatives of the Sharvashidze princedom to convert into Islam, Abkhazia was not isolated from the united Georgian national and cultural space. It is not accidental that the majority of Sharvashidzes princedom, including those converted into Islam by force (e.g. Rostom, Manuchar and Zurab Sharvashidze - second half of the 18th century), had traditional Georgian names. Moreover, Georgian names are found in the Ubikh tribes related to Abkhazians. For instance, in the first half of the 19th century the leaders of the Ubikhs were Levan Thanubaia - "Tsanba" in Megrelian transcription [The Acts... 1870: 426, 429, 953] and Zurab Khamish [The Acts... 1884: 505].

Despite certain peculiarities, the intrusion of Jiki-Abkhaz tribes initiated by the Sharvashidzes, and their settlement on the territory of historical Odishi must be regarded as feudal strife. The representatives of the Sharvashidze princedom when widening their lands at the expense of neighboring Samegrelo-Odishi territory, as was already mentioned above, did not think at all about the creation of some Abkhaz-Apsua national-state formation separated from the united Georgian state and political system. Their major goal (as well as that of Megrelian Dadianis and Gurian Gurielis) was to advance on the inner political arena and get the leading positions in Georgian state and political space, i.e. the Sharvashidzes could not imagine themselves in isolation from the Georgian national-state and cultural-political world. On the contrary, the Sharvashidzes tried hard to occupy the Dadiani's place and even the throne of the Imeretian Kingdom at the earliest opportunity. This is clearly evidenced from Sorekh Sharvashidze's attempt to occupy a throne of the Odishi Principality at the beginning of the 1780's [Tamarashvili, 1902: 208; Khorava 1996: 114]. The fact that the representatives of the Sharvashidze's house were not going to stop at the Inguri River and even had planned to intrude into the central regions of Samegrelo is clearly seen from Kvapu Sharvashidze's actions. He crossed the Inguri River, occupied important strategic point of Rukhi and actually turned it into his residence [Khorava, 1996: 121]. It is known that Kvapu Sharvashidze died in Rukhi in 1704. It should be noted that Grigol Lordkipanidze, the Catholicos of "Abkhazia" (West Georgia), specially arrived from Gelati to perform the funeral ceremony and took the so-called nishani (special payment in favor of the church: personal belongings of the deceased, weapon, horse, lands) from the family of the dead [Georgian...1970: 670; Khorava, 1996:122].

Besides the above-mentioned Kvapu Shevashidze's "oath books", the epistolary heritage of Kelesh-bei Sharvashidze and his successors: Giorgi (Sapar-bei) Sharvashidze and Mikheil Sharvashidze as well as other official documents issued from their "chancellery", is the evidence of the fact that the representatives of the Sharvashidze princedom unconditionally identified themselves with Georgian cultural-political and state world.  It is known for certain that these rulers led their official and nonofficial correspondence only in Georgian language. It should be mentioned that this fact is proved even by the officials of the Russian administration in the Caucasus. Namely, the Russian General Kotsebu being at Mikheil Sharvashidze's court stated: "in the family of the princes Sharvashidze the scripted language is Georgian" [Chkhetia, 1963: 154].

From this viewpoint we would like to single out the message written by the prince Kelesh-Bey Sharvashidze (dated from 20th May, 1806) to his nephew Sosran-beg in Georgian language. This letter arouses interest from different view points, but this time of special significance for us is the fact that it was composed in accordance with all norms of documents writing elaborated in medieval Georgia. Besides this, an attention should be paid that this happened not in Samurzakano region, which was more integrated with the rest Georgia, but in the so-called heart of Abkhazia, at the court of the ruler who was considered "true Muslim". This Abkhazia also lived in the conditions of the serfdom and feudal system ("rigi batonmqmobisa") which was universal for the whole Georgia. Despite certain "barbarism" of Abkhazia in the late Middle Ages which, as was already mentioned above, was caused by a new inrush of highland tribes, all this indicates that this region still was a part of Georgian feudal system and the official language of the princedom remained Georgian.

The all-Georgian national-state and cultural-political mentality of the Sharvashidzes princedom was most vividly manifested while composing the so-called "Pleading Points" (on taking the princedom of Abkhazia under the protectorate of the Russian Empire) composed in Georgian language by prince Giorgi (Saphar-Bey) Sharvashidze. It is justly noted in historiography that there definitely was a political idea in the procedure of the preparation and presentation of the "Pleading Points" [Paichadze, 1999: 217]. In composing his document according to which Abkhazia tried to establish relations with Russia on official base in Georgian language, the ruler of Abkhazia clearly demonstrated to the Russian counterpart (and the whole world) that in the foreign relations the Principality of Abkhazia  represented  the Georgian national-state and cultural world at the beginning of the 19th century.

It should be noted that the representatives of the Sharvashidze family usually grounded their pleading concerning the entrance of the Principality of Abkhazia under the protection of the Russian Empire by historical obstacles. For example, this is what the head of Samurzakano - Manuchar Sharvashidze wrote to the General Pavle Tsitsianov in connection with this: "Earlier I was subordinated to Grigol Dadiani and by his order I signed the item presented by you ... as far as our country was... and we have no right [Acts... 1868: 536. Emphasized by me - Z.P.].

And finally, the most important argument that the Principality of Abkhazia considered clearly identified themselves as an integral part of common Georgian Orthodox Christian world is that the last leader of Abkhazia Mikheil Sharvashidze and his son - Giorgi Sharvashidze were buried in the Mokvi church and the epitaph on their grave is carved in old Georgian script Asomtavruli. It should be also mentioned that even after the abolishment of the Principality of Abkhazia (1864) by the Russian Empire the representatives of the Sharvashidze family always emphasized that they were Georgian noblemen.

While considering national-state, and cultural-political identification of the Sharvashidze principality one cannot help mentioning the activity of an outstanding representative of the Georgian literature of the 19th-20th centuries, publicist and public figure Giorgi Sharvashidze, the son and heir of Mikheil Sharvashidze, the last ruler of Abkhazia.

There is no doubt that Giorgi Sharvashidze was a tragic person. Being still young he appeared as a leader of a strong anti-Russian rebellion (Abkhazs uprising of 1866) because of which during the whole his life he suffered persecution by the regime of the Russian Empire. Being brought up according to the best traditions of the Georgian feudal aristocracy Giorgi Sharvashidze felt a roaring love and devotion both for his native Abkhazia and his big motherland - Georgia which he used to call Iveria since childhood. It is not questionable that he, first of all, regarded the entire Georgia and not Abkhazia proper as his native land. However, this does not allow us to question his and generally the Sharvashidze family belongness to Abkhazian ethnic world in the late medieval period. Giorgi Sharvashidze who historically and culturally was definitely Georgian, was well aware about his own Abkhazness. The vivid illustration of this is his poetic masterpiece Varada (an Abkhazian refrain) in which he emotionally expresses his wish not to be cut from his Abkhazian roots: "Oh, my God!/ Help me not to degrade/ And sometimes refrain/ My ancestors' Varada" [Sharvashidze A., 2006: 97].

As Academician Simon Janashia justly puts it, "Only on the ground of deep feeling and understanding of the uniqueness of the native environment could have grown such a masterpiece as it is Abkhazian song "Varada" coming from the depths of the soul, poetic embodiment of lyrical emotion" [Janashia, 1988: 22]. And this Abkhaz whole-heartedly loving his native Abkhazia was a brilliant expert of his own land and Abkhazian language [Janashia, 1988: 22] was at the same time a true son and patriot of his big motherland - Georgia and never missed an opportunity to stand steadily on Georgia's guard, protect its national and cultural values and give adequate response to those who expressed hostility to his big motherland. A good example of this is Giorgi Sharvashidze's letter to the editor of the German newspaper Berliner Tageblatt as a response to the published article by the correspondent Lorenz. In this article the journalist retold the readers about his trip to Gagra where he was invited by Prince Oldenburg. According to the journalist during the party "the representatives of the local elite who served the table" stole "the coat of one of the guests". Lorenz also wrote about Tbilisi with a kind of scorn noting that "there people and animals are in the same position". Giorgi Sharvashidze responded to this libel in the following way: "the people he (Lorenz - Z.P) referred to so scornfully have brilliant historical past ... Georgians are the knights taking part in crusading wars of the first advocates of Christianity, stood at the gates of the Caucasus not for the purpose of breaking into foreign lands and plunder other people's good, but to defend their fatherland, - to protect Christian culture and civil life... Georgians have the richest ancient epic literature which can be compared with world works ... in the hierarchy of Georgian kings and people the names of outstanding heroes and people of wisdom can be found." [Letter...1911; Lekishvili, 1975: 85-286].

It is clearly seen from this letter that for Giorgi Sharvashidze, Abkhazians and Abkhazia is an integral part of Georgia. It is a single cultural-political and state system. He is proud of this motherland common for Abkhazs and Georgians. That is why in 1917 when the contours of the revival of Georgian state appeared, Giorgi Sharvashidze wholeheartedly welcomed the beginning of a new epoch. In connection with this, of special interest is his letter published in the newspaper "Sakartvelo" (1917: 25-29 June): "Although our homeland Iveria has had all kinds of big cultural challenges but our past was built in such time that we have lost the path of national evolution. Yes, we can speak with confidence that if not bad fortune, today we would have been ahead of Europe... At a time when the conscious part of the fragmented Iver people stood arms folded at the graves of their former greatness, now suddenly the voice of justice and freedom! Georgia raises the alarm, cries hurray, hurray!" Against the background of such national awakening Giorgi Sharvashidze's heart is broken because other slogans are heard: "We do not want freedom, we do not look for the autonomy, all peoples in the world are united and we only want to provide benefits to the working people. To do this, take away the estates of the landlords and give it to peasants, down with titles and private ownership on land ... and thus the bright sun of national liberation and revival set down to earthly calculations" [Sharvashidze 1917; Sharvashidze A, 2006: 306-307]. Really one cannot but admire Giorgi Sharvashidze's inspiration in the spirit of Ilia Chavchavadze.

Giorgi Sharvashidze's national pain as of a fervent patriot of Georgia, loving his native land, always concerning about his country's fate, is remarkably rendered in his poem Response to V.O., which was written in Batumi as a response to Vakhtang Orbeliani's verse - Amer-Imers. Because of the censorship, Response to V.O was not published in the newspaper Droeba. Giorgi Sharvashidze shared the patriotic pathos of his friend poet and with a heavy heart recalled the past when Georgia was powerful and unified6 [Lekishvili, 1975: 256-257].

Giorgi Sharvashidze was very upset that the feeling of unity had been lost among Georgians, the whole country was consumed with envy and strife from within: "Some small groups, diversity of ideas,/ Oh! where is the Georgian glory of older times!" [Lekishvili,1975: 256-257].

Here for known reasons we withhold from detailed analysis of this remarkable poem written by Giorgi Sharvashidze, it is to be judged by experts. We only state that this poem can be put in rank with the most outstanding specimens of Georgian patriotic lyric.

Giorgi Sharvashidze's image as of Georgian public man, the man concerning about native Georgian literature, Georgian language is remarkably manifested in one more publication: On the Georgian Language [Sharvashidze, 1915]. In this article, he appears as an active defender of Georgian literary traditions. He strongly disapproves "of bad translation from foreign languages". In Giorgi Sharvashidze's opinion this expresses a tendency to the "degenration of the native language" [Sharvashidze 1915; Janashia 1988:20]. He is also greatly concerned about an increased unsystematic use of foreign words in the Georgian language. In the author's view "one should borrow foreign words and terms only in extreme case when there is no equivalent in Georgian... it is necessary to try to enrich our language and not make it extinct" [Sharvashidze, 1915; Janashia, 1988: 20]. As is seen Giorgi Shervashidze's attitude to his native written language is very much like Ilia's.

In conclusion, while speaking about Giorgi Sharvashidze's national-state and cultural-political image one cannot help mentioning his speech at the so-called "gathering of the Abkhazs" on 8 November, 1917. This meeting organized by the Abkhazian nationalistic leaders with anti-Georgian attitude trampled down the centuries-old Georgian-Abkhazian historical cohabitation and linked the future of the Abkhaz people to the so-called "Union of the Caucasian Highlanders". The well-pronounced anti-Georgian pathos of the "gathering" and orientation caused a protest on the part of Georgian statesmen. As is mentioned by Mikheil Tarnava, known for his separatist attitudes, the meeting was attended by Akaki Chkhenkeli - a deputy of the Russian State Duma (IV), a representative of the "Ozakom" ("Special Transcaucasian Committee" - a supreme body of Russian Provisional Government in Transcaucasia) and other celebrated people among which was  Giorgi Sharvashidze too.

Giorgi Sharvashidze addressed the participants of the "meeting" in the Abkhaz language, explained the essence of the recent developments in Russia, congratulated the approximation of the freedom and called to the friendship and collaboration with Georgian people: "You'd better follow your elder brothers, take joint actions and fight for gaining freedom and self-preservation. I know some of you may not like such view of mine as you are looking in the direction of Moscow and I am looking at Tbilisi. There is no other choice and has never been for Abkhazia but close connection with Georgia and be with her sharing her sorrows and joy". After this speech, being disappointed with anti-Georgian demarche of his brothers Giorgi Sharvashidze left the hall and never returned [Estrangement...1931; Chitaia, 2006: 125-126]. Three months later on 19 February, 1918 the entire Georgia was shocked by the news came from Sokhumi about the death of a great patriot.

Such unexpected death of a true pillar of Georgian-Abkhazian historical fraternity and unity, the last of the Mohicans of the Abkhazian elite - Giorgi Sharvashidze at the beginning of 1918 when newly appeared Abkhazian leaders tried hard to detach his native area from the rest of Georgia, was somehow a symbolic event.  An ardent patriot of his great motherland - Georgia - because of true love and uncompromising position more than once provoked rage from the Russian authorities. His heart could not bear the disloyalty of his compatriots. It was quite evident that new Abkhaz leaders had totally different ideals. They could not and did not wish follow Giorgi Sharvashidze's path. It was not for this purpose that "mother Russia" brought them up. This fact did not passed unnoticed for the eminent representatives of the Georgian society of that time. This is what was said in Giorgi Sharvashidze's funeral speech by known Georgian public man Niko Tavdgiridze: "Those Abkhazs who were respected by foreigners because of you, for the freedom of whom you sacrificed all your glorious carrier, all your property, richness, did not even notice your arrival here... They did not benefit from your being here...To ignore you was a crime... What injustice, what an irony of fate: you have sacrificed all your celebrated energy... ...for the freedom of your small country Abkhazia, the only treasure that had value to you - and gathering your last strength  as a Biblical Simon attracted to it but your beloved people Abkhazians did not response you, failed to appreciate you and followed the leaders brought up with Russian mentality against whom you were fighting and sacrificed all your happiness" [Theatre... 1918; Sharvashidze B., 2006: 39-40].

Such is our study of the national-state and cultural political self-identity of the Sharvashidzes princedom. Naturally, the material presented here cannot have a claim to study the given issue completely and thoroughly, but even from this it is obvious that the representatives of the Sharvashidzes family in the course of the Middle Ages and later (until the abolishing of the Abkhazian principality and later) unambiguously identified themselves with the united Georgian national-state and cultural-political world and represented an integral part of Georgian political elite.

The fragments from the Abkhazia ruler Sharvashidze's official and unofficial correspondence see [Papaskiri, 2004: 105-108, 120, 122, 126-127, 129-130, 166-170, 186].

See complete text [Sakhalkho... 1989]

The text of the "satxovari punktebi" was first composed at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then it was translated into Georgian and, as an original, was signed by Giorgi Sharvashidze and seal, also witnessed by Abkhazian noblemen, and together with the Russian text it was presented to the Russian government [Paichadze, 199: 217].

In connection with this, it is also not of less importance that the Russian Empire in every possible way promoted the so-called "historical obstacles and emphasized historical unity of Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. This is clearly seen from the notification sent by General Pavle Tsitsianov to Count A.Vorontsov to St. Petersburg dated to 27 October, 1803 where he states that Kelesh-Bey Sharvashidze and his principality in the 15th century represented the province of Iveria [Acts... 1868: 463]. There was another Governor General Gudovich who emphasized Abkhazia's belongness to Georgia historically Georgian Christian world [Acts...1869: 208-209].

From this viewpoint it is of particular importance Aleksandre Sharvashidze's known remark: "I am not Abkhazian but Georgian nobleman" [Berdzenishvili, 1990: 611].

This verse have been found and published by S. Lekishvili [Lekishvili, 1975: 256-257]


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