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George Sharvashidze - Country of Liquid Sun

Thursday, April 16
The eldest son of the last Ruler of Abkhazia-poet, dramatist, publicist and public figure Giorgi Sharvashidze-was a prominent figure in the history of Georgia in the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuryís. All of his creative work and ideology were directed towards a deepening of relations between Georgians and Abkhazians. His policy of a unified Georgian state system made the greatest impact upon the perception of his contemporaries.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire, after having severely suppressed the many years of resistance from Caucasian highlanders, swept away the last traces of the Georgian state system, abolishing the principalities of Svaneti, Samegrelo and Abkhazia and reducing the country to two provinces, Tbilisi and Kutaisi. Disrespect and impudence came to such a level that even mentioning of the name of the country-Georgia-was officially prohibited.

The abolition of the principalities did not proceed smoothly. Media spoke of the "mincing of the Kutaisi Governor General, Gagarin, into pieces with a sword by Murzakhan Dadeshkeliani" and the sentencing to death of the unfortunate ruler of Svaneti. Great efforts were required for calling the Queen of Samegrelo, Ekaterine Dadiani, to St-Petersburg.

Then the issue of the existence of the principality of Abkhazia also came upon the agenda.

Mikheil Sharvashidze, its ruler and who was highly esteemed throughout Georgia and in north-west Caucasus, was forced to obey the will of the Emperor in 1864 and call the population to submit to Russia whilst resigning without resistance.

A few years earlier, Sharvashidze, exhausted after a long illness, sent an application to the Emperor of Russia on handing over the throne to his eldest son Giorgi who, at that time, served in Tbilisi as the Adjutant to Governor General. His application was rejected with the reply: "Your son, due to his young age and lack of experience, will not be suitable for this. The covert intents of this reply were not incomprehensible for Sharvashidze and he, as a sign of protest resigned the regalia awarded to him by the Russian government; that is, the title of General Adjutant and Lieutenant General.

In the course of time, it became clear that Sharvashidze was not mistaken in choosing his eldest son. His life was tragic. Despite the fact that his father had resigned peacefully, further events brought the physical survival of Abkhazian people under risk. Unlimited despotism and the depreciating and cynical attitude of the Russian Empire exhausted the patience of the Abkhazians and rebellion broke out on 17 July 1866 with the people asking a still young Giorgi Sharvashidze, who was elected ruler, to be the leader of the rebellion.

After the rebellion was suppressed, Giorgi Sharvashieze was soon after exiled to Russia and under the strict supervision of the gendarmerie. He was allowed to settle in St-Petersburg only some years later. Prince Aleksandre the future Emperor Alexander III) was carried away by the merks of the heir to the Abkhazian throne and soon made friends with him.

In early 1880, Mikhai Zich (1827-1906), a painter of the Russian Emperial Court and a Hungarian by nationality, arrived in Georgia. This fact became an important event. By that time, the Georgian intelligentsia was preparing a new edition of the Knight in Panther's Skin and working on the identification of the full-value text of the poem. Giorgi Sharvashidze was involved in this process as well. It was Mikhai Zich who was approached for the creation of the illustrations for the new edition.

The patrons of Georgian theatre took the advantage of the visit of the famous artists in Tbilisi and asked him to stage "live pictures" from the Knight in Panther's Skin. In agreement with Ilia Chkhonia and Shalva Dadiani, Simon Janashia stated: "Zich considered Giorgi Sharvashidze as the most handsome man and could not find a more suitable object for the embodiment of Tariel."

The relations between the heir of the last ruler of Abkhazia and Romano imperial court were finally terminated in 1888. Prior to Alexander IIIís visit to Kutaisi, the Governor General asked Giorgi Sharvashidze, Niko Nikoladze, Constantine Dadiani and some other persons to leave Kutaisi for the reason of their unreliability. Sharvashidze listened to the Governor order calmly and rejected the title of the Emperor's Adjutant in an unprecedented action which astonished the Georgian aristocracy. The defense of personal dignity in this manner was a unique case. Emperor Aleksander II tried to reconcile with him several times but his efforts proved to be unsuccessful.

Giorgi Sharvashidze died on 19 February 1918. The time was restless but the people managed to fulfill his will. The heir of the last ruler of Abkhazia was buried in the Mokvi temple.

In parallel with his literary and public activities in Abkhazia and on his own estates, Giorgi Sharvashidze was also involved in viticulture and wine making. In 1880-1895, the land in Abkhazia belonged only to Sharvashidzes. Wine making was not economically important in Abkhazia at that time but it could be very profitable if it were developed. Basically, viticulture was developed in Gudauta and Kodori. 50,000 puds of wine were made from vineyards owned by Giorgi Sharvashidze in this region of which 30,000 puds were taken by sea to Odessa and Novorossiysk.

Izabela variety grapes were planted in Sharvashidze's estate, located in Babushera, in 1895. Grafting was made by local peasants under the leadership of a viticulture list from Samegrelo who was sent by Prince Murat from the village of Salkhino. Sharvashidze had close contacts with the Princess of Samegrelo, Salome Dadiani, and her husband, Achille Murat, Upon Sharvashidze's request, the Princess distributed grafted young vines, which were grown on her estate, to Abkhazian peasants free-of-charge.

All princes, nobles and peasants who had the permission to sell grapes delivered theirs to Sharvashidze who, as the grape holders in Abkhazia, were permitted to produce wine on their own estate for their own consumption. This business was mainly led by peasants from Samegrelo who provided agricultural activities for Sharvashidze's estates.

Often, people from Ajara went to Abkhazia to buy grapes and make wine and distill vodka from chacha on site. Sharvashidze had a vodka distillery in the Gudauta district where Gurians and Greeks worked as distillers. In addition to the Sharvashidzes, the estates in Abkhazia also were bought by Prince Oldenburgsky and the Princes Kankia and Shengelia who were also granted the right of activities from the Sharvashidzes at that time.

Only 11 wine cellars operated in Abkhazia between 1836-1852 which produced 50,000 buckets of wine annually. Wine was basically consumed in Sokhumi from where it was also taken to Kerch, Anapa and Taganrog.

Before the planting Izabela grapes, those of the Amlakhu, Kachichi, Avasiskhda, Agbishi and other local varieties yielded good harvests. Wine was made and kept in kvevris, and transported in sheep wine skins.

Sharvashidze brought oak barrels for wine storage in 1875-1880. His workforce, in addition to Megrelians and Gurians, consisted of Russians, Estonians, Germans and Greeks who had been exiled to the region. Local wine and chacha vodka was drunk mainly by those employed in the Prince's estate, During feasts, which were held in Sokhumi, New Athos and Babushera, Prince Sharvashidze treated his honoured guests with expensive champagne, cognac, rum, absinthe and other liqueur.