Journey Through the Time
Everything started when in the issue of 7-13 October of 2005 in the newspaper “Akhali Azri” (New Viewpoint) there was printed an interview with Zurab Kapanadze – “There is a new summit on a Caucasus “Fereidani Georgian” (what troubles those Gurjis (Iranian Georgians are an ethnic group living in Iran. Today's Georgia was a subject to the Safavid empire in 17th century and Shah-Abbas I relocated Georgians as part of his programs to develop industrial economy, strengthen the military and populate newly built towns in various places in Iran including Behshahr and Farahabad in Sari County. Remark of the translator (ref. en.wikipedia.org) living in Iran?!)”. In the prologue we read: “Zurab Kapanadze is one of the firsts to break the ice and make friends with Iranian alpinist colleagues. He has just returned from the summit of Damaland together with his like-minded friends. As he mentions, this enterprise was rather of cultural character followed by nostalgia than of sportive one”. We also read: “They (Gurjis Remark of the translator) are not satisfied with talks about culture any more. They demand closer relations and designate that lack of attention hurts their feelings much”. “They direct their attention to the ideology, try to learn Georgian language, long for to receive Georgian magazines and news-papers, watch Georgian TV shows and listen to Georgian radio channels. By present time this is already acceptable in Iran so it is no further problem”, “they regret that their children go to schools to the Iranian big cities and assimilate with locals. There is no word about Georgian schools, but some people try to teach Georgian writing and reading on their own, one of them is my friend Nikoloz Batuashvili. Not many pupils can learn to write but they manage to speak Georgian fluently”.
I had been already at the end of my tether so after reading this interview I could wait no more and to take some actions, but before I tell you about that, here is a brief excursion through my life. The first ring in the chain that had led me to my actions was the documentary film of Guram Pataria “It is far to the Gurjistan” that left a great impression in my heart (which was far from being unique as many Georgians were touched by the film). I shall never forget faces of Fereidani Georgians on a wide screen, especially their eyes that seemed to find a room for all the melancholy. A feeling of guilt was born in my heart when I imagined the path of the pain their ancestors had to go through, while I was living in security and happiness. Since then I had been thinking much about finding the way to show them my respect and pay off the enormous moral debt that was accumulated during these centuries. Afterwards I decided to go to Fereidani by all means, to step on the path that their ancestors were walking at about 400 years ago and to step on the ground where my “Co-roots, brothers and co-nation, warm-blooded Georgians” (The words of the young Fereidani Georgian, patriotic teacher Said Mulian, the same Giorgi Muliashvili Remark of the author) live, to teach at least one of them Georgian language and return with my conscious calm. Then it was a visit of two Fereidani Georgians who came to Tbilisi on their own two. Unfortunately I got that information too late so I could not manage to meet them. Afterwards there was the concert of “Chveneburebi” in Tbilisi Philharmonics. I found out about the one from the interview with Ahmad Mulian (who turned out to be Kakha Muliashvili, the brother of Giorgi Muliashvili). The concert was organized by a very famous woman. At first I decided to contact her, but then changed my mind as I remembered the words of Rabindranath Tagore: the Grass does not try to become a baobab tree, that’s why in spring earth is dressed in beautiful green dress”.
After Reading the interview in “Akhali Azri” I managed to contact with Zurab Kapanadze who helped me a lot by explaining details, for this, again, I am thankful. He also gave me the phone number of the friend of his in Iran – Revaz Davitashvili. He seemed happy and eager to help and after I explained my plans and hopes he promised me to help in finding a man named as Nikoloz Batuashvili (Imamkuli Batvan). The very next day I already had his telephone number and of course I did not hesitate to call him. He seemed happy too and promised if I arrived in Fereidani, or to call it with real name Martkopi, he would organise for me a meeting with the group of people that was longing to learn our language (it should be remarked that conversations were in Georgian).
Afterwards I searched for the map of Iran through the internet. I found it but as expected there was no sign of Fereidani on it. Then I visited the embassy of Iran Islamic Republic where I was met with tactfulness by Mrs. Sofiko and Iran consulate in Georgia Reza Keshavarzmohamadian. To my surprise met me in shawl explaining that matter by being in Iran embassy what meant that she was on Iran soil and she wanted to respect their traditions.
While I was waiting for the visa, I took care to buy some books, souvenirs made on the topic of old Tbilisi. I even went to market in Bodbiskhevi to buy some Kakhetian “churchkhelas” (A kind of Georgian sweets. Remark of the translator). I wanted everything to be from my motherland. As long as I was going to Fereidani using my own funds the option of the aeroplane fell out from the very beginning. In the end I decided to go by car. To express the condition of my soul and its feelings I shall write down the verses that belong to Gia Mataradze:
And it was so. I had to go but I did not know exactly where. I had to see, but no concrete person. I wanted to talk, but I could not think of words that I would start my conversation. The only thing I knew is that I had to follow the road and I did so.
I shall go – do not know where…
I shall see – do not know whom…
I shall tell – do not know what...
I shall follow only path.
Shall I get somewhere?
Shall I be met somewhere?
It does not matter any more...
I’ll take my lonely path.
Fereidani, Fereidun Shahri, province in central Iran in the mountains of Bakhtiar. At about 100 kilometres from Isfahan (Esfahān or Isfahan (historically also rendered as Ispahan or Hispahan, Old Persian: Aspadana, Middle Persian: Spahān, Persian: اصفهان Esfahān), located about 340 km south of Tehran. Remark of the translator (ref. en.wikipedia.org) In 1614-17 Shah Abass I forced 200 thousand Georgians to move into Iran and great deal of them again under compulsion. Afterwards Georgian villages were created there: Higher and Lower Martkofi, Chughureti (Choghiureti), Afusi (Ruispiri), Shibaki (Vashlovani), etc. In one of the districts of Fereidani (Giurji-Nahie – Georgian District) there are Georgians living, in the other three (Nahie-Chadeguni, Nahie-Farsaghi, Nahie-Tohmahlu) – Persians, Kurtians, Lurs, Bakhtiars, Armenians. Shah Abass had the idea of securing Isfahan from nomadic tribes (Kurtians, Bakhtiars, Lurs, etc.) At first Georgians tried to keep their religion and traditions. However, they were forced to change their religion and that of course influenced their plural customs, though they still kept Georgian language and some of the Christian traditions. According to last researches there are at about 12-14 thousand Georgians living there.
I chose a train as a mean of transportation from Tbilisi to Baku. Journey went smoothly without any problems except one incident that occurred at Azerbaijan border. After checking everyone was given out their passports but me. Then I was asked to follow to the conductor’s compartment where the customs officer started questioning me. He was doing his job with such an expression on his face that I thought I was being searched by international police. He wanted to know my real surname, whether I had changed it, of which origin I was and so on. I couldn’t make him believe that it was my real surname and I hadn’t even planned to change my last name. I wasn’t able to make him understand that I was Georgian because there was no column for person’s origin. He was very suspicious to find in my wallet the calendar which had the telephone numbers of “Aversi” (Pharmaceutical company in Georgia Remark of the translator) chemist’s-shops and informational centres on the backside. As I understood it was my surname – Alaverdashvili - to bring up this mess. I remembered that after finishing polytechnic institute I was on a military meeting near Baku, in Binagad, to be more accurate in Balajara. Only wind and sand sprang to my mind at the remembering of the place. I also mentioned how we were visiting Baku to eat kababi and visit “Kiz Kalas”. That seemed to satisfy him. And he let me go after understanding that I had been to Azerbaijan before, but he didn’t make any mark in my passport (that little inattentiveness cost me $20 on the Azerbaijan-Iran border).
When I finally arrived at Baku I was surrounded by exchangers of currency, taxi drivers and their Milkier. Mr. Zurab’s advices did me lot of good. At last I managed to find a taxi that would take me exactly to the nearest city to the border Astara. The driver, Eltsin Muradov, got on like a house on fire, so he bought hunted birds and calming me with the words that it was completely secure and no H5N1 could hurt us as he used to buy them often and still was breathing. His wife approved of his words when we stopped for a while at his place.
The trip from Baku to Astara took four hours. We arrived in the second half of the day. Eltsin accompanied me up to the border where he made me promise that I would ring him on the phone on the way back. I passed the border without having problems, if we don’t take $20 dollar fine into consideration, which, by the way, I am not quite sure whether I had to pay or not. I was all eyes to see if anyone approached my bag (devil sleeps never, who knows what might happen?!) and giving polite refusal to those who asked me to tack some packages throughout the country assuring me that the owner would be awaiting on the next side of the boundaries. At last I was in Iran where the same accident to the one in Baku occurred, but in more modest way.
I took a taxi to the auto station. The driver made me listen to the songs of “T.a.t.u” making excuse for not having any thing Georgian and explaining his choice by my knowledge of the Russian language. He took me to the highway without going to the auto station. He said that there I would have to wait for the bus more than four hours, but on the highway buses passed more often and it would also be cheaper. Indeed, seven minutes later I was already sitting in the bus and enjoying my trip to Tehran. It was late and view from the window was not very exciting, but after turning the illumination on the villages and settlements near the road started to sink in light. The road was straight, smooth without any holes. Tehran was so lit that you couldn’t think that it was night already. From the distance I could see the lines of light that turned out to be the bulbs fixed under balconies. To my surprise they were all turned on.
I changed the bus at the station, and headed to Isfahan. Hospitability of Iranians deserves to be mentioned. There was an aged man sitting by my side, later I learned his name – Maanzel Tahabur. He started a conversation in English with help of the young student that was sitting in front of me. When I told him about my purpose he seemed to like it and at the very next bus-stop invited me to drink grape juice, the student sent me a piece of cake. I became very upset as my baggage was locked and I had no chance to give them souvenirs that I had. However, I found some coins in my pocket. I gave those coins to other passengers as well and explained the meaning of the sun symbol, “Bordjghali”, which was engraved on their back and front of the passport. When they heard that in ancient times Georgians used to cut out Bordjghali on the entrance of their house or on the arcs as the symbol of richness and wealth. They seemed very pleased and everyone invited me at their place.
I arrived at Isfahan at 7 o’clock in the morning I decided to go to Martkopi so I started searching for a bus. Unfortunately I could not find anything. Then I met a person who spoke fluent English and explained to me that it would be clever of me to go first to Fereidani and then decide how to visit Martkopi. He hired a car for me. I am very grateful to that person but unfortunately I did not ask him his name.
Journey took 4 hours. The roads were in good condition, views gray and dull – no trees, no bushes, only green-houses where the roses were grown. The car broke down on the way. I gave him a hand and we continued our journey. My being student sprang to my mind. How we were building meet factory on Kozlovka. Outside the village it was marshland I used to visit and gather some roots of birch that I used to make some chandeliers and different figures later. Once I felt that I was sinking. Fortunately one of the roots I was to pull out saved my life. Later my friend told me: “It would be shame if you - a man from draughty Kakheti – stayed here forever, if nothing more” Since then I never left alone for birch roots.
When we arrived at Fereidani we saw two youngsters. Taxi driver went out and spoke them in Persian. Then he returned smiling and said that everything was all right. I thanked them in Georgian that happened by chance. When they heard Georgian word they rushed at me asking how I knew that word. I answered with pleasure that I was a visitor from Georgia and that everyone is aware of their painful story and many wants to visit them and I was one of the few lucky men who managed this. They explained that Fereidani and Martkopi was one and the same place. This was my first acquaintance with Fereidani Georgians.
In the streets of Fereidani I met first Georgian signboards saying: “Flowers Shop”, “Welcome”, etc. It was easy enough to find Nikoloz Batuashvili’s house, but he was not in and I did not wish to speak to his wife in order not to violate their traditions (I did not know whether it was allowed to speak to women without men’s presence). I did not say who I was or what was the purpose of my visit, I don’t know why but I decided to return to Isfahan and contact Revaz Davitashvili. I took out the issue of “Akhali Azri” where there were phone numbers. The photo that was printed in it caused the great interest. One of the youngsters said that there was his brother-in-law on the photo - Revaz Davitashvili and if I wanted we could call him on the phone because he was living in Fereidani and in 200 yards distance there was his car shop.
Soon everything changed to good. Taxi driver hadn’t left when Mr Revaz arrived with his car. He took me to his house immediately. On the way I asked if there were any traditions that I could break without knowing. He answered that there would be no problems all I had to do is to take of my shoes and enter house barefoot. And I did so indeed. We were met by his wife Mrs Tehere and daughter Elnazi. After interesting talk I was offered to take hot shower and given pyjamas. Then, after brief respite I was invited to dinner where we were joined by other two daughters of Mr Revaz – Mithra and Anaida – who returned from school (Boys and girls go to different schools. Remark of the author).
After enjoying delicious dinner we continued our conversation. Little Anaida showed me her treasure – “Deda Ena” (“Mother Language” the very first book in school that teaches Georgian alphabet, reading and writing) by Iakob Gogebashvili, then I gave the elder daughter Elnazi the Shota Rustaveli’s “Vepkhistkaosani”. (“The Knight in the Panther's Skin”, written by Shota Rustaveli who was a Georgian poet of the 12th century, and the greatest classic of Georgian secular literature). illustrated by Mihály Zichy, I gave Mithra and Anaida the pictures of Old Tbilisi by Gzirishvili. Their parents received Georgian souvenirs from me.
Later in the evening Revaz took me to his friend Said Muliani or Giorgi Muliashvili. He turned out to be historian and knew much of Georgian and Persian history. When I told them that I was from Sighnaghi they took me to the mountain. It was quite late and dark but still I could clearly see the remains of the stone walls where Georgians stood against their enemy. When I was told the name of the place it seemed as if I was hit with sword. The Sighnaghi Wall it was called.
On the opposite side of the wall there was a huge mountain. Slopes of that mountain house Fereidani. Locals call the mountain “Tsikhemta” (Keep Mountain). There is one tragic story connected to the mountain. There is a place like heaven on top with green grass and spring running down. There is only one narrow path leading to the top and everywhere else there are cliffs. The mountain was sanctuary for women, children and old in times of war. Once enemy found out the secret of the mountain. Georgian mothers decided not to become prisoners and started to jump of the cliffs hugging their children and trying to fall on their back to save their children. One child Hakverdi (Khutsishvili) survived and continued the line. Shepherds found some beads at the bottom of the mountain.
While I was in Fereidani Revaz acquainted me with most of his friends: Bejhan, Ehsan, Alia, Mamuka and so on. They knew much about situation in Georgia. They asked where we had taken David the Builders statue, what was going to happen with Alexander Chavchavedze museum, they even knew that in Zugdidi castle of Dadianis was being argued by Miurates. I told them in a joking manner that real purpose of my visit was to picture a bridge in Isfahan that was built by Alaverdi-Khan and then start the process in order to return rights of the heir. They kept the spirits up and revealed that river, where the bridge stands, Zaiande Rundi (which means Mother River) starts in Fereidani. What meant, that both the river and the bridge were possessions of Georgians by right. One of them said that in his infancy he dreamt of building a bridge that would link Fereidani to Georgia.
I should mention that every woman in Iran, no matter of what age, is wearing yashmak. One evening I mentioned that my daughter, Sophie, asked to bring her one. Mrs Tahere fetched some of different sizes to choose. I refused for I did not think that my daughter would wear yashmak in Tbilisi while those people needed them.
I noticed that every time Revaz was speaking on his cell phone he was speaking on Georgian language. First I thought it was done on purpose not to make me feel confused, but later he explained that normally they speak Georgian when referring to one another. But the language they spoke was quite different from what we spoke in Georgia. I had a feeling that somehow due to not existing time machine I was taken back in time by four centuries and then again brought to future due to life conditions. To my shame, several times I used such words that they couldn’t understand just because they are slang. I had to explain that word “dazhe” entered Georgian language from Russian slang and expressed my regret.
I should also mention that while I was there I did not hear any of offensive an insulting words spoken, nor have I seen beggars in streets. There were special urns in streets and freeways where everyone could put money in the name of Allah, and then money is spent in proper way by city heads. But what is most important during these four hundred years no Georgian was killed in Fereidani by another Georgian.
Finally time of my departure has come. Revaz refused to let me go alone and took the obligation of taking me to Isfahan. As long as his parents were living in Isfahan he didn’t want me to leave without seeing them. After parting with his wife and daughters we visited Giorgi Muliashvili. He gave me his book – Role of Georgians in Iran’s History – as a gift, another copy of the book was given to me to take to the counsel Mr Reza, and a pack for his brother who turned out to be living in Tbilisi. I was astonished to hear that. It seemed that replacements were not only in time but space also. I gave him “Deda Ena”, little “Vefkhistkaosani” and clay bowl. Then we left Fereidani.
Road to Isfahan seemed to take no time at all. Time after time we stopped car to see some plural sights. We visited mosque Menar Jonban (Moving Columns). The mosque justifies its name. The fact is that the two columns at the entrance have their own entrances that lead to their top. When you get atop you feel that column is swaying. That effect is can’t be seen from outside. One column was undone and rebuilt again in order to learn more of the phenomenon but the effect was lost. We saw the temple of fire worshipers. On the way I was telling Georgian legends: how Tbilisi was founded and why it was named so. Or why there existed places with names such as: Vardzia, Sighnaghi, Asanuri, Arazido. He seemed to be most interested in the legend of Khodasheni: Once enemy captured many people from one village. Several years later Georgian soldiers returned them back. When everyone was met by their relatives, only one most beautiful maiden was left in the centre of square. One of the knights with permission of elders announced that he would marry her. During the wedding party bridegroom danced with bride. His mother changed in face and cried out “That is your sister!” (in Georgian – Es kho daa sheni) and fainted. Afterwards mother explained that the girl was lost in childhood she only could recognize her after she showed her little finger accidentally while dancing. When the girl was in the cradle the pig managed to slip into house and eat off part of it. After that the village was cold Khodasheni (Kho-da-sheni).
We visited Revaz’s brother’s office right after getting into Isfahan. Instead we found his father Mr Rezo (Ali Reza Rahim). Their company “Sanatgaran” best company in installing electricity lines in factories; Isfahan airport is supplied by them. He was extremely happy to see us and seemed very touched. He spoke better Georgian than his son. Then he offered us to see Isfahan sights and visit him at his place.
Isfahan turned out to be beautiful city – old capital sinking in green. First we visited Shah Abass castle with its worldwide known blue mosque. Enormous dome of which is standing without any columns and with the echo repeating every spoken word seven times. Inner yard of the castle together with chariots is for tourists. The market is now situated where there were caravanserais before. I was walking in streets enjoying the views yet with angry heart for all the blood of Georgians that was split there.
Later we visited bridge of Alaverdi-khan that I was longing to see. What I saw went beyond all my expectations. 100 meters long bridge was built of Georgian thin brick. The two level building is for those who like to walk. First floor has little rooms where you can drink tea. Bridge also had beautiful domes and it was standing on 33 columns where each corresponds for a letter from Georgian alphabet (Georgian alphabet contains 33 letters). Both my hosts and I were very annoyed to see inscription – “Metallica” – on the surface.
* * *
Alaverdi-khan Undiladze, Iranian commander and politician, Moslem Georgian (taken as prisoner in infancy) first Kularaghas (commander of Kuli’s army), the Beglar-beg of Farsi province, active reformer was great commander whose tactic genius was most revealed in war with Ottoman Empire. He built an enourmous bridge in Isfahan on the river Zenderund. The bridge carries now his name. He died suddenly before Shah Abass’ campaign against Georgia. There is a guess that he was killed by the order of the ruler. Shah Abass ordered to bury him with honour in Mushed. Alaverdi-khans sons also were successful in Iran. Older – Imamkuli-khan – became the beglar-beg of Farsi and younger – Daud-khan – of Karabakh.
After visiting the bridge and taking some shots we went to Mr Rezo’s place. He acquainted me with his kind and virtuous wife – Mrs Turan, his son – David, and latter’s wife, his daughter-in-law, Katevan Faniashvili. Whole house was full of Georgian spirit – shelves were bending under Georgian books, walls covered with aphorisms selected by Mr Rezo who was drawing them as a template and afterwards his wife was knitting them with great care and love. It’s worth mentioning that every event held in Isfahan that is somehow connected with Georgia is decorated with their compositions and visitors always evaluate them highly.
This truly patriotic surround made me remember the collection of Georgian poetry that I wrote out to take everywhere I go and read in order to relax. First I read Shota Chantdadze’s small verse “Snow is gone, earth has come”, Mr Rezo understood it in the very way I felt when I was reading it, while many Georgians shake their shoulders after listening to it. Then followed Gia Mataraidze’s “I shall go – do not know where…”, Saad’s “Heart, know friends of three kind” (Mr Rezo read the Persian variant of the poem), then verses dedicated to Vazha-Pshavela “Man was a Mountain, man was grass” (tears showed in Mr Rezo’s eyes as he listened), Manana Chitishvili’s very kakhetian “Grandfather’s words”, Berdia Beriashvili’s “Asanuri” and many others (to see all of them visit “Pocket poems” page).
I hope reader can understand in what kind of mood we all were. We could all speak of poetry endlessly but time was floating mercilessly.
After dining we watched the video of preparations of the first Georgian language meeting held in Isfahan in 2005 on the day of Mother Language. He gave me a copy and I promised that my Georgian friends would see those preparations. It turned out that David and Ketevan were only one month’s married. They showed me their invitation card (written in Georgian and Persian language).
When I walked out of the house I had such a feeling that taxi would stop in front of me and take me right to Avlabari (very famous and ancient district in Tbilisi).
I also met there Revaz’s brother in law Kondrath Tavadze, who had the business of tires in Isfahan.
Then it was station, again astara.
This is how I left Big Georgia’s Small Georgia. This is how my journey to Fereidani ended up.
* * *
The very next day after coming to Tbilisi I visited counsel and gave him gifts from Giorgi Muliashvili as well as David Songhulashvili’s CD of “Talking Alphabet”, that I could find only in Fereidani, in Mamuka Onikashvili’s computer service centre.
I told him how kind people were to me, not only Fereidani Georgians but others as well. In the evening I visited Kakha Muliashvili, he was not at home but I met there Nikoloz Mamulashvili who came to Georgia just a week before and couldn’t speak Georgian very well yet. Fortunatelly one Tornike Faniashvili came to us who was the second year student of David the builder’s university and was living in Georgia for a year and a half. During the conversation he was interested how I got the invitation card that he wrote. I discovered that Ketevan Faniashvili was his sister and the photo in “Akhali Azri” was his creation.
And this is how we all are connected, Co-nation, co-roots children of big and small Georgia. This is how the malicious plan of Shah Abass to part Georgians was spoiled.
In the end I want to tell one story connected with French Georgia. I finished school in Sighnaghi, Tsnori. My Georgian language teacher was truly patriotic teacher. It is her merit that all of her students were good in writing and reading. She was head of “Vepkhistkaosani” circle. I remember us staying near the teachers’ room in a line waiting for our turn to retell verses from “Vepkhistkaosani” (good memories indeed). We always visited Ikhalto academy on Shota’s Day. Once she chose several of us and told that we would go to meet famous ballerina Ether Paghava, granddaughter of Noe Jordania. She was like a swan with white and beautiful neck. She did not refuse to take a photo with us and while shooting I was at her right side. When she accidentally touched me I was extremely happy for it was my first contact with Creature that did not belong to our world.
23 years later in December 31, 1989 I listened to her father’s patriotic and enthusiastic speech in radio. He was congratulating nation with coming New Year. I called to the editorial office and asked his address in France. Then I sent him picture of his daughter and my family picture. Month later I received his letter. It was written by his hand on the blank paper saying Our Flag “Notre Drapeau” Founded by Noe Jordania”. Letter was saying: “Paris February 28. 1990. My unknown friend Giorgi. Thank you for your attention and I want to tell you that your picture made my daughter happy as well. I hope to visit my country at last after 65 five years of exile. Best wishes Levan Faghava”.
Unfortunately he died so that he could not return to motherland.
I want to ask every patriot to remember those Georgians that are not in our country for different reasons and at least drink a toast for their health on holiday’s tables.
Grigol (Greg) Sanikidze – Born on March 11, 1990. Student of Caucasus School of Business.
გრიგოლ სანიკიძე – დაბადებული 1990 წლის 11 მარტს, კავკასიის ბიზნეს სკოლის
პირველი კურსის სტუდენტი.