Issue 1, 2013. February-March

   

10 THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT... 1930s TBILISI

You have been to the National Museum, checked out the gracefully crumbling architecture on the side streets, and walked past the ancient wall on Pushkin Street. Is there anything else to do along Rustaveli Avenue?

In a word, yes. The 1930s was not a happy time in Georgia's history: Tbilisi (and other towns and villages) were hit hard by the purges, like most of the former Soviet Union. While it may not be a period many people enjoy discussing, there is a rich history to be explored through the iconic buildings built during o the decade, and through the homes of famous Georgians who suffered at the hands of the Soviet government. For more information on Tbilisi during the 1930s, and a map for a walking tour around neighborhoods with special ties to the period, check out www.sovlab.ge.

The house of Shalva Eliava, a noted communist, 20 Pavle Ingorokva
(Photo by Maria Serebryanaya)


1. Former Institute of Marxism-Leninism, 29 Rustaveli Avenue

When workers started tearing down the interior of the former Institute of Marxism-Leninism to prepare the building for its new life as a hotel, they stumbled upon a gruesome discovery: cemetery gravestones had been used to build the Institute's interior walls and columns.

Historians believe the gravestones were taken as construction material after the Soviet government destroyed three cemeteries in Tbilisi in the 1920s and 1930s. But that was not the only secret the former institute held. Deep under ground in the courtyard, workers found tunnels and cells that appeared tohave been used during the purges in the 1930s as jails and holding rooms for political prisoners. The Institute, a branch of Moscow's Institute of Marxism and Leninism, was a pet project for Lavrenti Beria, the first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party's Regional Committee of the Transcaucasus, and, later, the head of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. Work began in 1934 was completed in 1938, a timeline that coincides with the Great Purge.

2. Shota Rustaveli Drama Theater, 17 Rustaveli Avenue

The building at 17 Rustaveli Avenue was once the home of Georgian director Aleksandre (Sandro) Akhmeteli.

Akhmeteli, who is credited as one of the founders of modern Georgian theatre, was arrested on November 19, 1936, and charged with espionage. He was sentenced to death on June 28, 1937 and his property was seized. Along with Akhmeteli, other actors and theatre personal were killed, including Platon Korisheli, Elguja Lordkipanidze, Ia Kantaria and Ivane Laghidze. One month later, three more theater employees - Tamar Tsulukidze-Akhmeteli, Buzhuzha Shavishvili and Nino Ghviniashvili - were sentenced to ten years in jail.

3 The house of Titsian Tabidze, 18 Aleksandre Griboedov Street

Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze lived in this building until his arrest and execution in 1937. Tabidze was one of the founders of Tsisperi Khantsebi (Blue Horns), a famous Georgian literary group and magazine, and one of the leaders of the Georgian symbolist movement. His friend, the novelist Boris Pasternak, translated his poetry into Russian. In 1936 his work fell into disfavor with the authorities and, in 1937, he was arrested on a fabricated charge of treason. He was sentenced to death on December 15 but his execution was not announced and many hoped he was still alive. In 1940, Pasternak reportedly helped Tabidze's wife petition Beria to release the poet. His death was officially recognized in the 1950s, two decades after his execution.

A museum dedicated to his life and work is located in the building.

4. Tbilisi Marriott (formerly Majestic Hotel, Hotel Tbilisi) 13 Rustaveli Avenue

If walls could talk, the Tbilisi Marriott would be able to retell the tale of Georgia's history for the past century, from the dying days of the Russian Empire to the bloody 1921 war with the Soviet Red Army, and the 1991-1992 civil war. The Majestic Hotel was the first European hotel built in Tbilisi. It opened in 1915 and housed the first cinema in Georgia. After briefly serving as a military hospital in 1917, it became the headquarters for the Soviet Labor Committee in Georgia in 1921. The Soviets turned it back into a hotel in 1939, however, renaming it Hotel Tbilisi -- which became famous as one of the Soviet Union's top ten hotels.

5. Former - and future - Parliament, 8 Rustaveli Avenue

The former (and likely future) Georgian parliament was built as a complex of government buildings on the grounds of the Alexander Nevsky Military Cathedral, which was destroyed in 1930. Also destroyed was the cathedral's yard -- the burial ground for the military school cadets who died fighting against the Soviet Red Army in 1921. The Soviets started construction on the site in 1938; the complex was completed in 1953, and was partially built by German prisoners of war who had remained in the country.

6. The house of Giorgi Eliava, 5 Shio Chitadze

It was while living in this house that Georgian bacteriologist, Giorgi Eliava helped create the Tbilisi Bacteriological Institute of People's Commissariat of Healthcare (later renamed the Eliava Institute) and developed an alternative to antibiotics. Eliava was a pioneer in phage therapy, a form of treatment that uses bacteriophage, a type of virus, to fight infections. Phage therapy was researched and used extensively in the Soviet Union.

Eliava was arrested on January 23, 1937 and charged with espionage, although it is widely believed that it was his reputation as a playboy, not his politics, that led to his death: reportedly he fell in love with the same woman as Beria, and was subsequently punished. He was sentenced to death on July 9, 1937, and executed the next day.

The house of Liziko Kavtaradze, 11 Pyotr Tchaikovsky Street
(Photo by Maria Serebryanaya)

7. The house of Liziko Kavtaradze, 11 Petre Chaikovsky Street

Elisabed (Liziko) Kavtaradze was a Georgian dissident who spent more than 28 years in exile. A member of an underground Marxist organization as a young girl, she was first arrested in 1928 and deported to a village outside of Tomsk, Russia. She returned to Georgia in 1936 but was exiled again just six years later, this time to Kazakhstan - to Alzhir, a Russian acronym for the Akmola Camp for the Wives of Traitors to the Motherland. Twenty years later, she was back in Tbilisi, and rehabilitated. She died in 1988.

8. The former building of the Transcaucasian Emergency Commission, 22 Pavle Ingorokva

Built in the 19th century, the building at 22 Ingorokva has had a violent history. It was original the home of the Selikov family and became a school for boys from noble families in 1892. In 1906, however, police stormed the building in retaliation for a terrorist attack that wounded the head of the police. Teachers were beaten and one, Shio Chitadze, was killed.

In 1918, the building was home to several government ministries, including the Ministry of Defense. The Soviet government turned it into the Transcaucasian Emergency Commission and, between 1926 and 1934, the rooms on the first floor were used as prison cells while torture and executions took place in the basement.

9. Beria's residence, 11 Ivane Machabelis Street

Likely built at the turn of the 20th century, 11 Machabelis Street is notable because for seven years, from 1931 to 1938, it was home to Lavrenti Beria when he served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia, before was named head of the NKVD, the secret police.

All information about the building was considered a state secret - even today, according to SovLab, the name of the architect is off-limits.

One detail has emerged, however: Beria, who was quite the builder during his time in Tbilisi - the parliament and the former Institute of Marxism and Leninism were among his projects - had underground tunnels put in the yard, which were rumored to lead to an underground bunker and to the parliament building.

Today, the building is the headquarters for the Georgian National Olympic Committee.

10. The former home of Sergo Orjonikidze, 17 Galaktion Tabidze Street

The house was built at the turn of the 20th century, and housed the first ambassador of the Russian Socialist Soviet Republic to Georgia, Sergei Kirov.

Its most famous resident, however, was Sergo Orjonikidze. A close friend of Joseph Stalin, Orjonikidze lived in the house from 1921 to 1926. Orjonikidze led the Bolshevik invasion of Georgia in 1921 and is credited with crafting policy that seriously reduced Georgian autonomy within the USSR, including the decision to combine Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan as Transcaucasian SFSR, instead of allowing Georgia to have full member status in the USSR.