GEORGIANS. Georgians form a small yet prominent and historically significant part of Greater Cleveland’s larger community of immigrants from the former USSR. Unlike their Caucasus neighbors, the ARMENIANS, the Georgians do not have a large and long-established diaspora, and Georgian immigration to the U.S. before 1991 was limited to only a few individuals. Among them was the first Georgian immigrant in Cleveland, FR. JASON KAPPANADZE, the longtime pastor of ST. THEODOSIUS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL in TREMONT. Kappanadze first arrived in the city to serve St. Theodosius in 1902, but returned to the Russian Empire in 1908. After the Sovietization of the independent Georgian Republic by the Bolsheviks in 1921, he returned again to Cleveland in 1922, where he settled permanently.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought a large number of immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet republics to the Cleveland area. Among the most prominent were RUSSIANS, both JEWISH and Orthodox Christian, as well as Armenians, UKRAINIANS, BELARUSIANS, and UZBEKS. Georgians arrived as well, albeit in smaller numbers than other post-Soviet nationalities, but still greater than at any other time in Cleveland’s history. Most new Georgian immigrants are members of the professional class, primarily in the medical field. In 1998, Dr. Tamar Bejanishvili and Dr. Tea Tchelidze arrived in Cleveland to begin their residency in internal medicine at HURON HOSPITAL, which later merged to become part of CLEVELAND CLINIC. Impressed by the city, they worked to encourage the arrival of more Georgian-born physicians to Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Today, Greater Cleveland’s Georgian community, concentrated in the city’s East Side suburbs, embraces approximately 100 individuals and continues to grow with new waves of immigration. Although they currently do not have their own church, most members of the community attend St. Sergius Russian Orthodox Church in PARMA. The Iveria Georgian dance group from St. Petersburg, Russia has frequently performed in Cleveland, especially at the Cleveland Russian Festival at St. Sergius. The Georgian community has also considered the possibility of building a Georgian Cultural Garden among the CLEVELAND CULTURAL GARDENS in ROCKEFELLER PARK. This vision has yet to be realized, but that may change in the future as the community continues to grow with the arrival of new immigrants.
Georgia, like neighboring Armenia, is an ancient Christian country with longstanding historical ties to the classical world. The Georgian language is distinct among world languages, forming the core of the independent Kartvelian language family. Considered to be the “cradle of wine,” Georgia is renowned for its rich viticulture, especially in the eastern province of Kakheti. One prominent member of the Cleveland Georgian community, Rezo Kvachrelishvili, is a native Kakhetian who co-founded the Georgian wine brand Naotari with his father Koba Kvatchrelishvili and his brother Alex in 2012, building on a longstanding family tradition of winemaking. Since then, Kvachrelishvili has worked to extensively promote Naotari and natural Georgian wine in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. He has also hosted several Georgian wine tasting events in the city, accompanied by Georgian dishes, creating an atmosphere evocative of a traditional Georgian keipi, i.e., a festive Georgian traditional feast. Community members hope to take the popular reception of, and enthusiasm for, Georgian wine to the next step with the establishment of a Georgian restaurant in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the spread of Kartvelian cuisine and culture in Cleveland enriches the city with new traditions from the old world of the Caucasus.
Pietro A. Shakarian
The Ohio State University
With special thanks to Dr. Tamar Bejanishvili of University Hospitals for her input and assistance.
Papashvily, George and Helen. Anything Can Happen. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1945.