To briefly introduce myself: my name is Bennett Clifford, and I’m an American intern at Caucasian House. In total, I’ve spent eight months in Georgia so far- five in 2016-2017 and three in 2015. It’s been enough time to settle in, figure out (some of) the local landscape, and even learn some Georgian. Before I started at Caucasian House, I worked at two other think tanks in Tbilisi: CRRC-Georgia and the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. While most of the time I focus on studying terrorism and ethnic conflict, I also am interested in the various cultures and traditions among the peoples of the Caucasus, especially their poetry, music, and folklore. Before I started at Caucasian House, I didn’t know that originally Caucasian House was (and still is) a prolific publisher of books and articles about the peoples of the Caucasus in multiple languages. Working in the Caucasian House library every day is a Caucasus follower’s dream come true in terms of the variety of books in different languages about the Caucasus. Here’s a small sampler of three texts that I found in the Caucasian House library that I thought were especially interesting:
By far, the most famous work of Georgian literature is „ვეფხისტყაოსანი“ [Knight in the Tiger’s Skin], an epic poem written by Shota Rustaveli in the 12th century. It was produced during the Golden Age of Georgia under the reign of Queen Tamar. Rustaveli, mainly due to “Knight in the Tiger’s Skin”, is considered the national poet of Georgia: the airport and the main street in Tbilisi are both named after him. Moreover, Georgians consider the themes of the poem to represent their deeply-held cultural values, such as chivalry and hospitality.
The poem was first translated out of Georgian into Russian in 1802. Since that time, it has been translated into over 30 languages, including most major global and regional languages. Caucasian House originally published “Wergirê P’ostê Piling”, a translation of the work into the Kurdish language (in the Kurmanji dialect). For hundreds of years, Kurdish people have lived in the Caucasus, including a significant number in Tbilisi. Jardoe Assad (Arto Ozmanyan), a Kurdish poet and writer who lived in Tbilisi, started the translation and spent twenty-five years translating the work into the Kurdish language. However, at the time of the original translation, he wrote the Kurdish text using the Cyrillic alphabet: now, the translation uses the modern Latin alphabet used for writing the Kurdish language. Caucasian House was the first organization to publish this translation in 2007.
Collected poems of Sayat-Nova, in Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani languages
Sayat-Nova (In Persian: “King of Songs”) was born in Tbilisi in the 18th century; at that time, Tbilisi was controlled by the Safavid Empire. He was one of the most famous ashughs (a bard performing traditional poetry and folk songs) of all time, and served in the court of the Georgian king Erekle II. Besides being a court performer, he also was a skilled diplomat who assisted Erekle II in forming alliances with other kingdoms against the Persian empires. However, he lost his position when he fell in love with the king’s sister, was banished from the court, and became a monk in the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Sayat-Nova composed dozens of poems in a variety of languages, including Armenian, Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Persian. These poems are a national symbol for several of the countries of the Caucasus, and became popular in the West due to Sergei Parajanov’s film “The Color of Pomegranates”. In 2005, Caucasian House published a collection of Sayat-Nova’s poems in Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani languages.
ქისტების ადათ-წესები [Kist Adat laws] by Khaso Khangoshvili
The Kist people are descendants of Nakh tribes from the North Caucasus who fled the area that is now Chechnya and moved to the Pankisi Valley in Georgia during the 19th century. Since their arrival, Kists have adopted the Georgian language and also Georgian-style surnames. In addition to Georgian, the Kists speak their own language, Kist, which is closely related to Chechen and Ingush languages. Most Kists are Muslims. In combination with the laws of Islam, many Kists still follow folk laws, called adat, which provide legal frameworks for daily life, behavior, dispute resolution, and other legal matters.
The author of the first book on adat published in the Georgian language by Caucasian House, is Khaso Khangoshvili, a historian, writer, and major figure in the traditional institution of governance in the Pankisi Valley, the Council of Elders. The Council of Elders is tasked with making decisions based on the Kist adat and enforcing them. Because they are traditionally folk laws that have been orally passed down through the generations, writing a complete collection of Kist adat is important for their preservation. Khaso Khangoshvili drew on his experience in the Council of Elders in writing the book, which was published in 2015. Although the book is only available in Georgian currently, the hope is that it can be translated into other languages so that researchers outside Georgia can study Kist folk laws in-depth.