Cherwell

Georgian independence petition discovered at Bodleian

Source: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

A century-old petition calling for Georgian independence was revealed on Friday by the Bodleian Libraries to honour the centenary of the county’s independence.

The petition contains a number of objections against the occupying Russians as well as appeals to the international community to stop the atrocities and pogroms unfolding in Western and Central Georgia.

The petition was signed by 3000 men and women of all classes from across the country. The Bodleian Libraires claims that those signing the petition were doing so “at great personal risk.”

The document has been in the Bodleian Libraries’ possession since 1920, however it was only over the past few weeks that have researchers realised its importance.

Originally presented at the 1907 Hague International Conference, the petition is the first documented occasion of the Georgian population protesting for further rights as a nation.

Georgian independence was achieved in 1918, eleven years after the petition first surfaced.

The document was part of a collection donated by Sir Oliver Wardrop, who – along with his sister, Marjory – was friendly with the petition’s instigator, Varlam Chrkezishvili, an exiled Georgian nationalist. The Wardrop siblings were both the founders and major benefactors of Kartvelian (Georgian) studies at Oxford.

The the significance of the document was realised and researched by Dr Beka Kobakhidze, Dr Nikoloz Aleksidze, and Dr Gillian Evison.

Dr Kobakhidze said that he was “honoured” for his role in making “forgotten names public after 111 years”.

He said: “At a time when there was no compulsory education and a high rate of illiteracy, the petition is the first documented instance when the Georgian national historic narrative of the Georgian-Russian relationship comes not from elite groups, but from ordinary people of all social classes.

“Men and women, entrepreneurs, workers, nobles, peasants, clergymen, and teachers from all regions of Georgia put their signatures to this address to the political west.

“Looking through the petition I had a feeling that I was interacting with my ancestors, people who stood for national liberties while risking their lives.”

Kobakhidze added that many Georgians might be interested to see the names of their relatives on the petition.

Bodleian Librarian Richard Ovenden claimed that the discovery of the petition made clear the importance of Libraries and archives and showed the “role [they] play in the preservation and dissemination of information.”

Ovenden also hoped that the attention generated by the document “will encourage greater scholarship on Georgia, the Wardrops, and this turbulent period of history.”

Dr Evison noted the “striking” nature of the document, stating: “Signatures have been collected on many different sheets of paper – accounting paper, on the back of the petitions, and written in ink, or pencil – so it tells its own story of how keen Georgians were to make their mark through whatever means were available to them.”

Former president of Oxford’s Georgian Society, Nikoloz Aleksidze, told Cherwell: “The petition is remarkable for a number of reasons. It undermines the commonly articulated view that the 1918 independence was merely an accident and that Georgians never wanted or tried to secure independence from the Russian Empire.

“The document proves that the unanimous Georgian protest against the Russian Imperial Rule and colonialism has a long history from the early 19th-century rebellions to the 1918 Declaration of Independence and later 1991 restoration of Independence from the Soviet Union. The petition is a crucial chapter in this history of resistance.

“From the point of view of Georgian-British relations, the document was edited by later British High Commissioner to Transcaucasia, Oliver Wardrop, who was the most meticulous and ardent defender of Georgia’s independence in the West during his entire life.

“Britain’s support for Georgia’s independence, territorial integrity and European integration, spearheaded by Oliver Wardrop, was reinvigorated after the restoration of Georgia’s independence in 1991.”

The 29-page document is now publicly available online.