Tengiz Kitovani

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Tengiz Kitovani
თენგიზ კიტოვანი
Minister of Defense of Georgia
In office
8 May 1992 – 5 May 1993
Preceded byLevan Sharashenidze
Succeeded byGiorgi Karkarashvili
Personal details
Born(1938-06-09)9 June 1938
Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
Died13 November 2023(2023-11-13) (aged 85)
Military service

Tengiz Kitovani (Georgian: თენგიზ კიტოვანი tengiz k’it’ovani; 9 June 1938 – 13 November 2023) was a Georgian politician and military commander with high-profile involvement in the Georgian Civil War early in the 1990s when he commanded the National Guard of Georgia.

Kitovani also served as a Minister of Defense until being gradually sidelined by Eduard Shevardnadze who had earlier been invited to lead the nation after a successful coup d'etat launched by Kitovani and his allies against President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

Early life and career

Born in Tbilisi on 9 June 1938, Kitovani graduated from the Tbilisi Fine Arts Academy and taught at a boarding school in the town of Tetritsqaro.[1]

Kitovani entered national politics early in 1990 when the independence movement reached its climax in then-

Supreme Council of Georgia the same year, he was closely associated with Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a Soviet-era dissident who went on to become the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council and eventually the President of Georgia in 1991.[1]

In December 1990, Gamsakhurdia decreed the creation of the National Guard of Georgia and appointed Kitovani as its head. However, the two men feuded in August 1991, when Gamsakhurdia sacked him as National Guard commander. Kitovani subsequently claimed that Gamsakhurdia was intending to disband the National Guard, and had been ordered to do so by the leaders of the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, but did not produce the documents he claimed to possess confirming this. Kitovani refused to accept his dismissal and left Tbilisi with most of his troops to entrench himself in the Rkoni Gorge. This was the beginning of the end for Gamsakhurdia, whose inflexible politics forced many of his former supporters into opposition.[2]

Military coup and civil war

The confrontation between pro- and anti-Gamsakhurdia factions quickly degenerated into a series of strikes and armed clashes, and eventually, Kitovani, joined by Gamsakhurdia's former Prime Minister

coup in December 1991. Ioseliani, as well as Gamsakhurdia's supporters and some independent observers, claimed that Kitovani hired some Soviet/Russian troops stationed in Tbilisi to join the attack on the government.[3]

On 2 January 1992, the deposition of Gamsakhurdia and the formation of the Military Council was announced with Kitovani and Ioseliani as its leaders. Gamsakhurdia was forced into exile on 6 January 1992, and the coup leaders invited the former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze to head the post-coup provisional government – the State Council – in March 1992. As a result of the power-sharing arrangement that was eventually struck between Ioseliani, Kitovani, Sigua and Shevardnadze, Kitovani remained the commander of the National Guard and retained a considerable influence on decision-making. In May 1992, Shevardnadze appointed Kitovani Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister in an effort to bring the National Guard under central control. However, both Kitovani and Ioseliani were reluctant to concede power to Shevardnadze and tended to engage in unilateral actions, and in doing so frequently conflicted with each other.[4]

The first and most obvious of such actions were taken by Kitovani during a planned

thirteen-month-long war which would end in Georgia's loss of control over most of Abkhazia. Another version of these events, often quoted in Georgia, says that Russia, while supporting the Abkhaz, also instigated Kitovani to trigger the conflict and perhaps even promised support for his leadership ambitions in Georgia after a successful operation.[6] Later, Shevardnadze would accuse Kitovani of provoking an armed conflict in Abkhazia, claiming that Kitovani disavowed his order and advance with his military to Sukhumi.[7][8] Kitovani however blamed Shevardnadze for preventing him from following up an offensive on Sukhumi with an attack on the Abkhaz stronghold in Gudauta, home to a Russian military base which supplied the secessionist forces with instructors and munitions.[9]

Conflict with Shevardnadze

During the war in Abkhazia, Kitovani developed a power centre rivalling Shevardnadze's and on several occasions challenged Shevardnadze, now Head of State, on defence matters, suggesting that he should be responsible only for foreign policy.

Gia Karkarashvili, was named as his replacement, and he was able to retain some of his power – partly, according to widespread rumours in Tbilisi, through his control over Georgia's "energy mafia"[13] and his "special relationship" with Russian defence minister Pavel Grachev.[14]

However, Shevardnadze was able to exploit the military setback in Abkhazia to embark on a crackdown on the paramilitary groups and ultimately their leaders.[15] After the pro-Gamsakhurdia rebellion had been quashed with Russian aid by December 1993, Shevardnadze was able to increasingly consolidate his power and deprive both Kitovani and Ioseliani of influence over national security policy.[16]

After spending some time in Russia, Kitovani returned to Tbilisi and, together with Tengiz Sigua and

IDPs from Abkhazia, founded the National Front for the Liberation of Abkhazia in the autumn of 1994.[17]

On 13 January 1995, Kitovani, with the support of Tengiz Sigua, led a force of some 700 lightly armed supporters in a march against Abkhazia. They were stopped by Georgian police and arrested.[18] Kitovani was tried for having organized an unlawful armed force and sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in October 1996. He served four years of his eight-year term and was pardoned by Shevardnadze on medical grounds on 22 May 1999.[19]

Emigration and return

From the early 2000s, Kitovani lived in Moscow from where he harshly criticized the Shevardnadze government on several occasions. In February 2002, he responded scandalously to the mysterious suicide of

Pankisi Gorge.[21] He further claimed that Russian General Gennady Shpigun, abducted and killed in Chechnya in 1999/2000, was in fact held captive and put to death in Pankisi, with the body then taken to southern Chechnya. Georgia dismissed all these claims.[22]

Georgian Prosecutor-General Nugzar Gabrichidze claimed that Kitovani had been in close contact with National Guard veterans who staged a failed mutiny on 23 March 2003.[23] Kitovani, however, denied any links with the mutiny.[24]

Kitovani returned to Tbilisi, in December 2012, after the change of government in the aftermath of the

October 2012 parliamentary election.[25] In early 2014, President Giorgi Margvelashvili stripped him of his Georgian citizenship.[26]

Kitovani died on 13 November 2023, at age 85.[27]


  1. ^ – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Wheatley (2005), pp. 54–5.
  3. ^ Wheatley (2005), p. 65.
  4. ^ Wheatley (2005), pp. 68–70.
  5. ^ Wheatley (2005), pp. 72–3.
  6. .
  7. .
  8. ^ Eduard Shevardnadze accuses Tengiz Kitovani of provoking war in Abkhazia. Archived 13 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine The Georgian Times, 14 August 2007.
  9. ^ Parrott (1995), p. 217.
  10. ^ Darchiashvili (2005), p. 6.
  11. ^ Parrott (1995), p. 216.
  12. ^ Wheatley (2005), p. 75.
  13. ^ Dawisha & Parott (1997), pp. 166–7.
  14. VUB
    University Press.
  15. ^ Georgia puts Kitovani on trial while Ioseliani awaits same Archived 23 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine. The Jamestown Foundation Monitor Volume 1, Issue 163, 28 December 1995.
  16. ^ Wheatley (2005), p. 79.
  17. .
  18. ^ Wheatley (2005), p. 87.
  19. ^ Kitovani released from prison Archived 23 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine. The Jamestown Foundation Monitor Volume 5, Issue 102, 26 May 1999.
  20. ^ Irakly Areshidze, Nugzar Sajaia, Shevardnadze's closest confidant, commits suicide. Central Asian-Caucasus Institute Analyst, 27 February 2002.
  21. ^ Sergei Blagov, Military issues block Russia-Georgia détente. Archived 3 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine Eurasianet, 6 January 2003.
  22. ^ Georgia Denies Kidnapped Russian General was Detained in Pankisi. Civil Georgia, 28 March 2002.
  23. ^ Georgian National Guard veterans seize military base. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline, cited in: Hellenic Resources Network. 24 March 2003.
  24. ^ Veterans' Failed Mutiny Unsettles Georgian Politicians. Civil Georgia, 25 March 2003.
  25. ^ Тенгиз Китовани вернулся в Грузию — ТВ Archived 3 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine [Tengiz Kitovani returned to Georgia — TV]. Russian. NewsGeorgia.ru. 21 December 2012.
  26. ^ "Tengiz Kitovani loses Georgian citizenship".
  27. ^ "Умер экс-министр обороны Грузии Тенгиз Китовани". ekhokavkaza.com. 13 November 2023. Retrieved 13 November 2023.


Preceded by
Minister of Defense of Georgia

May 1992 – May 1993
Succeeded by