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Leuville-sur-Orge : a little Georgia 25 kilometers away southward from Paris

There are 3,700 inhabitants in Leuville-sur-Orge. A town alike the thousands of other cities in the Ile-de-France region. Except this city became a symbolic place for Georgians, with its castle and its orthodox cemetery.

 

Indeed, Noe Jordania, the first president of the independent Georgia who took refuge in France after Bolsheviks took power, is buried there.
Today, Leuville-sur-Orge is a must-go place for Georgian officials visiting France. On the footsteps of this surving Georgian immigrant community from the 20th century.

 

There are 3,700 inhabitants in Leuville-sur-Orge. A town alike the thousands of other cities in the Ile-de-France region. Except this city became a symbolic place for Georgians, with its castle and its orthodox cemetery.
Indeed, Noe Jordania, the first president of the independent Georgia who took refuge in France after Bolsheviks took power, is buried there.
Today, Leuville-sur-Orge is a must-go place for Georgian officials visiting France. On the footsteps of this surving Georgian immigrant community from the 20th century.



This unexpected community has been intergrating successfully in the village. Even as of today, the church of Leuville-sur-Orge is still lended to the Georgian orthodox authorities for celebrating weddings or funerals. There is even inside the church an icon of the Cappadocian Virgin Saint-Nino, patroness of Georgia.
On May 26th, 2001, for the anniversary of the independence of Georgia, the mayor of Leuville-sur-Orge even announced that the negotiations for a twinning between Leuville-sur-Orge and the city of Mtskheta had been started.

In Georgia, this place is quasi-mythical. The collective memory finds parts of its roots here. This place symbolizes the resistance to the Russian oppressor and the independence of a nation often pictured as torn by the consecutive invasions. It also represents in the collective imaginary the courage and passion for freedom on which Georgian pride themselves.

Magnificence of the castle, incessant comings and goings around this historic place: the myth is rooted. But the reality is quite different. The village seems to be deserted. A woman met in the course of the streets indicates the directions to the «Georgian castle».
Behind the surrounding wall, the castle is a pitiful sight. The panes are dirty, the wall is dilapidated. At the entrance of the parc, a white car shakes about on the bumps on the driving path. The driver, a fifty years old man, stares awkwardly. «Is it here the Georgian museum ?» The man burst into laughter : «A Georgian museum ! There is just an association here !» He mumbles a few words, and then swiftly speeds away.
A pole standing on the lawn facing the castle is adorned with two washed-out flags : a French flag, and a Georgian flag. A new garden table and new garden chairs were put outside. But one can also distinguish broken panes and locked doors. General secretary of the Georgian Center Association, Ethery Tsereteli is one of those captivating women who make you forget in no time about the obsolete castle. She tells us the story of this place.

Improvised guide, Ethery Tsereteli opens the doors of the great lounge. The walls are covered with pictures. Between the former and the present Georgian flags, stands the independence act of May 26th 1918. Just above, the portrait of Noe Jordania, surrounded by the main members of his government.

Frozen in their frameworks, those previous ones create a solemn and obsolete. These religiously kept old pictures are as many instants preserved for posterity : a reception at the Elysee palace; the minister of Foreign Affairs in his hackney ; the president and his governement wearing straw hats, etc.
Here and there, symbols from Georgia: the Dideba, former national anthem modified since the Rose Revolution ; some traditional claywares ; a wine horn ; a great statue of Saint-Georges.

Instead of a castle, one may see in Leuville-sur-Orge a washed out hunting lodge which seemed to die slowly in its own memories. But the meeting with Ethery Tsereteli makes reappear suddenly all the verve of the Georgian community united by a common memory. «Unfortunately, the main part of our community is today burried in the Georgian square», she confides.


The arrival of Noe Jordania

In 1921, the Red Army invades Georgia, three years after it was for the first time proclaimed an independent Republic. The Parliament which took refuge in Batumi votes for the exile of the government, and France offers political asylum. On March 18th 1921, the President Noe Jordania, members of the government, and some parliamentaries, along with their families board on the Ernest Renan ship. They settle in Paris, where the Georgian Association in France is created.

But life is expensive in the French capital. The emigrants cannot afford to live there for a long time, and they start to look for a propriety in which they could live together. On June 24th 1922, they buy on the funds of the Georgian State a property in Leuville-sur-Orge, 25 kilometers away from Paris : a five hectares land and a hunting lodge that will be later on called the «castle».
Thirty exiles are going to live there, sharing 15 apartments and a common room – the Great Hall.
The property is bought under the names of Benia Tchkhikvichvili, mayor of Tbilissi and Nicolas Djakeli. At this time, Leuville-sur-Orge is just a small village with barely one thousand inhabitants.

Without water, nor electricity, life is tough here. Coming back to the country becomes less and less likely, and the savings run low. So as to live on, the exiled members of the government cultivate their lands. The testimonies of that time indicate that president Jordania and its members of government were very often seen working in the kitchen garden.
They grow local vegetables, but also Georgian ones also : red beans, Russian pickles, etc. Some of those products are in turn grown by French people – those pickles even feed the Parisian agribusiness.

The government which has now its head office in Leuville-sur-Orge is in close contact with the Georgian resistance. During the preparations for the national uprising in 1924, the Committee for Independence sends here envoys to call to combat.
The rebellion against the Bolshevik regime gets organized when B.Tchkhikvichvili, then in Georgia, is fired.
On February 10th, 1927, the « Georgian Center » Association, created by members of the three main Georgian political parties, buys out this property at auctions.
The title deed specifies that the property bought on the Georgian State money, is to come to Georgia upon its independence.

After the crushing of the insurrection in1924, one part of the survivors also go into exile. Most of them settle in the region of Sochaux-Audincourt and in Paris. Leuville-sur-Orge then becomes a reception place for Georgian immigrants.
In the 60’s, in addition of the thirty inhabitants of the castle, there are several tens of Georgians living in the surroundings of the city.
The community is in very close contact with Georgia. A small printing house is set up in an outbuilding of the castle. Numerous Georgian publications are edited there. The printing-house closes down, but newspapers keep on being printed. The last publication, Gouchagui, is directed by Giorgi Tsereteli.

The property belongs now to the descendents of the first owners. The castle is thus occupied, but deserted throughout the winter. Upon the death of the first shareholders of the Georgian Center Association, another association was created to run the property.
The Georgian Center Association organizes visits, colloqiums and celebrations. It is also in charge of keeping up the graves of the «Georgian square». Indeed, the exiles did wanted to be burried in Leuville-sur-Orge, in the «Georgian square» of the city cemetery bought by the Georgian Association in France.
There Noe Jordania, prince Kaikoshro Tcholokhachvili -hero of the national uprising in 1924-, and first immigrants are burried there. There are also the graves of some people who were «repatriated» from abroad.

Even today, during the burials, the priest throws a handful of Georgian earth. One of the graves of the «Georgian square» has this epitaph : «Even our bones think about Georgia.»

The place is still marked by nostalgia. One may easily picture the way the independence celebrations take place in the castle. Most certainly they must look like a reunion or a family reunion. But Leuville-sur-Orge, the little Georgia, is since always yearning for the great one.

And yet Georgia recovered its independence. And thus according to the title deed, the property of Leuville-sur-Orge would by now be a piece of Georgian territory on French soil. The judicial validity of the deed is of course questionable, however the symbol is strong : symbol of the bonds, mostly affective, between the property of Leuville-sur-Orge and Georgia.

 

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