We keep thinking of Zurab Zhvania's death - partly because of what seems like a series of rather striking little ironies, mysteries and coincidences that surround the tragedy:
Zurab Zhvania, the "architect" of the Georgian Rose Revolution, was nominated for the post of prime minister Feb. 9, 2004. He died on Feb. 3, 2005, on the day Yulia Tymoshenko was supposed to be approved by the parliament as Ukraine's prime minister.
Gleb Pavlovsky, the "architect" of Russia's failed attempt to bring Yanukovych to power said this in his Lvivska Gazeta interview:
The death of the Georgian premier, Mr. Zhvania, is mysterious, though it was foreseeable to some extent. To be a premier in Georgia is not safe. By the way, I wouldn't wish Ms. Tymoshenko to end up in a situation similar to Zhvania's. The problem is with the lack of transparency in the intentions of Georgian leaders.
Shortly before the Rose Revolution succeeded, an Ajarian TV channel had shown footage aimed at damaging Zurab Zhvania's reputation. Below is a translation of part of a Nov. 19, 2003, story in Izvestia, a Russian daily:
This week, a tape has been broadcast on TV: well-informed people from Shevardnadze's circles were talking about its existence for a long time. On the tape, Zurab Zhvania is tenderly tapping young men on the cheeks, saying phrases, which, according to one Georgian journalist, "leave no doubts as to the untraditional sexual orientation of this guy."
The "debut" took place on Ajara Channel, controlled by the Ajarian president Aslan Abashidze, who has recently become Shevardnadze's ally. Not everyone watched it the first time, but the repeat screening, announced in advance, wasn't missed by the people of Tbilisi, who had been reserving their seats by the screens early on.
At the Lord Restaurant, where I happened to watch the "film about Zhvania," people were so agitated that a TV set was brought in specifically, the orchestra went silent and the toastmaker interrupted his text halfway through (a thing unheard-of for Georgia!). When the "key phrase" sounded, the restaurant erupted in deafening laughter. In Georgian, the phrase goes like this: "Chemi kutuniya bichi." An approximate Russian translation: "A boy with a tiny peepee."
"They're doing away with Zhvania - to a full extent," a Georgian journalist knowledgeable about the ways of the local political elite told Izvestia. "In Shevardnadze's circles, it is Zurab who's considered the most dangerous opponent. He's a lot smarter than Saakashvili. His organizational skills are much stronger. Knowing his own minuses (a lack of charisma, Armenian origin and, finally, the rumors of his sexual orientation), Zhvania has stepped into the background, having made Nino Burjanadze the formal leader of his bloc. But no one has any doubts: if Nino becomes president, the real power will be in Zurab's hands. And this is exactly what Shevardnadze's people want to avoid."
So much has happened since then: Shevardnadze was forced to resign, Abashidze fled to Moscow some five months later; Saakashvili was elected Georgia's president, Burjanadze became the speaker of the parliament and Zhvania spent slightly less than a year as the prime minister.
Now that Zhvania is dead, however, the Russian TV seems eager to revive the speculations - and the secrecy surrounding the investigation of the alleged accident is nothing but a bonus.
Ilya Kanavin of the Russian state RTR channel reported Sunday evening:
The Georgian prosecutor's office has taken a strange step recently: journalists representing Georgia's leading media were invited to watch a tape from the scene of the accident. The aim of the screening was to convince the media that the victims had not been in the same room: Raul Yusupov was in the kitchen, Zurab Zhvania in the living room.
The journalists, however, were not convinced: first, no one was provided with a copy of the tape, and moreover, it was not allowed to videotape or photograph anything from the TV screen; second, it became obvious that the investigators and the bodyguards described the location of the bodies differently.
But it is highly improbable that two adult men could have died of carbon monoxide poisoning simultaneously while being in two different rooms. And this means that the authorities are trying to conceal the fact that, at the moment of death, Zurab Zhvania and Raul Yusupov were together. This explains the indecisiveness of the bodyguards and the seeming hurriedness of the investigation.
RTR's news host sounded disgustingly derisive, by the way, when he was announcing the story, but I've failed to record it, unfortunately.
Maya Nikoleishvili, an independent forensic expert, said this in a Gazeta.ru interview (she was also quoted in Kanavin's RTR story):
- They showed footage from the scene of the accident and said: you've seen it and that's enough. The journalists were surprised and said that they couldn't even make sure whether the tape was authentic or edited. It's not supposed to be done this way and we haven't had anything like this in the past few years. We haven't seen the face of the dead Zurab Zhvania. Only those who have been in the apartment saw the body.
I'm not saying that I doubt it was an accident, but we demand the proof that it actually was an accident. With the privatization, where we're talking about hundreds of millions - maybe it had something to do with Zhvania's death? And then there was a terrorist act, which happened in Gori a day before Zhvania's death [...]. If there was a connection and Zhvania's death wasn't an accident, then it appears to be aimed against President Saakashvili.
- What's the point of concealing it?
– We aspire to be a country in which such medieval killings do not take place.
- Do you find anything suspicious about the accident hypothesis? Is it true that many people in Tbilisi die because of malfunctioning heaters?
- I wouldn't say that it happens often, but it does happen. The heaters do cause lethal cases, of course. But here the situation is slightly different. These people were in secret rented apartment.
Usually, Zhvania did not walk around on his own, without bodyguards, who were supposed to check everything. Bodyguards can't leave a person to die just like this, even if it's an accident.
They were showing the neighbors on TV and they said that they were returning home from 1:30 to 3:30 am, and there was not a single car in the street at that time. Where were the bodyguards, and was it an accident [that they weren't there]? Lots of suspicious details. I'm not saying that there wasn't an accident - I'm saying, please, convince us that this is how it was.
Raul Yusupov's father, Yashar Yusupov, told a Georgian TV station that his son "hadn't died in the apartment where they discovered him" (via Gazeta.ru):
"I want to know the truth and find peace, because my son did not die in that apartment," he said in an interview with the Georgian Mze TV company.
According to Mze, Raul Yusupov had never lived on Saburtalinskaya Street, where the tragedy took place, and he had never rented an apartment there. For the past five years, the deputy governor had been living in Tbilisi's Varketilsky Microdistrict with his wife.
Mikhail Saakashvili said this at Zurab Zhvania's funeral (via Gazeta.ru):
I'd like to tell Georgia's enemies - do not be so hopeful. Zurab Zhvania is dead, but we're still alive. If someone has any illusions as to being able to prevent us from fulfilling our aspirations, they are mistaken.
- RTR's Kanavin quoted an "average-looking" Georgian woman who said she didn't really trust those Iranian heaters - but couldn't afford a better one. Is it really possible that someone of Yusupov's - or Zhvania's - standing faced a similar problem?
- Zhvania was said to be half-Armenian - and proud of it (via Blogrel; also mentioned in the 2003 Izvestia piece):
Zhvania also did much to promote the Armenian-Georgian relations, which were at best sluggish under the Shevardnadze regime. Half-Armenian himself, Zhvania said publicly in June 2004 that he was proud of his ancestry, putting to shame a xenophobic parliamentarian who had questioned his appointment of a non-Georgian to a government position.
The rumor is Yulia Tymoshenko is also half-Armenian: allegedly, her father's last name was Grigyan.
Ironically, I first heard about Tymoshenko's alleged Armenian roots from a Georgian friend, back in January: the friend asked me if this was indeed true.
- Among those attending Zurab Zhvania's funeral Sunday was David Zhvania, Ukraine's recently appointed minister of emergency situations, and Igor Levitin, the Russian minister of transport.
Before I unearthed the real connection between Levitin and Georgia, I felt very uneasy, having been reminded of Ukraine's former minister of transport, Heorhiy Kyrpa, who was found dead at his dacha Dec. 27. His death is still shrouded in mystery.
Levitin, however, isn't just an eerie coincidence - he has been very much involved in the Russian-Georgian affairs (via the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor, Nov. 5, 2004):
In Tbilisi, Levitin signed with Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and Economics Minister Kakha Bendukidze a memorandum of understanding on creating expert groups for the project, focusing on restoration of the railroad's Abkhaz section. Bendukidze seemed to embrace this initiative. A free-market, free-trade enthusiast, he characteristically downplayed the project's political and policy implications for Georgia. By contrast, Zhvania called for caution, citing Abkhazia's unstable political situation. He suggested postponing not only the decision, but even the creation of the expert group, pending clarification of the situation in Abkhazia.