Prof. George Hewitt

Soviet soldiers patrolling in Ochamchira, after the fighting that broke out in Sukhum (15-16 July 1989)

Text of interview in Georgian with B.G. Hewitt, shewn on Abkhazian TV 11 August 1989 and published in Russian in the paper Byzp on 22 August.

When a mild-mannered linguist published an open letter to the people of Georgia in 1989, he suddenly found himself the enemy of the nascent post-soviet republic - and a diplomat for its breakaway territory.

Writer Kieran Pender Photographer Alice AedySmith Journal 

17 September 2015 -

AbkhazWorld - You retired at the end of August 2015. This also means the end of Georgian/Caucasian Studies at SOAS. Could you please tell us the brief history of this post and how long you have been working at SOAS?

HEWITT - When Japan entered the IInd World War, the government/allies found themselves suddenly in need of experts in Japanese and other far-eastern languages, and it was immediately clear that there was a deficit of such knowledge. After the war ended, the British government decided to take precautionary measures to ensure that, if hostilities broke out again in certain parts of the world, expertise would be in place. And so, a number of Treasury Scholarships were set up. The arrangement was as follows. Talented language-undergraduates (especially at Oxford and Cambridge) were identified and made a most attractive offer: if they agreed to specialise in one of the oriental languages deemed to be of national importance, they were offered 6 years of tuition on a lecturer’s salary firstly with an appropriate tutor (wherever one could be found), whilst the final 2 years would be spent in the country where their language was spoken (or, if the country in question was closed, as in the case of the USSR, within a diaspora-community), and then, after the learning period was over, a lectureship was guaranteed. Since several (?the majority) of the languages concerned were in parts of the world that fell within SOAS’ remit, a number of such posts were established there. Such was the beginning of both Georgian and Armenian studies at SOAS. Both new lecturers were Cambridge graduates in Russian and, I think, German: David Marshall Lang (1924-1991 from St. John’s College) for Georgian, and Charles Dowsett (1924-1998 from Peterhouse) for Armenian. Dowsett stayed at SOAS until the Gulbenkan Foundation established the Armenian chair at Oxford in 1965, for Dowsett was offered the professorship. At that time Armenian was lost to SOAS — an attempt to revive it a few years ago failed. Georgian continued to be covered by Lang (as lecturer, reader and lastly professor) until his early retirement in the mid-1980s. After an interregnum, when the University Grants’ Council (applying the Thatcherite squeeze on universities) was closing small departments in the UK university-system, my own Linguistics’ Department at Hull was one to suffer this fate in 1988, at which moment I was transferred to SOAS. At first, I was half in the Linguistics’ Department and half in the NME Department, but from 1992 I was a member exclusively of the latter department. Thus, my tenure at SOAS was 27 years.

On 15 August 2012, the Tbilisi-based Mingrelian journalist Pridon Dochia, representing a Georgian internet-media-group interested in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, sent me the following questions in Georgian. On 19 August I sent him my replies, also in Georgian. The following is my translation of the Q-&-A exchange.

RT Spotlight: Today we will talk about the consequences Augusts South Ossetia conflict. Following the bloody and ill-fated attempt by Georgia to capture South Ossetia, Russia grudgingly recognised the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thus satisfying the long-standing aspiration of these two nations. What does this recognition mean for these peoples and for their international relations? Well discuss these questions with two professors: Robert Legvold, a Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and George Hewitt of the University of London.

Rosbalt, 5 August 2010

- Изменилось ли как-то на Западе за эти два года отношение к проблеме признания независимости Южной Осетии и Абхазии?

- Я не вижу никаких существенных изменений. На Западе есть такие люди, как специальный представитель ЕС по Южному Кавказу Питер Семнеби, британский эксперт Том де Вааль и американские ученые Линкольн Митчелл и Александер Кулей, которые призывают к «контактированию без признания» (англ. «Engagement without Recognition») с непризнанными республиками Закавказья. Но у меня такое ощущение, что, говоря об этом, они скорее имеют в виду Абхазию, чем Южную Осетию. Даже если они имеют в виду и Южную Осетию, то я не до конца понимаю, чего они хотят добиться с помощью такой политики, кроме как до определенной степени ограничить влияние России в этих регионах. Конечно, если новообразованные государства могут получить какую-то выгоду от этой политики, они должны ею воспользоваться, а затем продолжать настаивать на полном признании их независимого статуса. - By Marat Kunaev

If Georgians/Georgian politicians really believe the rhetoric of their statements on the ’occupied territories’, they are living in a fantasy world. If they don’t believe it, then they are engaging in utterly cynical attempts to deceive their Western supporters. Either way, they are doomed to fail, just as everything else they’ve attempted since 1989 with regard to either Abkhazia or S. Ossetia had led to failure. They are their own worst enemies, but they refuse to recognize this or any other aspect of reality on the ground.

Caucasus Times, 16 November 2010

PRAGUE, November 16, Caucasus Times , continuing the "Caucasian Chalk Circle" - a series of interviews with experts on the Caucasus, political scientists from the U.S., Europe and Asia, presents to you a conversation with George Hewitt.

George Hewitt is British and Professor of Caucasian Languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and a Fellow of the British Academy. Since the mid 1970's, he has been studying the history, languages and cultures of the peoples of the Caucasus. He speaks Georgian and published a self-tutor for Abkhaz earlier this year. His Learner's Grammar of the Georgian language has been published in two editions in Britain (1996 and 2005).

Caucasian Review of International Affairs, From Vol. 3 (2) - Spring 2009

Prof. George Hewitt is a leading scholar of Abkhazian and Georgian languages and culture, and author of: Georgian, a Structural Reference Grammar (John Benjamin, 1995), and A Georgian Reader (SOAS, 1996); Hewitt is also a contributor to Some of his other works include ‘Peoples of the Caucasus’ (in F. Fernández-Armesto, ed. Guide to the Peoples of Europe (Times Books, 1994)); and The Abkhazians, a handbook (as author & editor, Curzon Press, 1999).

The following is a Q and A with George Hewitt, a self-described "working-class Yorkshire boy," who is one of the world's experts on Georgian/Caucasian languages and history. After studying as a student in Georgia in the 1970s, he married an Abkhazian and began spending more time in that part of the Caucasus. He divides his time between Britain, where he is a professor at SOAS, London University, and Abkhazia, where he holds an honorary professorship at Abkhazian State University and is an honorary fellow of both the Abkhazian and Circassian Academies. In recognition of his deep understanding of Abkhazia, Hewitt was invited by the first president of Abkhazia, Vladislaw Ardzinba, to serve as honorary consul for Abkhazia in the U.K. He is currently writing a book on the region.

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