Kutaisi New Jewish Cemetery
Kutaisi is an important urban center in Western Georgia’s Imereti region. The city’s history dates back to Antiquity. According to archaeological data, the city used to be the capital of the Colchis in the 6-5th centuries BCE. Historically, Kutaisi was an important political, cultural, and trading centre in Western Georgia. In the Middle Ages, Kutaisi was the capital of the United Kingdom of Georgia, and from the 15th century until the beginning of the 19th century it was the capital of the Imeretian Kingdom.
The Jewish population of the city is mentioned in the testimonies of travelers and officials since the mid-17th century. Jewish merchants and traders in Kutaisi are especially noted in records. French travelers in the second quarter of the 19th century wrote that approximately half of Kutaisi’s population were Jewish. These travelers emphasized that Kutaisi Jewry were mostly involved in petty trade and lived in a densely populated Jewish quarter located in the city centre. According to Zakaria Chichinadze, the Jewish population in Kutaisi previously came from Kartli and Meskheti, since, according to him, in the first half of the 19th century the Jews of Kutaisi wore the traditional clothes of the Kartli region. One of the French travelers, however, claimed that the Jews of Kutaisi came from Akhaltsikhe.
By the first half of the 19th century there were already two stone synagogues in Kutaisi. According to archival material, the synagogues were built in 1812, 1852, and later a third was constructed in 1886. However, historian Itskhak David mentioned in his book that the final synagogue was built in 1888. Per newspaper record, the Jewish population in Kutaisi was 2,639 in 1878, 8,864 in 1897 (84% of the whole population of Kutaisi), and 8,076 in 1904.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the local Jewish population numbered 5,000 people. The New Jewish Cemetery in Kutaisi, or the Sapichkhia Cemetery, is in the south-east of Kutaisi. The cemetery was created in the second half of the 19th century as a multi-faith cemetery for Georgian Orthodox, Armenian, and Jewish burials, each with their own defined section. At the time of the cemetery’s establishment, the area of Sapichkhia was forested with a deep pine forest. The earliest date visible on a tombstone in the Jewish section of the cemetery is 1892. According to a newspaper from 1878, 26 tombstones were stolen. The cemetery is still in use, and the most recent burial was in 2020.