WiP: Kicking the Crusaders out of the Caucasus: Deconstructing the Meme that Khevsurs are Descended from a Lost Band of Medieval Christian Knights

By Ryan Sherman, Cornell University

Date: February 20, 2019, at 18:30 pm
Venue: CRRC Georgia, 5 Chkhikvadze Str. (Former 5 Chavchavadze ave.), I floor.

The historical-ethnographic region of Khevsureti on the northern border of Georgia is the home of a group of Kartvelian highlanders known as Khevsurs. As Khevsureti’s popularity as a tourist destination has grown in recent years, so has an old story that held the Khevsurs were the descendants of a band of medieval Crusaders. Despite its paltry and incidental evidence, this story has spread and continues to be taken seriously by many commentators. It has manifested itself in books about the area, newspaper articles, the work of a few scholars, and now much internet discussion. This growing collection of examples has since created the illusion of an unconsolidated quantity of evidence and, for many, the impression of a credible theory or legend, despite having been dismissed as absurd by most scholars. A systematic deconstruction and analysis of this story shows how this set of ideas initially formed and spread based on a few unreliable accounts and dubious details in circulation since the early 19th century. A close analysis of this story not only helps dismantle inaccurate representations of Khevsur cultural heritage but provides an informative case study examining how such a meme forms and propagates itself.

Ryan Michael Sherman has worked in arctic Alaska, the Black Rock Desert, and the Arakan mountains of Myanmar. He studied philosophy and Russian literature as an undergraduate and received his master’s degree in Global Development Studies from Cornell University in 2018. His interests include rural economics, agricultural development, literature, and cultural heritage protection. He lives, works, and writes in Tbilisi and welcomes email at rsherman.ut[at]gmail.com.

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W-i-P is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the CRRC office at 5 Chkhikvadze Str. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public. The purpose of the W-i-P series is to provide support and productive criticism to those researching and developing academic projects pertaining the Caucasus region.