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Plaque Ceremony in honor of Dr. Kita Tschenkéli

9. November 2022

It is my pleasure to welcome you in the name of the University of Zurich and to be a part of this event in honor of a scholar whose work is still significant for linguistics today and whose passion for science inspires to this day. As President of the University of Zurich, let me focus on the Zurich time of Kita Tschenkéli and on those steps of his career that connect him to our university.

After some years spent in Germany, Kita Tschenkéli emigrated to Switzerland in 1945, during World War II. He arrived here with nothing but a Georgian typewriter and a few manuscripts, since his belongings had gone up in flames during the bombing of Hamburg.

In Zurich, Kita Tschenkéli earned his living by teaching – among others at the University of Zurich – where he held a teaching position for Georgian between 1946 and 1947. Lectures on Georgian language were something new in Switzerland at that time. Even trained linguists took part in the lessons and encouraged Tschenkéli to continue his work on a textbook for Georgian. And so he did, together with Lea Flury, Ruth Neukomm and Yolanda Marchev, three highly committed colleagues from Zurich. Ms. Neukomm and Ms. Marchev, by the way, had studied at the University of Zurich.

In 1958, Tschenkéli’s introduction to the Georgian language was at last published. This was possible also thanks to the support of two Professors  at the University of Zurich, who had arranged financial support for the project . With the publication of Kita Tschenkéli’s textbook, there was finally a "key" available that allowed all interested parties access to the Georgian language and to the country's rich literary tradition.

In 1961, the University of Zurich awarded Kita Tschenkéli an honorary doctorate in appreciation of his outstanding merits on behalf of the Georgian language. At that time, Mr. Tschenkéli was again teaching at UZH, where he held lectures in both Russian and Georgian.

As President and researcher, I am proud that my Alma Mater has contributed to the publication of a work that is still significant today, and that it has paid appropriate tribute to a highly dedicated researcher such as Kita Tschenkéli.

Up to this day, the University of Zurich is committed to supporting talented scholars – no matter what their personal situation, origin or nationality may be. We are, for example, a member of Scholars at Risk, an international network which protects researchers under threat. We also lead the Uni4Refugees project together with the University of Geneva. This project fosters the integration of refugee students into Swiss higher education. With our commitment, we would like to help ensure that careers like Mr. Tschenkéli's will continue to be possible in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, many thanks for your attention.