Tour Leaders

We are thrilled to count among our tour leaders the following accomplished individuals. They bring not only a high level of expert guiding skills, but also their own personal passions, interests, and skill sets. Collectively, they have many years of experience which enables them to meet every situation with appropriate discipline, caution, compassion, or humor however the moment merits. We work together and share our knowledge to make sure that each guide has the information they need to be successful no matter the situation. With JohnGrahamTours, you are in good hands.

John A. Graham

...joined the Yale Institute of Sacred Music as a post-doctoral teaching fellow in 2015-2016. He was lecturing, writing, and teaching a graduate course titled, "Early Polyphonies East and West."

His PhD at Princeton University, "The Transmission and Transcription of Georgian Liturgical Music" (2015), encompassed a comprehensive investigation of the written and audio sources for the liturgical chant tradition of the Georgian Orthodox Church, both medieval and modern. He lectures regularly on topics relating to the history and revival of Georgian sacred music, and gives practical workshops on Georgian folk and sacred music. At Princeton, he directed two Georgian folk choirs, and started another while at Yale University. For more on his academic work, please follow these links: Publication, Teaching, Performance, Dissertation.

John has been organizing and leading cultural tours in the Caucasus every year since 2006, and has been successful in every way at this venture. Currently the business has expanded to include many private tour groups including tours that specialize in trekking, bird-watching, choral performance, medieval Christianity and frescoes, wine industry and viticulture, and general culture tours. John Graham Tours now operates beyond Georgia in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Ethiopia.

 

Dato

...David (Dato for short) was born and raised in Tbilisi, but his family is from Akhaltsikhe, a city in southern Georgia. He is married with two children, and sings traditional chant in the Kashweti Church together with John Graham. His education is in history and cultural and physical geography, and he has been working as a guide for ten years. Originally he worked as a hiking guide which is his main passion, but in recent years he has been operating a variety of private cultural tours because of his vast knowledge and interest in Georgian history and arcana. His passions remain hiking, singing, and being with his family. Dato is mild-mannered, quiet, but owns a lot of knowledge about every topic, and is entirely dependable as a driver and guide. He has worked with John Graham Tours for many years and has excellent reviews.

 

Paul

...is a founder of the Transcaucasian Trail project, an effort to create a long-distance trail network linking the protected areas of the Caucasus. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia from 2005-2007, later graduated from the Columbia Journalism School and has written extensively on international affairs and global development issues. He held several professional jobs including a stint with USAID, but after envisioning the Transcaucasian Trail in 2015, he has now devoted himself full time to this project. He also leads volunteer trail building crews and hiking tours in the mountain regions of Georgia, and free-lances with JohnGrahamTours as his schedule permits.

 

Keti

...is a successful independent tour guide in Georgia. She has a Masters degree in English, and many years experience leading a variety of tours as a founding member of the Guide Association of Georgia. She specializes in cultural and history tours, as well as wine tourism, but has worked as a capable guide on film projects and business association trips as well. Keti is passionate about politics, rule of law, correct government, and promoting strong Georgian values for her family, her country, and her guests. She has a bright personality, is popular with her guests, and often stays in touch with clients who become friends.

 

Roseanna

...was born and raised in Yerevan during a very unpredictable time of collapse and reform. After studying linguistics, she began working at a Library but soon switched to tourism because of growing demand. In 2007, she studied for a masters in Socio-Cultural Service and Tourism at the Moscow State University of Service, as well as studying at Tufts University in Boston. Roseanna is extremely personable, and loves to tell jokes and laugh with guests. She knows Armenian history well, and particularly enjoys reflecting on the legends that surround sites, in addition to the factual information. She has worked with John Graham Tours since 2017, leading mostly cultural and hiking tours. She lives in Yerevan together with her husband and their five children, but also travels in Europe during the off season, having completed significant portions of the Compostela de Santiago trail in Spain.

Soso Kopaleishvili. John Graham Tours guideSoso

... is a dynamic performer and educator of Georgian traditional folk and sacred music. As a soloist in the Sakhioba Ensemble, Soso has performed in the UK, Croatia, Ukraine, Poland, and the US, as well as in concerts throughout Georgia. Soso studied in the Tbilisi Seminary and the Patriarchate College of Chant Studies, and worked as a radio host in Folk Radio Tbilisi. He is accomplished on many instruments including the doli (drum), chiboni (bagpipe), chonguri (lute), and guitar. His energy and enthusiasm, combined with a skill for ordering the most delicious foods, make him an invaluable asset to our guide team.

Shergil

... was born and raised in the highland region of Svaneti, where he grew up speaking both the Svan and Georgian languages and learning local arts such as ornate wood-carving and traditional folk songs. Now a soloist in the Zedashe Ensemble and resident in Sighnaghi, East Georgia, Shergil (pronounced Share-geel) makes a living making fine wood carvings and working as a sommelier in the burgeoning wine-tourism industry. As a performer and teacher of traditional music, he has toured in the USA, Holland, Latvia, and the UK on several occasions, and brings his passion for music and fine sense of humor and poise to the guide team.

Irakli

... was born in the city of Sokhumi in the Abkhazia region of Georgia, now a breakaway territory occupied by Russia. To this day, Irakli and his family have not been able to return to their home, a fact that has strongly influenced his life and political opinion. Irakli studied international relations and political science in Tbilisi (1999-2003), USA (2001-2002) and Hungary (2005), later working for various international non-governmental organizations including six years as host family coordinator for the US Peace Corps in Georgia. Irakli has a remarkable command of the English language. Due to his love of Georgia, and wanting to work for himself, Irakli became a full time freelance tour leader in 2017, and has been predictably quite successful at this work. He loves traveling and exploring new places, as well as immersing visitors in his country’s culture and rich history. He is also a social activist, supporting the Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) community from Abkhazia with various community mobilization and media projects.

Feride Buyuran

... is a native of Azerbaijan but is currently living in Long Beach, CA. Feride is passionate about bringing people together to connect cultures through food: she recently penned an award-winning debut cookbook, Pomegranates and Saffron: A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan. Feride enjoys speaking on topics of food history and culture at public and private venues. Recently she spoke at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and at the Los Angeles Central Library. Feride has a Master’s degree in English Philology from the State University of Languages in Azerbaijan and a Master’s of Business Administration from California State University, Long Beach. She is fluent in English, Azerbaijani, Russian, and Turkish, and has a working knowledge of Spanish. As a hobby, she enjoys dancing Flamenco and singing in a local choir. For our Azerbaijan tours, Feride serves as a valuable organizer and team leader.

Elnur

…. has studied International Relations as a bachelor degree in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. His passion on learning culture, history of Azerbaijan and to share his knowledge with international students at the university has brought him to the tourism industry. He is running cultural, historical tours in Azerbaijan since the university period and his biggest target is to contribute effectively to the tourism industry of Azerbaijan for making a country in a top touristic destination in the world. He believes that the guide should always have a smile on his face and has to give a positive energy to the tourists apart from historical facts. Elnur is interested in different types of sports, but football and Crossfit are his favorite ones. Elnur saves as an able coordinator for our private tour requests in Azerbaijan.

Niko Kontovas

Niko

...is a linguist, Turkologist, Iranologist, language teacher, programmer, and language materials developer. Before starting the PhD program in Leiden, he was employed as a lecturer in the Department of Turkish Language and Literature at Boğaziçi University in İstanbul, Turkey. He is engaged with many projects relating to the teaching, learning, research, and documentation of Turkic and Iranic languages both modern and historical. Education: BA in Linguistics at University of Chicago (2008); MA in Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University (2012). When not working on language-related things, Niko enjoys cooking, winemaking, or reading up on historical medical and culinary practices of Europe and the Middle East. Niko leads the "Cathedrals of Tao" tours into NE Turkey.

Christian Sefrin

Christian

…. was born in 1984 in south-western Germany close to the French border. His enthusiasm for nature and culture led him to research in Ethiopia during his undergraduate studies, and eventually to a grand adventure traveling the Nile river through Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. Since then, his enthusiasm for Ethiopia has continued to grow. He has been working as a guide since 2008, and recently published a German-language guide book to Ethiopia. In his spare time, Christian is an accomplished wildlife photographer. For John Graham Tours, Christian runs the Ethiopia cultural and trekking tours.

 

Luarsab Togonidze, guide with John Graham ToursLuarsab

…. is an amateur historian of some renown in Georgia, being one of the foremost authorities on several specific 19th century Georgian topics including the history of liturgical chant transcription, early photographic portraiture, aristocratic garments, clergy, and monastics of Mount Athos. He is the father of five children and runs a couple of wine-focused boutique restaurants in Tbilisi. John and Luarsab met in 2004, and worked together on writing the first English-language account of the movement to save Georgian chant in the late 19th century, and the life of Saint Ekvtime Kereselidze. They were fast friends, and traveled the country together finding little-known monasteries, which led to the first "Monastery Tour" in 2006. Luarsab was the co-leader of all tours through 2010. John credits Luarsab's enthusiasm and historical curiosity for his decision to pursue a PhD in musicology with a focus on Georgian chant.