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Voice from the Georgian–South Ossetian conflict | ‘If only the Russians didn’t stand between us’

18 December 2017

G V, the village of Saribari, Kaspi Municipality.

Village consists of 8 households and is entirely populated by ethnic Ossetians.

In the beginning of the 1990s the danger of invasion came from neighbouring Kodistskaro, from the side of the Georgians. Residents of Kodistskaro protected the village, they did not let anyone pass.

Cost of Conflict: Untold Stories — Georgian–Ossetian Conflict in Peoples’ Lives is a series of personal recollections from people directly affected by the conflict who continue to pay a price today. They are a continuation of George Mason University’s collection of analytical articles, Cost of Conflict: Core Dimensions of Georgian–South Ossetian Context, which are available online.

Georgians protected us, local Ossetians. And we did not let anyone go there. No one ever came from Orchosani [on the South Ossetian side] to rob somebody or steal someone’s car from Kodistskaro, nothing like that ever happened. We had cars as well and they were protected from us, and they protected us from there. We’ve been like that since then. We are still on good terms. But, if only the Russians had not stood between us. Sometimes we want to share a meal, and talk about some things. They are afraid of Georgian militia and we are afraid of the Russians.

I left many relatives over there. My cousins, children of my father’s brother, they already have grandchildren and I don’t know any of them. They left, one of them was only one year old, and another one was two. It has been 17–18 years, hasn’t it? My son is now seventeen and does not know anyone. He cannot speak a single word in Ossetian. He is being raised in Kaspi and here, with me.

‘Georgians didn’t bother us at all’

2008 was a horrible time for the entire country and this particular village, of course. We were hiding. There are some shelters here, old pools and other things. All the men and women gathered there. We spent the nights there and tried to avoid those spots from where the light was coming. They knew where we were hiding. And during those days we stayed there. Who would spend the night at home — no one. And we would take turns.

One, two or three men would go outside and make sure that no one came in from this or that side. And during that war the Georgians didn’t bother us at all. Once, when we were having dinner in the evening, a commander came to my house. When the bombing of Gori began, probably on the 9th [August 2008], Georgians hid in my house. Once, when the Georgians were running away from Orchosani, I went outside and they said: ‘Uncle, please give us some water’. ‘There is no water’, I told them, ‘come in, have some wine, no time for water…’

They were tired, six–seven men, from Kakheti. I had Kakhetian boys at home. I spoke with my children in Ossetian and asked them to bring some water. When I looked back no one was there. They had run away. When they heard Ossetian language, they thought that they had managed to escape from Ossetians and now they had met another Ossetian here. Not everyone knows our story. From the beginning of times, we did not have any animosity towards neither Georgians, nor Ossetians, nothing like that. Even now, they have not detained anyone, I have not heard of any such thing.

Although, there were cases when the Russians detained people. They took two young men, who went there for water; they went there to get water and got detained. There was an old man with them and they left him alone. There, on the hill close to the ravine; ‘he is too old, to hell with him’, they said and left him alone. They get bonuses, they get paid for doing this.

We lost relatives in the 90’s and in 2008. That love was lost, gone. Even the villages do not have that any more. That order, no one trusts anybody, right? People don’t visit each other, there is nothing to do in the villages and we cannot work, it is all pointless probably.

It would be good if tomorrow, or the day after, or in the near future, these relations between Russia and Georgia, Tskhinvali and Tbilisi improved and those closed roads opened. This will have an impact on everything, of course it will, I’ll be able to go there freely… before, when I needed fish I would go there in the evening and in the morning I would have fish at home. I would go to Orjonikidze [Vladikavkaz] and come back. We would take our produce, like cabbages to Tskhinvali — then we would bring something home… flour or oil, or something like that.

If only the Russians didn’t stand between us, we would become friends again and move towards improvements. Or at least we would go forward. It’s not essential… if someone hit me yesterday, I would not hold grudge against him, nor retaliate.

‘They hated us so much’

I was beaten too. Once I was beaten in Tskhinvali. Once I ran away from here, they were trying to take away my car and I left for Orjonikidze [Vladikavkaz] and stayed there for a month. I spent all the money I had with me and came back; I could not take it anymore. They beat me, because I had decided to come back. They beat me because of that. Then I told him that there was no other way. What else could I have done?

When I came back, my passport said that I was from Saribari, now such passports do not exist anymore. I came through Russian customs; through the tunnel. They searched me and told me I was free to go. I passed through that tunnel and there was an Ossetian checkpoint, a booth. They asked me, in Ossetian, where I was going, who I was, I said to Saribari… What is Saribari? And he opened fire, from a machine gun, and broke my sidelights. This was during Gamsakhurdia’s period.

So they locked us there for an entire day, without any food. We had not eaten or drunk water for an entire day. There were three of us. Then a certain merciful old man came to us, who had already been to that territory and asked why they were keeping us there. They said that we were arrogant, we were still saying that we were free.

They called us Georgian ‘gamsiks’, because of Gamsakhurdia’s surname. Ossetians who had become Georgians. I still despise such kinds of people. They kept us there for a while and then that man told them that we were actually from Saribari and they had to let us go free and feed us immediately. Feed us? I said I just wanted to leave and instead of going to Tskhinvali, we went back. If we went to Tskhinvali, the Ossetians would eat us alive, they hated us so much…

We went there when the peacekeeping APCs accompanied them, we would follow and go there. We would go back the same way. If you made it, you would be able to come back. if not… even if a young boy caught you in Tskhinvali, you would be lost, together with your car.

‘One cannot move forward’

We should have peace again. They will become our friends again, now we should not irritate them, because, we should not say from the very beginning that the Ossetians will eat us alive from that side, or Georgians will eat them alive from this side. We should not talk about this anymore.

[Georgian] Militia, they used to come here, take their gold, cars, other things. These things happened, no one else bothered us, and the village still stands on its place. The only thing is that the youth have run away, left, there are no jobs, one cannot move forward. Only we remained here, and even I would want to leave, if I did not have this huge house. One might want to go to the city somewhere.

If there is more support, people will come back, won’t they? They will come back for sure. When they [my children] come to visit, they ask me what to do. Sometimes I let them chop wood, wash my car twice a day, to entertain them somehow… They ask ‘what can I do here?’ all the time, then they run away.

[Read from the other side of the conflict: I T, the town of Znaur — ‘I still fear that the war may come back’]

The is an edited version of a story recorded by Goga Aptsiauri for George Mason University, with funding from USAID, and the UK Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund. All place names and terminology used are the words of the authors alone, and may not necessarily reflect the views of OC Media or George Mason University.

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