Voice from the Georgian–South Ossetian conflict | ‘Nobody is going to make me believe that Ossetians hate us’

7 February 2018

N B, currently a resident of an IDP settlement in Karaleti, an internally displaced person as a result of the August 2008 war

‘The 1990s were the most difficult years; since November 1988 to be more exact. At that time, the bleakness had already started. We started hearing stuff from both sides. We already felt tension, and 9 April 1989 put an end to every hope we had, 9 April was a day you will never forget. We sacrificed for the independence of the country, but we still cannot feel that we are an independent country today. What have so many young lives been wasted for?’

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.

‘I was born in Eredvi [10 km east of Tskhinvali]. I am one of the peacebuilding activists within the Women for Peace and Life organisation. I’m also involved in the activities of the Tankhmoba women’s association. I worked for the UN in Shida Kartli as a human and women’s rights activist for five years. I’m still active [in this].’

‘The situation became complicated in the 1990s. Killings ensued. I remember [my acquaintances] Gundishvili and Somkhishvili being shot in a car in front of the Municipal Party Committee. It seemed like there was a competition. A Georgian would kill an Ossetian and then an Ossetian would kill a Georgian. Vengeance prevailed. And the situation grew tenser and tenser.’

‘There was a whole 18 years from the 1990s to 2008. Georgians who had lived in [the city of] Tskhinvali had already left. And for 18 years, until 2008, we were trying to maintain a Georgian spirit and Georgian jurisdiction with all our might [living in the village of Kekhvi, 10 kilometres north of Tskhinvali, at the time]. We stood there firm as we did not have anywhere to go. We would be accompanied when we were going to Tskhinvali (there were times when peacekeeping forces would accompany Georgians with armored personnel carriers) or coming back.’

‘In spite of all these precautions we had not slept properly even a single night. There were shootings [every night] and panic and fear made us feel worse. We were constantly alert for attacks. We would run back and forth with children in our hands to neighbours’ houses and elsewhere. We were struggling a lot, but I would have been happy had we been able to maintain it as it was… had we managed to maintain our land, territory, and keep it going as it was.’

‘We worked so that the children would not hate each other’

‘I would like to tell you a story. [South Ossetian civic activist] Lira Kozayeva was implementing a project in Tskhinvali and she had to involve Georgian children and Georgian women as it was about a women’s club.’

‘I would bring 15 children to participate in a Sunday school in Tskhinvali. Ossetian and Georgian children participated together. At first they tried to avoid each other, but then they became very good friends and fell in love with each other. We worked with our children, Lira and myself, so that the children would not hate each other.’

‘They learned English, Georgian, and Ossetian traditions, gender issues, painting, and writing skills in the Sunday school. We paid great attention to civic education and our priority was confidence and trust building. It was a central line of our work.’

‘By the end of the 1990s the situation grew better and it seemed that people had resumed relationships. Lira Kozayeva was organising a series of meetings including the one with [then-President Eduard] Kokoyty, and Georgian women were also invited to these meetings. Ossetians would also attend the meetings and we knew what they thought.’

The shutdown of Ergneti Market

‘Then after the Ergeneti market was opened [in 1996], relations were regulated to the effect that we would invite each other to weddings, visit each other, and baptise each other’s children. The waters got murky after [Mikheil Saakashvili’s party] the United National Movement ascended to power [in 2003].’

‘In 2004 they shut down the market and the tense situation got even tenser after they set up Sanakoyev’s office [Dimitri Sanakoyev, head of the South Ossetian temporary administration set up by the Georgian Government in Greater Liakhvi Gorge in 2008].’

‘We did not know whether or not we were coming back’

‘And then came 2008, and we failed to use wisdom against stupidity. It’s sad that we did not manage to do so.’

‘Few people were moving around in the village. We also hid. My son lived in Gori back then. He was unemployed. And the minute the situation got tense he immediately came to the village. It was the first day of August. People were running away from the village. He said he would not let anybody say that he was hiding away and he was not going to do so. He said he would stand next to his people. Can you imagine my situation? I was a mother and doting on my sons, trying to protect them from evil. We hid in my neighbour’s cellar. There was nobody around. We did not know that people were running away, taking with them whatever they could carry.’

‘There were eleven of us — my two sons, myself and several people from neighbouring families. We did not know anybody, nobody knew anything and the village was empty. My youngster had a car and we got in it. He was driving very fast. At that point in time the village was already under bombardment. It was midday and apparently they took a break. We were lucky to use that break.’

‘We did not know whether or not we were coming back. We did not take anything. I didn’t even go to my house. What I did, though, was stand there briefly and looked at my house. I wanted to remember it in case I would not be able to come back. I never took anything from there, not even documents or pictures. I wish I had…’

‘We reached [my ancestral village of] Eredvi. It was horrible. Shooting from everywhere. We left for Gori from there and stayed there. So my son and I stayed in Gori while my mother and my brother stayed in Eredvi, as we found out later on. At three in the morning my son left for Eredvi and my heart jumped out of my chest as I was seeing him off in the middle of the war. He could hardly take my mother from there as she did not want to leave.’

‘We were staying on the fourth floor in a building in front of the House of Culture and the first bomb hit the area right in front of the House of Culture. Everything was shattered. We were scared and moved down to the second floor where an old Ossetian man lived. He told us that he was a veteran of World War II and said that no bomb was going to hit the area and we should not be scared. We stayed in Gori for couple of days and then moved to Tbilisi. That was it. We lived in degrading conditions.’

‘Georgians and Ossetians can never be separated’

‘You’re asking about the cost of conflict. You know what? As time passes and year after year goes by, I feel the loss stronger and stronger. I am not talking about the economic loss here, no way. I long for my land, my region, that ancient part of Georgia. I am least concerned with what I left in my house, I forgot it all. I worry about the distance which makes me feel so far away from somebody who is so close. This is a pain of the soul, this is a trauma and it should not be the way it is.’

‘You know what? You cannot do anything with hatred. Hatred destroys and ruins everything. Love, if I have love inside me, I have to love loving. I love Ossetian people. I love people, not only my children and grandchildren. I love them all. I was born among them.’

‘Generally I am a very optimistic person. I am an avid optimist and I believe that green plums and almonds will blossom again in our gorge and so will Georgian–Ossetian relations. It cannot be otherwise. As you can never separate a mouth from a nose, likewise, Georgians and Ossetians can never be separated, because there are no two nations in the world that are as entangled and entwined as Georgians and Ossetians.’

‘Even now, Ossetians who I have known for a long time, who are still around, they want to have relations with us again. Nobody is going to make me believe that Ossetians hate us.'

[Read from the other side of the conflict: L K, civic activist, Tskhinval — ‘I no longer had to bounce between Ossetians and Georgians’]

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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