Many people already have faced what is maybe yet to come in Jariasheni. Two refugees from the war 2008 give an interview. They tell what they have experienced on the run and in the time after. Also what they are hoping for their personal and Georgia’s future.
Nika Markozashvili, 23, has lived in the village Vizi which belongs to the puffer zone between Georgia and South Ossetia. In the war of 2008 the house of his family was destroyed and they had to escape. Today he is living in his own apartment in Tbilisi. He studies economy in the 4th year.
You have lived in Gori. When did you have to leave the house?
“I left 4–5 years ago when I finished school. It is hard to get a proper education, therefore I went to Tbilisi. I grew up in a village in the buffer zone. Living there causes a big risk because terrible things happen in this area. The village’s name is Vizi. It is the last controlled by the Georgian side. There are many Georgians soldiers who try to punish Russian and Ossetian separatists. The occupation line always is very dangerous. You easily can get arrested.”
Was your family the only one who left?
“No, everyone who was Georgian escaped the village but some returned. It is sparsely inhabited again despite the dangerousness. Many people are motivated to spend their life there again.”
Can you imagine Russia as a partner?
“No way. Politics control the economy therefore an economic partnership between Georgia and Russia never will be stable. We cannot determine the opinion and mood of Russia. We cannot predict whether they will allow our product on the markets. Their embargo (prohibition of Georgian productions) was fine, I guess. It motivated us to look for alternative markets.
In addition to it I am not able to relate to Russia as a political partner because Russia occupied Georgia all the years. For example the war in Abkhazia and the last one 2008, I myself have witnessed.”
What are your memories of the war?
“I can clearly see the 7th of August. I must have been 15 years old. That was the day my family and I were in Gori and my aunt was in Vizi. We decided to take her and other relatives with us. The road from Karaleti to Kirzins was full of soldiers. In the morning war started.”
Did you now at this point that you would have to leave the village forever?
“First you don’t realize what is happening. Yet after a short time I could analyse the situation and I knew it, yes. We also had to escape Gori because our house was destroyed by a bomb. You can see it on video. Journalists from the channel Rustavi 2 have been there – they have filmed the explosion. It is much known. A friend of mine with whom I went to school was injured. He was 15 years old like me. I have seen how his mother died through the bomb.
Another bomb luckily only was a blind shell. Otherwise much more people had to die that day.”
How have the politics of Georgia changed since 2008?
“In my opinion a lot has changed. The worst are all the victims. Both civilians and soldiers. Many international organisations helped us. For example in Vizi: USAID, GIZ and a German foundation brought food, cutlery et cetera. 2007 was the most successful year for the economy. In 2008 everything was different. Politically, militarily and economically.”
You said it is dangerous on the occupation line. What is going on?
“People getting arrested. A cowherd was seen beyond the border and he had to stay in jail for three days. He had to pay for his freedom. Other people I know were in the forest close to Gomi looking for mushrooms. Not even knowing they were getting to close to the border. I know for sure these people are not behaving wrong. In fact they are nice. I had an interview with an ex prisoner because I was comparing Ossetian, Russian and Georgian systems for university. They were not tortured or anything. The condition in the jail was much better than here in Georgia.”
How is the government of Georgia reacting towards these problems?
“It is not enough. There is a lot work to do. The politicians have to make decisions and the people need to take the initiative. Especially the young people. And some day the people will say everyone is part of Georgia — even in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Still they cannot say it out loud because the system is too strict.”
Gaioz Chavchavadze, 22, had to leave his hometown Avnevi when he was 14 years old. The village is located 25km in the west of Jariasheni – now behind the border. He lives in Saguramo, a shared flat, with other refugees in Tbilisi. At the Free University of Tbilisi he studies social economics and management.
When did you have to leave your house and with whom?
“It was in the conflict in 2008. I left my house on the 8th of August together with my parents, my grand-parents and my older brother.”
Have the entire people of Avevni left the village?
“Everyone did. The village was completely empty. Some international organisation, the UNO I guess, helped us move. They provided black jeeps and sometimes busses to evacuate the village. Me myself I have left with my own car.”
What are your memories of the war? Have there always been conflicts and were you surprised of what has happened?
“There were always conflicts in the area where I lived, so the only surprising fact was the size of the conflict. We were used to noise and gunfights – that was nothing new to us. But when we finally had to leave the house on the 8th of August (the official beginning of the war) I could hardly realize what was happening.
We thought we were driving to Borjomi and when the situation would calm down we could return. Therefore we did not take any furniture with us. Just one bag with clothes.”
Do you know anyone who has died?
“Yes, some of my neighbours. But luckily no one from my family.”
What was your profession back then? Did you have plans for the future?
“Even then I went to school in Tbilisi. I had several plans. We had a mill in the village and my family were cultivators: They had many hectares of field and I also was planning to develop in this direction. I had a good educational background in agriculture. We had the only mill, so my family was quite successful and our earning were stable.
The qualification of my parents guaranteed a good life. It was not so hard to adapt the new situation and reality.”
What do you think about the current relationship between Georgia and Russia? Can Russia be a potential partner for Georgia?
“No, I could never imagine Russia as a partner for one simple reason: In my village there was a building of the Russian soldiers of peace. We often were in contact because they were sitting on the only spring of water. We had to go there to get our water. I never connected these soldiers with peace – I always felt danger in the presence of them.
Sometimes they prohibited us from leaving the village and driving to other places. It was more than once in the news but then easily forgotten after. The Russians are dangerous and I could never respect them as equal. I can’t trust them. We are in a cold war situation and there is a giant enemy against us. In case of escalation we have only little chance to accomplish anything.”
What about the presence in the media? Is the current situation an important theme in the news?
“It is only in the news when there has been a new border movement. And the reports disappear faster than they appear. Still there is no stable protest against everything that is going on. I still know many people who live in occupied villages and for them the events are part of their daily life. They are facing the same situation like me 8 years ago. The problem is still not solved.”
How have the politics of Georgia changed since 2008?
“The only thing that “improved” is the fact that the war informed the world of the existence of Georgia. It is not only a state in the United States of America. And apart from that point: Only negative developments. If there had not been the war the relationship of the people on this side and beyond the border would be much better. My parents, my relatives had a good contact to the people on the other side. For example the grandmother of a friend of mine lives in Tskhinvali – the capitol of South Ossetia – she often visited. She even had house on both sides.”
So the Ossetians are not the enemies? Only the Russians?
“That is a one sided assessment. I cannot easily say that. I only can say that I imagine an open and faithful communication rather with the Ossetians than with the Russians. The Russian definitely is negative, an occupant. I do not want to talk much about history but the reason for the conflict was an awful attitude towards each other. And Russia plays the guilty part. Georgia was part of the Soviet Union for 70 years, 100 years in the Russian Empire. This cultural border has formed the empire.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I want to stay in Georgia and become part of the Ministry of Defence. It is important to work in this section– especially after the war. Not because of any military feelings or revenge and vengeance. Not at all.
You do not feel safe in this country. While we are doing this interview people in Jariasheni or Dvini get stolen their cows or ground and are arrested. Sleeping well has become impossible. I’m sorry for that. I quit war and violence. I prefer peace and I want to achieve it in Georgia. I’m scared that if people leave Georgia and find out that it is possible to have a safe life in Europe they’ll never come back. I don’t want to leave this reality.”
© Christina Stollenwerk and Robin Wasserfuhr // special thanks to Teona Sekhniashvili