People Along the Occupation Line
Gela Mchedlidze is a football coach in the village of Abano. He trains kids on a newly-repaired playground close to school. He travels to his job from the neighboring village of Koda. Koda is situated on the occupation line and is home to fifty families.
“Can you see those black dots? They are Russian soldiers. I pass by them every day, sometimes together with children, but they say nothing. Frankly, I am not afraid any longer, as I have gained experience when I was arrested,” Gela said.
He was arrested before the 2008 war. “I went to gather firewood; I even had a permit for that; but they arrested me, kept me in detention for several days, took my car, and destroyed it completely. They forced me to bring them USD 1,500. I sold everything to pay back this debt. The only good thing about that is that they released me without a beating,” Gela recalled.
Next to Koda is the village of Tsnelisi, which is in the occupied territory. Gocha Mchedlidze studied in Tsnelisi school. He had many Ossetian friends. “I have no contacts whatsoever with them any longer. They do not show up. I had very good friends; all were my buddies,” Mchedlidze said.
Kidnapping people is a common phenomenon along the occupation line. Everyone is affected by it – either directly or indirectly. Tensions never subside around pastures, either. Now, a barbed-wire fence separates Koda, and the villagers' cattle no longer cross over to the occupied territory.
Mariam Gulisashvili, a representative of the Kareli mayor’s office, recalls a story when cattle wandered into the occupied territory, and a cow gave birth to a calf there. The owner of the cow tried to assist the cow and bring the calf home, but he was arrested and taken to the police department. “They did not hurt that man and released him soon, as he had some acquaintances there, but the fact is very disquieting,” Gulisashvili said.
The Mikeladze family lives in the village of Abano. Peace is the main concern of this couple, who have four children. Gia Mikeladze is a welder. When he is working on a project, he sometimes must leave the family for several weeks. Women and children stay at home here. “My village is one kilometer away. We have gone through so many difficulties. Our main concern now is peace,” Leila Mikeladze, Gia’s mother, said.
The state of affairs in villages along the occupation line is upsetting; married couples may be on opposite sides of the divide. There are some families where children have not seen their mother for thirty years. Chvrinisi village, for example, counts 65 families, and 27 of them are split by the dividing line.
“Ossetians do not have a happy life, either. When they look in our direction, they see lights everywhere, a newly refurbished school; they know that we receive monetary assistance. The situation on their side, however, is grave. They do not go out after 8 p.m.. They have interruptions in the power supply at night. They cannot even buy household items. One story illustrates this: a Georgian family maintained contact by phone with their Ossetian neighbors on the other side of the occupation line. Those Ossetians asked the Georgian family to buy napkins and rennet for making cheese for them. They bought the products and, to avoid handing them over in person, they hung them on a tree in the yard and left. Ossetians are very much restricted by the Russians; they are almost confined to their homes and cannot travel around,” Gulisashvili said.
Occupation, war, and peace are the topics of daily discussions in Abano. On 6 February, they discussed them with Dato Turashvili.
People crowded the public school in Abano. Adults spoke no less enthusiastically than the young about Georgia, Georgia’s European values, history and past as well as modern times. “Georgia was the first country in the world where Social-Democrats won and started to build a democratic state, but, unfortunately, that experiment continued only three years. Our neighbor was strong and occupied us; however, we managed to survive. Nations that were much stronger, more active and powerful than us, were destroyed, but we survived to date. This is our secret, our longing for European values and development,” Turashvili told his audience in the village of Abano.
Talks about Europe have been organized across the country within the framework of the Europe Foundation project, Writers for European Values. Lasha Bughadze and Rati Amaghlobeli are also engaged in this project alongside Dato Turashvili. These meetings enable the youth of Georgia to understand the link between European and Georgian values and see European values through the prism of Georgia’s history, culture, and literature. The writers have already visited 41 cities and villages and engaged more than 4,000 schoolchildren in talks about common European-Georgian values.
Author: Ketevan Magalashvili
Photos by: Natela Grigalashvili