Georgia & Abkhazia remember conflict victims

People in Abkhazia have held a rally and candle light vigil to remember the victims of war with Georgia 15 years ago. Even today the effects of that conflict are being felt on both sides by a new generation.

Shota Dzhobua is a war veteran. Every year he brings his two sons to the Red Bridge in Sukhumi, where it all began. Shota says he was among the first to see Georgian tanks in the streets. After that there was an air raid.

“And then the helicopters appeared. We thought ”thank god, the Russians are coming to save us. But these were not Russians. And these helicopters started bombarding us. People were running away. I was hiding behind that building over there," he remembers.

Hundreds of young people came to the Red Bridge to join war veterans in the commemoration ceremony. Most of them are too young to remember the conflict, but it's a sad day for them too.

August 14 is a tragic and memorable day for the people of Abkhazia. But as the years pass and the pain of loss slowly fades away, they are hoping to achieve what the previous generations were struggling for – peace and true independence for their republic.

Abkhazia's leaders say it was the youth's initiative to hold this rally – something they see as a positive sign.

“The link between generations is something very important for any country. These young people who came here today are ready to protect what their fathers were dying for,” stresses Sergey Bagapsh, Abkhazian President.

Abkhazia is a small republic on the Black Sea coast, a neighbor of the Russian resort of Sochi. For hundreds of years it was a close ally of Russia, until Joseph Stalin decided to merge it with the Soviet republic of Georgia in the 1920s. The decision was very unpopular among ethnic Abkhazians, but it was almost impossible for them to object.

Abkhazia's move towards independence started in the early 1990's, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Georgia sent troops into Sukhumi, which sparked a full-scale military conflict. The war went on for almost a year claiming thousands of lives, and forcing more than 280,000 ethnic Georgians flee their homes. The fighting stopped as CIS peacekeepers entered the republic and separated the sides. Since then only minor incidents have occurred.

Like hundreds of other Georgian refugees from Abkhazia Gogola has been living in an old dormitory in Tbilisi for the past 15 years. For Gogola this day brings painful memories. She says returning home has been her dream ever since.

“I was born in Abkhazia and I love it. Of course, I'd love to return there. Why? It's my motherland. It's my home. It is better not to live at all, than to live like I do. I'd love to come home,” Gogola says.

On the same day a commemoration ceremony is being held in Tbilisi. Many Georgians see the war in a different way. For those who lost their relatives in the conflict, this day also has a special meaning. They admit the Georgian government has made many mistakes. But these actions, they say, can be justified as they were attempts to protect the country's territorial integrity.

“We would like to review this military and political campaign once again. It's closely connected with the issues of Georgia's territorial integrity. And restoring this integrity is one of the main priorities for our society and for our government,” says Teimuraz Mzhavia from Abkhazia's Supreme Council in exile. 

While politicians on both sides argue what's best for their people, a new generation is growing up in Georgia and Abkhazia. They may or may not try to find an understanding with their neighbors when they grow up.