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16 Sep, 2008 22:48

Victims of Georgian aggression remembered

Special church services have been held in South Ossetia and across Russia, according to Orthodox tradition, to remember those who died after Georgia launched a military assault on the capital Tskhinval 40 days ago.

In Tskhinval, however, no church service was held, since the local priest also lost relatives and he’s taken this day to mourn. But a memorial meeting attended by a large number of people was held in the South Ossetian capital.

“Forty days have passed. We commemorate now, and will always remember each one of the dead. And we are thankful to those who defended us from Georgia,” one of the mourners said.

Georgia chose this solemn day of remembrance to return the bodies of two Russian air force pilots killed during the conflict. The pilots had been 'missing in action' since their Tu-22M bomber was shot down in August.

An examination of the bodies to determine their identities will now be carried out, said a Russian military spokesman on Tuesday. Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said the long-range bomber was shot down on 9 August by a Buk-M1 anti-aircraft rocket built in Ukraine.

Memorial services for the victims of the war in South Ossetia are also being held across Russia.

A special commemoration was held in Our Lady of Sorrows church in Moscow. Mourners paid their respects, with many lighting candles for those who died during the conflict.

Overnight, thousands gathered in front of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in the capital to observe a minute’s silence.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has expressed his gratitude to Russian specialists in South Ossetia. Speaking at a meeting in Moscow, he said “great work has been done”.

“Medical points and temporary refugee camps were efficiently set up. We organised water and food supplies as well as humanitarian aid. There were no distinctions made among people based on their nationality. And we even provided help for villages on the actual territory of Georgia”, Putin said.

Meanwhile, the investigation is still going on.

Georgian aggression: chronology of war

Last month's war came following years of simmering tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia.

The conflicts between Georgia and the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have a long and complex history.

Georgia entered the Russian Empire in the early 19th century. At this stage, neither Abkhazia, nor South Ossetia was under Tbilisi's jurisdiction.

South Ossetia had been absorbed into Russia several years earlier and Abkhazia was incorporated in 1910, as Russia gradually gained control of the South Caucasus.

“Abkhazia was a separate country historically, the Abkhazian population never agreed, in their hearts at least, to a unification with Georgia,” says Sergey Arutyunov from the Caucasus Department of the Russian Academy of Science.

The 1917 Soviet Revolution prompted a redrawing of the Caucasus map.

South Ossetia was made an autonomous region within Georgia in 1922, while Abkhazia remained a republic in its own right, until Joseph Stalin incorporated it into Georgia in 1931 – shortly before the notorious purges.

During the Soviet regime, Abkhazia retained autonomous status within Georgia. Secessionist voices in the area were relatively silent during Soviet rule, until Gorbachev's Perestroika sparked a fresh wave of nationalism.

But when South Ossetia and Abkhazia claimed independence in the early 1990s, Georgia, which considered the regions to be part of its territory, sent in troops.

Two bloody wars followed, leaving thousands dead and causing a mass exodus of Georgian refugees from both regions.

After a 1994 ceasefire deal, Abkhazia and South Ossetia became de facto independent and peacekeeping forces, made up largely of Russian troops, were deployed in the region.

However, sporadic violence continued with Georgia repeatedly accusing Russia of stirring up tensions.

“We do not need a war, and the Abkhazian and Ossetian people do not need it either. There is a force that wants the defeat of the Georgian and Abkhazian and Ossetian people. I promise that I will not let this happen,” Mikhail Saakashvili said.

But after Georgia's attack on South Ossetia in August 2008, Moscow said it had no other option but to take both republics under its protection, upon their request.

At the end of August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed decrees, formally recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

When Kosovo was granted independence, Moscow warned this would trigger a separatist domino effect all over the world.

Many analysts then said further changes were inevitable.

“Abkhazians and South Ossetians perhaps have even more right to be recognised as separate nations and independent states by the world community than Kosovo,” Sergey Arutyunov says.

Now, in keeping with the Orthodox tradition, 40 days after Georgia’s attack South Ossetia is mourning those killed by the conflict.

Garik Bestayev was one of them. His relatives say he was a real patriot, who stood up for his beliefs and died for them.

“He dreamt of peace for South Ossetia. He dreamt his children would live in an independent republic,” they say.

To find out more on the conflict, please follow the links below:

Georgia begins war to retake South Ossetia

Russian peacekeepers confirmed killed in Georgia

Time line: Georgia-Ossetia armed conflict, August 8

Russia denies bombing Georgian cities

Bush says fighting must stop

War victim trapped in basement with son’s body

South Ossetian capital completely destroyed

Abkhazia joins conflict

Evacuated kids fear for their parents’ lives

Shelled city is living hell

It's America's fault – US citizen in the conflict zone

The Georgian war – minute by minute, August 10

Ossetian mother tells of miraculous escape

Georgia vs. South Ossetia: roots of a 100-year conflict

Russia sends humanitarian aid to South Ossetia

We will push Georgians out of Kodori Gorge – Abkhazian president

Residents flee war zone in their thousands

Talks possible only after Georgians pull out – Russia

Georgia quits CIS as Medvedev orders end to military operation

The Georgian war minute by minute – August 12

Ceasefire reached

No more fighting, but victims’ misery continues

Ossetian refugees mourn their dead

The Georgian war minute by minute – August 13

Five days that shocked the world

Miracle baby born in shelled Tskhinval

Ruined Tskhinval picking up the pieces

Saakashvili may be put on trial in Russia, say prosecutors

‘Nothing can stop our independence now’ – breakaway republics