When Machetera visited friends in Leningrad St. Petersburg several years ago and they picked her up at the airport, one of them, Anton Dech, said “Welcome to the other side of the mirror.” Anton sends these notes on the current conflict in the Caucasus, which contain quite a bit of information you probably haven’t seen before, because the English language press isn’t bothering to report it. Context, what context?
“Everything is very complicated.”
What is about, Russian-Georgian Conflict. I will not go deep in the problem. But these are some facts.
Georgians and Ossetians are both Orthodox Christians but for some reason have long term conflict. I have once written to you that Caucasus is an extremely complicated region and it is very difficult to understand the real motivation. Georgians and Ossetians speak completely different languages.
There are about 5 million Georgian people and about 100 thousand South Ossetian people.
Ossetia is separated into two parts: South and North Ossetia. North Ossetia is a Russian territory. The capital is Vladikavkaz. The literal translation is “Own the Caucasus”. The most “famous” town is Beslan which is sadly known due to the recent tragedy.
South Ossetia is considered to be Georgian territory, but from 1992 is functioning as an independent state and has its own government and army. The capital is Tskhinvali.
South and North Ossetia are connected by one road which lies under the main Caucasus ridge. The tunnel is 4 kilometers long. The part of South Ossetia is populated by Georgians (they have Georgian enclaves on their territory).
The historical origin of modern borders is uncertain. After Russian Revolution, Georgia for about three years was an independent state. And Ossetia was the Russian territory. Then Georgia joined the USSR and South Ossetia was attached to Georgia by Stalin.
Immediately Georgians transferred South-Ossetia written language from Latin to Georgian alphabet.
Stalin himself was from Georgia, from Gori. He even spoke Russian with strong accent. There is a huge statue of Stalin in Gori and a Stalin museum. Maybe this memorial is the last Stalin memorial in the world.
Georgian-Ossetian conflict always arises when the central Russian power fails.
In 1920 Georgians killed about 18 thousand Ossetians. That was the time of Russian civil war and brief Georgian independence.
In 1992 (the USSR shutdown) there was another Georgian-South-Ossetia war. The Georgian President Gamsakhurdia proclaimed the slogan: “Georgia is for Georgians” and sent military troops to South Ossetia. In that time Ossetians defeated Georgians and proclaimed independence. About several thousands of Ossetian people were killed. And their capital Tskhinvali was destroyed. From that time the Russia-Georgian-South-Ossetian peacekeepers entered the conflict region. Gamsakhurdia was killed afterwards by his close society.
Among Caucuses inhabitants Georgians are considered to be rather coward and faint-hearted nation and historically they were beaten hardily in each conflict they take part. There is a well known line in the poem of Russian poet Lermontov: “The timid Georgians escaped”. And this line has been associated with Georgians for the centuries.
I served in Soviet Army, and there were some Georgians in our detachment. From my point for view they have two main features: general disinclination to work of any kind and inclination to jeer at infirm people.
In Russia there are many thieves from Georgia. Their specialization is flat burglaries and burglaries from cars.
Another fact is that within the USSR, Georgian people lived much better then Russians due to Russian cash grants. After the USSR decay, the living level in Georgia fell incredibly. Now Georgia is the poorest country among the former Soviet republics. After Saakashvili came to power Russia stopped buying Georgian wine and some other goods.
Georgia has another conflict territory, Abkhazia. The situation is very similar. But Abkhazian military forces are much more powerful. They even have combat aircraft. About 200 thousand Georgians had to leave Abkhazia due to that conflict.
The conflict was frozen since 1992. But when Saakashvili came to power he began to build up his military expenses, proclaimed the integration of conflict territories as the goal of his policy. The Georgian military expenses grew up to 32 times. The USA helped Georgia to equip and train the army.
Some fire incidents on the conflict borders began. Half a year ago Georgian troops came to South Abkhazian territory. It is the gorge of Kodori River in the mountains populated by Svans. Those Svans are absolutely uncivilized people lost in the mountains but this gorge is strategically convenient point to occupy the whole Abkhazia.
For last several months the temperature of conflict has been increasing gradually. Saakashvili accused Russia of provoking the conflict. A month ago Condoleezza Rice was in Georgia, and after that the intensity of border provocations increased sufficiently.
Finally on the 8th of August Saakashvili started the massive invasion in Ossetia. And he did it in the meanest way. The Georgian artillery and aviation for 8 hours centre fired on Tskhinvali and mostly ruined the town. Then tanks entered the town and began to shoot down buildings, even churches and hospitals. More then 2000 civilians were killed. And it is now confirmed by independent European organizations. There is variety of eyewitnesses that saw how Georgian soldiers killed women and children. Also 15 Russian peacekeepers were killed by Georgian peacekeepers.
I watch and read all the news. It was strange that CNN did not even mention this conflict at the first day. The headlines were only Edwards’ mistress and Olympic Games.
Russia hesitated for 12 hours and only then began the invasion. According to their historical image Georgians ran away as rapidly as possible leaving all the armaments. They even left Gori. When Russian troops came to Gori they saw the deserted military base full of weapons and tanks ready for combat. Gori itself was left by police and administration. Later Gori was looted. Who were those looters I do not know. Most likely they were Ossetian’s military volunteers that took part in the invasion and took the revenge on Georgians according to Caucuses’ mentality or Georgian people themselves who are inclined to looting or maybe both of them. One or two buildings in Gori were destroyed by fire and a dozen civilians were killed.
Simultaneously Abkhazia began to fire on the Kodori gorge to wipe Georgians from the Abkhazian territory. Georgians again ran away without any resistance leaving weapons and ammunition.
In two days the war itself was finished. The fire was stopped. Russians came to outskirts of Gori to destroy the military base. Then some Russian troops came to Poti and destroy Georgian fleet.
Russian invasion did not result in many civil victims but due to the Georgians both military and civilians flew away from Gori and the town was looted.
There were now victims in Poti and Zugdidi.
A couple of Abkhazian soldiers were killed in Kodori. 74 Russian soldiers were killed. Nobody knows how many Georgian soldiers were killed because Saakashvili stopped the body count last week. There is some information about 4000 Georgian corpses that were buried in Tskhinvali. But who knows?
The main feature was the huge difference between Russian, European and the USA news. The USA showed one-sided glance on the events. Big wild dictatorship Russia occupied small Georgian democracy. They wholly supported Georgia.
European news at first was on Georgian side but slowly turned to some kind of independence and now their viewpoint mostly coincides Russian’s viewpoint after they were let to go into ruined Tskhinvali. Still European leaders continue to support the Georgians territorial integrity. We’ll see.
The main goal of Russia is to keep the stability on Caucasus. The Caucasus are populated by about one hundred nations. And each nation respects only power, is inclined to suppress and rob neighbors, and typically is not much civilized. If Russia let to destroy Ossetians it will be a signal to Caucasus that everything is possible and they will begin to kill each other.
North Ossetians has conflict on Russian territory with Ingushetians. Ingushetians is a nation very close to Chechens. They speak the same language. In Beslan the majority of terrorists were from Ingushetia.
Everything is very complicated.
Meanwhile Georgia has demonstrated weakness and it will certainly result in conflicts and instability on Georgian territory.
They have very poor population inclined to looting. They have large Armenian community and former Adzharia autonomy area. Armenians do not consider Georgians as human being. And Adzharia is ethnically very close to Georgia but is Muslim and was suppressed and offended by Saakashvili.
They have two territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia that long for revenge. Really, there is no border and Georgian army was scattered and so Abkhazians and Ossetians will certainly loot the nearest Georgian villages, in accordance with their mentality. People from Chechnya and Ingushetia will come to Georgia for robbery as they are accustomed to do for centuries. And the only way to stop the worst scenario is to let Russia to occupy Georgia.
But Russia itself has no reason or thought to occupy Georgia and nobody will let Russia do it. And there is no other power that wants to keep troops in Georgia and to maintain order.
So Georgians will soon thank Bush for their happy life.
There are still many questions:
Why Georgians started the war. Maybe they think to reach the tunnel before Russia begins to respond. Or they think that US army will help them. Maybe for the sake of McCain running?
Why Georgians ran away so fast without considerable resistance, although they had numerical superiority.
Why they began to destroy Tskhinvali instead of hurrying up to reach the tunnel to prevent Russian invasion?
* * *
Anton sends the following addendum:
Here is some more film about an American citizen married to an Ossetian woman [Ed. note: in South Ossetia during the U.S./Georgian bombing].
YouTube contains many independent materials.
Here is the story of Ossetian genocide.
I cannot be sure about 1921. But I remember 1992. My wife’s brother took part in Abkhazian war and was seriously wounded.
What is about Ossetian’s passports? After the decay of the USSR Georgia became very poor country. The passport was given according the registration. The Ossetian people are all relatives. It is very small nation. And they support each other. So people from North Ossetia helped their relatives from South Ossetia to register in North Ossetia and got the Russian Citizenship. For example pensions in Russia are 40 times more than in Georgia. Russian Citizenship was much more convenient for them.
I think that the people of the USA must consider this conflict much more complicated than it is represented by CNN.
Maybe Russia has more right to deal with Caucasus. The reason is that only Russia has interest in peace on its borders. Another world has some interest in 100 km of Georgian pipeline. The USA cannot achieve peace in Iraq for 7 years, because it has no interest in peace.
Russia has achieved peace in Chechnya. And Grozny is now fully reconstructed although it is ruled by rather non-democratic methods.
The democracy in Caucasus is an illusion and even harmful idea. It is like a democracy in cannibal tribe that vote for who is the next to be eaten.
Some detachments of cutthroats from Chechnya take part in invasion. On one blog I read an episode that 9 Georgian soldiers were running away from Ossetian volunteers. And occasionally ran towards Chechen soldiers. They immediately turn around and run back to surrender to Ossetian volunteers. Russian television showed an interview with the commander of Chechen detachment. I was frightened to death, really, even via TV.