This is a story of lost friendships, faded memories, but also broken stereotypes and new relations built on ruins. As a result of the Abkhazia and South Ossetian conflicts, thousands of people had to leave behind their lives and ended up displaced. Contacts with friends gradually faded, then died. Today, there is almost no communication between young Georgians, Abkhazians, and South Ossetians. However, a ray of light exists. A few individuals have managed to meet and realize that friendship, despite division, is possible.
After Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union, wars broke out in different regions of the country. The first armed conflict began in 1991 in the South Ossetian autonomous region, then a coup occurred, and in 1992 fighting started in the region of Abkhazian and lasted 13 months. As a result, thousands of people from Abkhazia and South Ossetia became internally displaced persons. The majority of the people who had to leave their homes as a result of the fighting were forced to move out because of ethnic reasons - Georgians fled Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Abkhazians and Ossetians left Georgia. In August 2008, armed conflict erupted again in South Ossetia, creating a new wave of displacement. Both conflicts remain unresolved.
Lost Friendships (Georgia - Abkhazia)
When Khatuna Bakhtadze’s Family left Abkhazia, she was 15 years old.
“I remember every tiny detail from that day. Maybe I don’t remember what happened yesterday, but that day – no. I did not know what was going on. I have looked for so many times at the same pictures in my mind over and over, it seems it’s difficult to forget then.”
“It was in 1992, on the 15th of August. We left by boat. Everyone was in panic. It was night and terribly cold. I could feel the cold stinging my eyes. All my Abkhazian friends stayed home. “They would go to music school without me” – I thought. I felt angry and sad at the same time.”
“First we arrived to Sochi, then took a small steamer to Batumi and finally arrived in Tbilisi by bus. It was not my first time in the capital, but it was the first time in which I thought that it was ugly. Moreover, it was difficult to find a place to live. No one wanted to rent a place to a displaced family from Abkhazia, because there were people who didn’t pay for the rent. I felt, that I could not be happy anymore.”
“Time passed. I found friends in Tbilisi, I ended up falling in love with the city, and with its people. I am happy now.”
“I often think about the people who stayed behind, who are on the other side. Friends, acquaintances, mere passers-by. Maybe people of the next generation will be able to be friends again.”
"Civil Forum" is a non-governmental organization based in Tbilisi, which works on the development of dialogue among Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians; it dreams of reconnecting people who have suffered from the conflicts - among those who used to be friends and among young people from the generation who grew up after the conflict to create new relations among young people.
In 2014, the organization's director, Temur Arbolishvili came up with an idea of bringing Georgian and South Ossetian students on a trip across the Europe, together. The purpose was to meet European youngsters from different countries, exchange experiences, ideas and views. The project was called “Youth Peace Express.” We traveled by bus for 17 days to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo. The journey, and the common adventure connected us with each other.
Inga, 21 years old, from Tskinvali:
“When I think about Georgia, the first thing that comes to my mind is a little yard somewhere in Tbilisi, where my aunt lives. I was maybe 5 years old, when we visited her for the summer holidays. I don't remember clearly every detail, but I know that I had some friends in that yard.
I can’t remember how we communicated, but I never felt alone there. The funniest moment I recall was when my mom took me to McDonald’s on Rustaveli Street, and one boy sat beside me and tried to tell me how cool his toy from Happy meal was. The fact that I didn't speak Georgian didn’t stop him. Maybe, if I spoke Georgian, we would have become friends, who knows?
We haven't visited my aunt's house in Tbilisi since then. It's not a problem for us to communicate with her, because she visits us every year (it’s not easy for her though). Sometimes I think what happened to that yard and to children I used to know.
Destiny gave me a second chance to have relations with somebody in Georgia. The project called "Youth Peace express" is one of the best things that has happened in my life.
The day we set off, we all were quite nervous, because we didn't know how to behave with our peers from Georgia, a word that always sounded like a curse in our motherland. But we decided to be as polite as we could. Now it all looks quite funny.
When I first met them, I realized that we have more in common than I had thought. After a week, we were sitting in the kitchen, listening to Zemfira and chatting as if we've known each other for ages. We are good friends now.”
Anna, 30 years old, Tskinvali:
“Everything was really easy, everyone was friendly, to be honest I was anxious at the beginning, I thought that everything was staged, I couldn’t relax. One evening passed, then the second one, and the third... and I realized that I was letting some people to come closer than I had imagined.
At the beginning, when I started attending the meeting about conflicts, I couldn’t hide my aggression. I’m a very emotional person and my emotions were so distinct, I couldn’t deliver to people what I wanted to say. I truly hated Georgians. It seemed to me, that none of Georgians could judge objectively and say: “Yes, we were not right” or “Anna, I don’t support the policy of my government.” That’s why I was always fully prepared. I had same attitude when I met the guys from Georgia, but soon I understood, that there was no need for my “combat mode.”
A red-haired girl caught my attention immediately, she just sunk into my heart.
I was very touched by one gesture. One day we went for a walk. I had no warm clothes with me. I was cold and she did not even think to return to the house, she took her raincoat and gave it to me to wear.
I was shocked. Just a month earlier I couldn’t have even imagined that I would take a raincoat from a Georgian girl, even if I would be close to death. However this happened. Every day I was more and more impressed by her kindness, and yet how distant she was from political principles; for her the most important thing was humanity and communication. Shortly after this, I fell in love with her and I told my friends that there is such a warm person in Georgia, whom I loved with all my heart.
I became friends with almost everyone from the Georgian group. For me, it’s really easy to have a relationship with them, but when I came back home and said that I met some very interesting people from Georgia, no one believed me. Everyone knew about my attitude toward Georgians. Some of my friends still didn’t even believe me, but the fact remains.
After participating in “Youth Peace Express” a lot of things have changed about the way I see young Georgians.
Or maybe the organization chose the best on purpose?!”