Ucha Nanuashvili
Founder, Democracy Research Institute, Founder, Human Rights Center. Former Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia (2012-2017).

30 years have passed since the beginning of an armed conflict in Abkhazia. As a result of the hostilities, both sides suffered irreparable losses.

Many agree today that it is futile to talk about conflict transformation or reconciliation without a critical review of the past. The future of our society and state depends a lot on how much we refuse to embellish history and admit our mistakes and crimes.

The war in Abkhazia was preceded by the gravest events, which have not been properly realised, investigated or assessed in the context of the conflict so far: the Tbilisi civil war, violent dispersal and killings of peaceful demonstrators, executions in Samegrelo [aka Mingrelia in western Georgia – Ed.], the war in South Ossetia. The Russian influence on the Georgian government that came to power as a result of the military coup in January 1992 significantly damaged the interests of the State. Military forces of the Illegitimate State Council started an operation in Abkhazia on 14 August. 

Nevertheless, none of these heinous crimes have been investigated and no one has been held accountable.

It is impossible to resolve a conflict and start the process of reconciliation when the truth has not been properly assessed or established. One of the first steps towards reconciliation should be to start the process of joint-search for the truth by the parties to the conflict. To date, no government has had the will or power to evaluate properly or investigate these processes, which makes it impossible to achieve reconciliation.

The fact is that for years the political élite avoided (and is avoiding) even the mere talking about such uncomfortable topics ­– the concept of critically dealing with the past has not become popular (let alone a need) for the general public of Georgia.

Today we, Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians know much more about the developments in distant countries than about each other, even about the tragedies of our recent past. It has been almost three decades since the atrocities of war, and we need to realise the significance of those days. It is true that nothing can bring back the Georgian, Ossetian or Abkhazian lives lost during the war; however, we have to realise our mistakes and crimes and, where possible, remedy them.

The tragedies of Dzari and Eredvi are one of the most painful pages of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict for Ossetians, and the Lata tragedy is the hardest episode of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict for Abkhazians.

The tragedy that took place on 14 December 1992, near the village of Lata in the Gulripshi District of Abkhazia, was one of the most difficult days for Abkhazians. A shell fired from the territories controlled by the military units of the State Council of Georgia shot down a helicopter flying from Tkvarcheli, killing 87 people on board, including 35 children and 8 pregnant women.

Other similar stories can also be recalled from the recent past.

In March 1991, in response to the burning of 4 Georgians in a car by ethnic Ossetians, members of the then Georgian armed forces buried 12 ethnic Ossetians alive. On 18 March, people traveling from Dmenisi, Khelchua and Zemo Kere to Tskhinvali by Ural vehicle were dropped off near the village of Eredvi. There were 25 people in the vehicle. Women and children were released, while 12 men went missing that day. Their remains were found only in 1993, with the help of the Gori Prosecutor's Office.

The murder of 4 Georgians on Mount Tsveriakho shortly before this event as well as the Eredvi tragedy remain uninvestigated and black spots in the history of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict.

On 20 May 1992, a convoy of vehicles driving from Tskhinvali to North Ossetia was attacked and fired on by unidentified individuals in the village of Dzari in the Java District, leaving 32 people dead, including children; 16 others were injured.

Similar tragedies can be recalled by both sides, although people mostly think about their own tragedy and pain. The war created mistrust and alienation, as a result of which, we do not know much about the pain of the "other side". We have forgotten how to share grief and mourn together. Many similar stories have been erased from our memory.

The tragedies of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali, the numerous victims and displacement of thousands of people over the decades are issues that we all remember, or should remember. Neither have these tragedies been investigated. We people always mourn only our own tragedies, feel only our own pain, but we cannot share the tragedy of others, of the other side.

The tragedies of Lata, Dzari, Eredvi and others are not the tragedies of only Abkhazians or Ossetians, they are the tragedies of everyone, the tragedies of the people, the country, all Georgia.

It is tragic what happened, but no less terrible is the fact that we have put up with these tragedies that have not been investigated so far and the perpetrators have not been punished. Over the years, governments have changed, with no desire to investigate these crimes. Nor did anyone do anything to inform all Georgian citizens of these tragedies.

Furthermore, we have never tried to commemorate the victims of these tragedies or to offer sympathy to their families. The authorities have not indicated any desire personally to express their condolences to the families of the victims. And this has been so for years, while the pain has not gone awat.

Offering sincere sympathy over these tragedies, properly studying, investigating and evaluating these cases would be important steps towards restoring trust.

An investigation of the above-mentioned cases is at least necessary in order to prevent a recurrence of such crimes in the future. Understanding the evil of the past must unite people for changing the present situation.

Until then, it is desirable to take the following steps. The authorities should:

state their official position on these tragedies and find some form to establish the facts and complete the investigation that began years ago;

ensure that these facts are investigated in order to identify and punish all the perpetrators involved;

inform the citizens of Georgia about these tragedies, as they have the right to know what happened years ago;

declare a day of remembrance to honour all those who died on both sides of the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts.

A long time has passed since the physical violence and war, though there remain conflicts in the hearts of people. Hate and anger have been controlling people's lives for a long time. These emotions paralyse people and turn them into hostages of hatred.

When people are overwhelmed with anger and hatred, it is impossible for them reasonably to evaluate events and look ahead. Sharing human tragedies after so many years of armed conflict may be a step towards breaking the negative circle so that emotions and hatred no longer dominate people’s lives. We must learn how to get out of this situation and understand and feel each other’s pain and tragedy.

It is necessary to learn from the past mistakes. It is about taking responsibility for one’s own role in the conflict, a conflict in which everyone suffered the heaviest loss, a conflict that still continues, and a conflict that left thousands of victims.

The memory of innocent people obliges us to take steps to find out the truth. Respecting the innocent victims will help us in rebuilding trust.