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South Caucasus

nationality human: yeghegnadzor: but who started the war?

Festival in Yeghegnadzor

questions and answers, september 29

Festival in Yeghegnadzor Julia Adelkhanova
Julia Adelkhnova
Irakli Chikhladze
Irakli Chikhladze
Lira Tskhovrebova
Lira Tskhovrebova
South Ossetia
Julia Jacobs
Julia Jacobs
Michael Mirziashvili
Michael Mirziashvili
Georgi Vanyan
Georgi Vanyan
👤 Person from the audience: What is your personal opinion about what ‘s happened?

Irakli Chikhladze: it is very seldom, literally never to be exact, that only one side is guilty in a conflict. But in this case it’s the third side that played a major role in doing everything so that the two sides couldn’t find a common language with one another.

👤 Do the statistics, that were announced, have anything in common with the reality?

Irakli Chikhladze: I don’t think those numbers are real. The numbers of losses were reduced from both Georgian and Russian side.

👤 We are more or less informed about Georgia’s official position, but what do the people think and what is their treatment to what’s happened? Were there any anti war promotions in Georgia?

Irakli Chikhladze: During the war?

👤 Yes during the war and now after the war.

Irakli Chikhladze: I don’t know of any such attempts. I think the community was in shock. And later, after Russia’s actions… Russia ”helped” the Georgian community to unite and become one whole for some time. Meaning the community unified against Moscow.

Julia Adelkhanova: Yes there were promotions – against war and simultaneously against Russia. Against war - for peace and against Russia. There were many promotions like those.

👤 Is there a risk of a renewal in military actions?

Irakli Chikhladze: Yes, I’m afraid there is such a risk. There is that risk at least until the end of this year.

👤 What side is the threat from the Georgian or the Russian?

Irakli Chikhladze: Has Georgia the ability to be a threat after what happened?

👤 But Georgia already started it once…

Irakli Chikhladze: What?

👤 But Georgia started this war or do You not agree?

Irakli Chikhladze: I spoke with people who were uninvolved and were working in the zone of the conflict with Marina Meshvildishvili, for example there were people who had contacts on both sides of the conflict, in Tskhinvali, Gori, and in Tbilissi. She said that during the shootings before the war under which Tskhinvali was, also were Georgian villages, she spoke with her Ossetian friends among who were people from the military, and they assured that they did not fire at Georgian villages. Also her contacts, not only official but also her closely acquainted people insisted that the Georgian side also didn’t fire at Tskhinvali. But someone shot at the both sides?

👤 But who started the war?

Irakli Chikhladze: I think the one who shot at the both sides is the one who started the war.

Lira Tskhovrebova: I can’t not rise after listening to all this. I am from South Ossetia myself and I was there all those days until the last minute. And if you have any questions then please I will be happy to answer them.

👤 Would you please answer, who specifically was the third party?

Lira Tskhovrebova: There were not only third but also fourth parties. We know those positions very well – the first, second, third and fourth parties. Would you agree that you know those positions? Right now what we are talking about is, how does each side use the information in their position. Meaning, I think, the Georgian government was unable to use the information they had – specifically the information about Russia’s wishes, strategies and tactics in that region. And let’s say I don’t know who provoked the Georgian government to start what they started on the 7th. The 7th was something global. There was heavy shooting from the 1st to the 2nd, and from the 3rd to the 4th also, from the 6th to the 7th there was a heavy fire as well. And at 11:40 on the 7th when the war officially began, there was such a heavy fire that… that made a person loose sense of reality. First there was wild fear – then nothing, some kind of zombyfied state of being. And it went on for three days. The Russian military entered on the fourth day and the nightmare ended. Afterwards what happened is what happened.

👤 Can it be said that Russian soldiers saved you?

Lira Tskhovrebova: Yes, I will tell you this, when I ran for cover into a hide out I took candles with me and prayed that they would come as soon as possible, because we knew they expanded their positions all the way up to the tunnel, and were already in Java, but weren’t entering the zone of military actions, and then for three days they didn’t enter. And we prayed to god that they would enter.

👤 I have a question for the Georgians. What kind of information did you receive, what was going on in the beginning? Did you know that Georgians started it or were you just simply told that Russia for some reason attacked Georgia? I’d like to know how they explained this situation to the Georgian people?

Irakli Chikhladze: An announcement was made that the Georgian military entered Tskhinvali after the increase of fire on Georgian villages.

👤 As I drew conclusions for myself – there was an involvement from a third side. You were talking about that here. But this also needs to be heard in Georgia, where anti - Russian feeling are building up with every day. What kind of steps are you taking in that direction?

Irakli Chikhladze: But Russia is the third side.

👤 But from what was said I presumed the third side to be the United States…

Lira Tskhovrebova: USA played no less of an important role in what happened, which can be called a humanitarian tragedy. That’s my personal opinion – if America didn’t play a major role in that tragedy, then it most certainly didn’t play a minor role in it, beginning with Georgia’s military reinforcement.

Julia Adelkhanova: I think it’s a battle between America and Russia here. They just want to display each other how mighty they are, and the peaceful population is the one who suffers because of it.

👤 How do you personally feel about the international recognition of Abkhzia’s and South Ossetias independence? You personally.

Irakli Chikhladze: I don’t consider it to be very realistic.

👤 I’m not talking about geopolitics, I want to know how do you personally feel as a human, do the people have the right for their sovereignty or not?

Irakli Chikhladze: People have that right.

👤 These people have chosen their way, which is sovereignty. Why doesn’t Georgia accept that?

Irakli Chikhladze: I think people have the right for sovereignty in the case if the entire population of that nation makes that choice not only a partial number. As you know there were 300 thousand refugees from Abkhazia. That is a part of the population why didn’t anyone ask them what they want.

👤 OK lets leave Abkhazia in that case (laughter in the audience). No really lets continue the discussion in regards to that question. When was the Referendum in Abkhazia? Were there Georgians living in Abkhazia at that time?

Julia Adelkhanova: Not anymore… I believe that people have the right for sovereignty in a big count, but when that sovereignty results in people fleeing from there… It all has to be done in a peaceful manner.

👤 That means in the Referendum in Abkhazia only a part of the people participated and not the entire population.

Julia Adelkhanova: Right now there is a process of globalization all over the world, Europe is uniting, I don’t understand why do we need to separate ourselves and put barriers between us in Caucasus?

👤 There is a difference, in Europe they are uniting based on the Sovereignty of each nation, and here there are conflicts between nations.

Michael Mirziashvili: The question about sovereignty was a very interesting one. In a lot of places here, the conflict is within the right for sovereignty from one side, but there is another right, which guarantees territorial unity. We must look at both things as opportunities to regulate the conflict. If we take both ideas separately, then they really don’t give anything for the solution of the conflict. South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence doesn’t solve the conflict and it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s the same with the mechanical reinstatement of Georgia’s territorial unity, that won’t solve the problem because in both cases there will be a lot of people left whose interests would be left unsatisfied. If there was a territorial unity in Georgia that would not satisfy for example ethnic Ossetians and ethnic Abkhazians , and not only them, but also other people who are claiming independence, especially now after the escalation. From a different side, there are ethnic Georgians in both cases whose rights are also oppressed.

We must, and I repeats my self, look at it from the point of regulating the conflict. Not from the point of going from the top to the bottom, meaning reaching a person by going through some laws from a government level, but on the contrary to represent that persons interests and rights. The most terrifying thing in what has happened recently is that people died, and there won’t be any kind of negotiations now or in the future, without taking into consideration that real people died and actual blood was spilt. And today we, I mean the Georgians and Ossetians have fallen behind from a dialogue to regulating the conflict, I don’t know how far… Very far behind. Because there were steps where we were close to regulating the conflict. As of right now I don’t know when will these two communities be able to return to a normal dialogue. That’s where the problem is.

Georgi Vanyan: I’d like to ask Lira, and my Georgian colleagues. As far as I know an evacuation of the peaceful population of South Ossetia had been started in advance. But from the Georgian villages and on the bordering towns, there was no such thing. If that’s so, what is your evaluation?

Lira Tskhoverbova: In reality this is how it was, there was absolute intelligence which first of all the government was informed about. About South Ossetia being, it’s safe to say, in a circle of many different types of fantastic weapons. And I only now realize that when the permanent fire on the city began on the 1st, the officials understood that the war is inevitable. But I am repeating once again I found out about that information only after the war. One of the officials began to evacuate women and children on his own. But other officials condemned him for creating a panic within the community. And generally forbid any further evacuation.

Therefore when the events on the 7th began, there were a lot of women and children in the city that weren’t evacuated. In regards to the Georgian villages, they began to be bombed on the 8th after the full bombardment. As far as I know women and children left those villages and the only ones who stayed were elderly men who categorically refused to leave their homes. I know about that because I have contacts with those villages, I was involved in peace making activities throughout 10 years and god willing I will continue doing it in the future. During the bombing the«magti» telephones and landlines were working so we were in touch with each at all times we called each other and kept up with developments. There was great fear, a great panic both in Georgian and Ossetian villages and city.

I completely reject the fact that only Ossetians suffered in that war and during those events. All the same it was a destructive war. But I think that it cannot be viewed as an ethnic war against Ossetians. It was a war that sorted out weather it’s a Georgian or an Ossetian.. If the bloodshed didn’t stop everyone would have died the same way no matter weather it’s a Georgian or an Ossetian. What took place on the 7th I consider it to be a military crime not an ethnic war, not an international conflict. It was a military crime and a lot of people died, Georgians and Ossetians, Georgian children as well as Ossetian children, Georgian and Ossetian women both became unfortunate – and the Georgian refugees, that’s also a category of very unfortunate people. Meaning I consider it a military crime for which people have to be brought to responsibility. So when Georgia’s president recently demanded in his speech at the Security Council for a commission to be created, I wrote to a certain site that I would be thrice as happy if that commission is created and sorts out everything so that those responsible are punished.

And it makes no difference to me who it will be. I am half Georgian. My eldest granddaughter 15 years of age is also Georgian. My mother was Georgian, I Have friends and relatives who are Georgians. I will never say that I hate Georgia or Georgians. No way. I hate all those who prevented us from making peace… and you know that third and fourth force… god gave us intelligence to think for ourselves and didn’t point at a third or fourth party, but for us to use our own brains to build our own lives. I don’t think we have to go far to search those who are at fault. God gave us brains to think for ourselves especially because we know about everyone and what everyone wants.

Excuse my frivolity, but it’s a wild joker, it’s an ace, when you already know what your enemy wants, that means you have to act the part in order not to give your opponent the satisfaction. I am in grief all the same because of everyone’s death. Because I am a woman. When I saw Georgians that were killed my thoughts weren’t about him coming into my city and killing people, first and foremost I thought about how once his mother was taking him to first grade with a bouquet of flowers, once he got married and people were happy, he had a child… and now he is just laying there dead... Why? In the name of what? In the name of stupid political ambitions. That’s why once again I confirm my opinion that we must think with our own brains, that we must live with our own brains, and we must always judge ourselves, and in regards to what the one side or the other or the third side want, shouldn’t be any of our concern, we must keep that in mind and do what’s better for us. Excuse me for my display of emotions. That’s all I wanted to say.

👤 I’d like to express my sympathy to both of your nations, and I think that the Armenian people greave for all those who died in your countries, I sincerely wish for the end of enmity between both your people. I have one question. It was said here that Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence isn’t realistic. What do you think, is the independence of our Karabakh real?

Irakli Chikhladze: I will repeat, that the right for sovereignty or entering into one or another country must decide the entire nation and not a partial number of the population.

👤 But the entire population of Karabakh has made its choice.

Irakli Chikhladze: That happened without the consideration of the opinion of Azerbaijanian refugees.

Karine Ohanyan: That opportunity was granted to them, at the time while they still resided in Karabakh.

Julia Adelkhanova: Even if there were not so many mine fields back then in Karabakh and even if the Azerbaijani refugees didn’t leave in only slippers and robes – that doesn’t mean they left voluntarily, only because they felt like it. So that means they had to leave. I think that when a nation is claiming independence, then no one should have to leave from there, the entire nation must claim the independence and there shouldn’t be any break ups into categories, you are – an Armenian, and you are – an Azerbaijanian. That’s not the point.

👤 And what is the point?

Julia Adelkhanova: The point is are you a human or not, the nationality is irrelevant…

👤 After hearing everything that has been said it’s even difficult to speak… But nevertheless, all of us who are gathered here are mainly the youth who are very similar to each other because we live in the same region with the same problems, and when a war breaks out, the weapons are also in the hands of the youth and the same young people are the ones that die. What can the youth do in that case? What was the reaction, what did the Georgian youth do during the war?

Michael Mirziashvili: There were several meetings during which we discussed the actions of the civil community, meaning the most active part of our society. Unfortunately, even though there were many peacemaking projects in process and etc… there was a very little reaction from the civil community in the very beginning when it was announced that serious military actions have begun. I don’t wish to justify that silence, the only excuse for that silence, can be the fact that a shootout turned into war very suddenly, but still the silence is unjustified.

I must declare with great remorse that activists from Georgian peacemaking organizations, basically didn’t have a reaction, there were a few tired well maybe not tired but separate announcements, but that does not count as a reaction. If the actions of the civil society that took place are evaluated later on, then it must be said that their actions were more effective as far as helping the refugees, right after the military operations. And furthermore I must say that there are very little discussions around what has happened in our society, it is a huge disappointment for me that there aren’t any discussions at all on television unfortunately, there are some articles in the press, but there aren’t any such serious discussions around what has happened. And that is what our reaction was like. And for the first part of the question. To my disappointment the idea of a peaceful resolution was not very popular in my country as well. If a person says – I am for peace, but in case the problem isn’t solved the way I want it to be I will take up arms, that not a - peace loving position. Everybody want the life without wars, but with this “but in case…” – it is not real. A realistic position is where the minority supports a peaceful solution of conflicts; I am observing that phenomenon in my country and basically in the entire South Caucasus.

👤 I would like to say that the opinions of our guest are not objective and are only expressed in support of their own country. For example it was said that there were a lot of refugees from Karabagh, why didn’t they mention the killing of Armenians in Sumgait, and why don’t they talk about Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan.

Irakli Chikhladze: When I say refugees I don’t only talk about Azebaijanians, I also mean the Armenian refugees, from Baku, Sumgait, Nakhichevan, I say that regardless of their nationality.

👤 The people of Naghorno Karabagh decided their fate in a Referendum, why don’t other governments recognize it because of or due to their own interests?

Irakli Chikhladze: In any case I expressed my own opinions, and I don’t represent the interests of my government.

Georgi Vanyan: We speak in different languages. I will attempt once more to present the position that was described by Irakli. Yes, everyone has the right for sovereignty, but in our case the opinion of Azerbaijanis of Nagorno Karabagh wasn’t taken into consideration. He already answered to that question, the other question is the following, a member of the jury of South Caucasus Festival of peace and human rights, a free journalist, a peacemaker – Karine Ohanyan from Karabagh says that the Azerbaijanians had that opportunity. Now, I am in turn using every opportunity to insist that that’s not so – the Azerbaijanis from Nagorno Karabagh didn’t have such an opportunity.

Now about Sumgait. In the Armenian – Azerbaijani stand off we have two points of shame – Sumgait and Khojalu. Khojalu is a taboo subject in Armenia we don’t talk about it. We talk with exaltation about how our forefathers were massacred in Turkey in the beginning of the past century… Now of course people are going to say, look Georgy Vanyan is comparing the events in Khojalu with the events in Turkey. But we don’t know for certain what happened in Khojalu. And we also dint know what happened in reality in Sumgait. In one of the cities of Soviet Union in Azerbaijan, which was factually and legally under the jurisdiction of soviet militia and the special services, some bashibazooks organized an Armenian massacre. And the Armenian public is not informed about how many Azerbaijanis risking their own lives were saving Armenian lives by giving them refuge in their homes. And now instead of us doing everything so that Khojalu and Sumgait didn’t repeat, instead of a dialogue we are conducting another war, by creating conditions for new Khojalus and Sumgaits to be born. Because we haven’t learned to talk to each other. And we are unable to talk to Azerbaijanis, because we don’t have the ability to talk to ourselves.

👤 There still cannot be drawn any comparisons between Sumgait and Khojalu, for one simple reason, Sumgait happened during peaceful time and Khojalu happened during a war.

unobjective opinions

Festival in Yeghegnadzor
Host: Now I d like to offer the opportunity to our guests to ask any questions they might have for the audience.

Irakli Chikhladze: Everyone knows about what happened in August in South Ossetia, and it’s clear that no one wants for the similar events to happen in Karabakh. Right? So what do you think, can something be done on a civil level, without the official involvement of Yerevan and Baku? Michael Mirziashvili said that the civil community wasn’t working. I will say more the civil community was dead. What must be done so the events that happened in South Ossetia do not repeat in Karabakh? Do you see any way out? Or is it better to build a big tall wall, so that even sniper bullets could not get through...

👤 That’s a very good question. It’s important for every one of us. In order to find the solution for the problem the community must mature and find the answers within itself for the way to solve the problem. First of all we need to organize meetings so that people from both sides could meet, especially the youth who could imagine what the problem is and not have any superficial understanding of the problem, but to understand the true meaning of it. It is also required for the youth to find the strength to understand the conflict and to find the strength to speak with the opponent. And that’s why a broadening in relations is needed.

👤 In the previous film we saw a mother who wrote a letter to her son’s killer, what do you think, was her pain any lesser then ours. Yet still she was trying to find a way to peace. Specifically confident actions and steps are needed.

Julia Adelkhanova: Is the Armenian youth prepared to communicate with the Azerbaijani youth at least on neutral territory?

👤 Possibly many will condemn me, but I personally am not ready.

👤 I am also not prepared.

Host: I would like to ask, why?

👤 It’s probably purely due to emotions, but I simply don’t want to meet with them.

👤 I specifically am not ready, because I felt that war on my own skin, lost close ones, and even now I cannot imagine cooperating with Azerbaijanis in any way.

👤 I think that those who do meet possess a great amount of willpower, but I personally don’t.

Mkhitar Gishyan: I also lost close ones during the war. But lets imagine our countries as two neighbors who live next to each other. I personally am ready for a dialogue, and I don’t consider it as a compromise from my side. How many losses did we have, as many as they had, and how many heartaches do we have, as many as they do. There will probably be people, who don’t want to talk, but I personally am willing, I need that dialogue. When a person is in a disagreement with his or her neighbor he or she cannot live properly, it tortures him or her. And it’s the same with Azerbaijanis and us. I live in a bordering area myself, and we really feel that. It’s necessary for us to talk with one another, visit each other and rebuild neighborly relations.

👤 Before I watched these films I thought differently, but now something has changed in my way of thinking, that relations are possible.

👤 I personally have never seen Azerbaijanis, but my friends, for example Nane speaks about them in an impressive manner, and I think that’s good. Every one of us must possess that possibility of communication with the enemy, and maybe eventually become friends.

👤 I lost a lot. I left an entire village in Nakhichevan we fled from there. I lost my brother and my father in the Khachik village. I fought in the war, you all know me I’m not an emotional man. Two years ago during an activity there was an Azerbaijanian here, Seymur. After communicating with him I was left with the feeling that I have a person in Azerbaijan, who is the same to me as my son. They look very much alike by the way. If you see them together you might think they are twin brothers. Last year I attended a seminar in Alma-Ata. There were representatives of the Kazakh, Kirgiz, Taghik, Turkmen and Ukrainian nationalities present at the seminar along with Eka from Georgia and Seymur from Azerbaijan. For some reason his name was also Seymur. And you know within a half an hour I virtually didn’t have any problems in communicating with Eka and Seymur, we understood each other from half a word and for those 14days I felt as if I spent them with two Armenians. If you get a chance to communicate I am sure you will become very good friends, it’s important to see each other and relate with one another, it’s also important to know who the Azerbaijanian is. Because the communication can save us, communication can change us, war cannot.

👤 I think that government, people and an individual are in different categories and they should not be mixed. I can consider Azerbaijan an enemy state, but I don’t consider an Azerbaijani an enemy. An Azerbaijani is also a person he can be good or bad, moral or immoral. A good Azerbaijani person can be a lot better then the worst Armenian. And it’s not his or her fault that he or she is an Azerbaijani by nationality. But if the interests of my government demand it, I will take a weapon in my hands and go to war as a soldier, as a part of my nation.

Lira Tskhovrebova: If Azerbaijan recognizes Nagono Karabagh’s independence, how will your relations change towards Azerbaijanis, what will your feelings be toward them?

👤 I don’t know about the others so I will speak on my own behalf. I will obtain respect toward those people.

👤 I will be very happy for that. But Azerbaijan for me will remain Azerbaijan...

Lira Tskhovrebova: I understand you will be happy, but what other feelings will you experience toward Azerbaijan. Right now I see hatred. And the same hatred is also in Azerbaijan, I had a chance to communicate with people in Azerbaijan and I think the hatred is mutual...

👤 I think hatred might disappear and respects will develop. If we speak honestly we gradually began to respect the Turks, because of the fact that they are starting to talk about the genocide.

👤 The feeling of hatred will not leave me, personally. But the rest will probably change – fifty fifty. But it wont happen instantly, only step by step in due time.

Michael Mirziashvili: I’d like to thank Lira for touching up that question. It is well known that there is a law of vendetta in Caucasus. There is that institution of revenge, where the responsibility of vengeance passes to the relatives, from father to son. But there is also another mechanism – the mechanism of forgiveness and peacemaking. That is very important to me. We say that a human life is the most valuable thing, but there is something else and that’s human pride, sometimes a person kills him or her self because his or her pride and honor are violated. So it’s very important to understand that our opponents also possess qualities like honor and pride. And besides thinking of our own pride and honor we must take theirs into consideration as well. I believe that will help with the peacemaking process.

👤 Can it be said that our pride and honor interferes with making peace with our neighbor? That’s basically how it works out…

Recorded by Luiza Poghosyan
South Caucasian Documentary Film Festival of Peace and Human Rights in Armenia implementing by Caucasus Center of Peace-Making Initiatives with support of Eurasia partnership foundation - Armenia and the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

So-organizer and host of festival in Eghegnadzor: Nane Bagratuni in collaboration with "Yavuryan-Studio"