This is part two of Mzia's guest post on her experiences, and her family's experiences, with Russia in Georgia. Please read this, then go back and re-read Michael Totten's piece again. My thanks to Mzia, her husband, and her family for this.
I am grateful to share my experiences with you. I am also grateful to discuss the history and the present humanitarian crisis in Georgia.
The Georgians, Ossetians, and Abkhazians have lived in relative peace thousands of years, since before King David the Builder. The bad times have come in recent years when Russian agitators have manipulated regional politics to keep us divided. It is hard to find history books with these truths because the Russians banned and destroyed them. Georgian texts, art, and culture were their targets. It is a miracle that some texts survived. They prove the Russian history books wrong. The friendship of our peoples is such that our King Bagrat III, who united Georgia in the 10th century, is buried in the Bedia Monastery in Abkhazia.
In fact, Georgian history and the histories of Abkhazia and “South Ossetia” (a name bestowed by the Russians in Soviet times) cannot be viewed separately. South Ossetia has been politically associated with Georgia since before the 8th century A.D. when it was known only by its Georgian name, Samachablo.
Every summer my family used to visit Sukhumi, a major city in Abkhazia, and one of the most beautiful areas in Georgia prior to the problems Russia has created. Almost all Georgian families that did not live there vacationed there. Relations were intermingled and always very pleasant.
The Russians knew that by denying Georgia its history through a policy of forced Balkanization, our sense of identity would be harmed. Culture, language, history, religion, and unity are parts of freedom. The Russians understand this. They are experts at destroying freedom, and to destroy freedom you first have to understand it.
We saw the Russian invasion coming over the last year. If you lived in the area, it was hard not to. Misha Saakashvili, our president and the national symbol of our desire to turn towards the West and democracy, screamed until he was tired about the Russian plans to attack Georgia, but the rest of Europe only got tired of listening to him.
In the months prior to this, the Russian sent their jets into Georgian air space numerous times. There was a bomb dropped on one of our border villages but we were very lucky that it did not explode. The Russians destroyed a Georgian UAV but blamed it on a mythical “Abkhazian air force” until they were embarrassed by a UAV’s video tape of the Russian jet shooting it down.
There were weeks of shelling and sniping fire that killed Georgian soldiers, policemen, and villagers leading up to this. In the weeks of the shelling, Russia released reports of thousands of ‘volunteers’ moving into South Ossetia. We know these ‘volunteers’ were Russian soldiers and paramilitaries out of uniform.
Misha finally decided that we could not tolerate this killing anymore. He moved the Georgian army in to stop it. Of course, he fell right into the trap of thousands of Russian soldiers and armor waiting for us. They were amassed on the other side of a 10,000 elevation border crossing. It is not easy to get so many soldiers, tanks, and armored vehicles to such a remote place. Now we look back and see the shellings were Putin’s planning. He was hoping for an excuse to invade. Misha’s attempt to stop the killings gave it to him.
We know the Russians moved the fight out of South Ossetia and bombed all of our air bases and other military bases immediately following Georgia’s move into South Ossetia. Without an air force, our military was pretty helpless and the Russians quickly took over the country. I could tell many humanitarian tragedies, but probably if you are reading this you are well aware of the killings and robberies.
But what you may not know is the beauty Russia destroys. Everything that is beautiful in Georgia is a target. They have dropped incendiary bombs to start fires in beautiful Borjomi national park. United Nations and other aid convoys have been robbed of their food. Entire cities have been plundered and left to rot. The Russians have even been caught on video robbing a Georgian bank.
Every day I talk to my mother, brothers, and friends to try to figure some way to get them away from this evil and madness. My mother wonders why she lived to see this and my older brother, a mild-tempered artist in his mid 50’s, is trying to join the army so he can help resist the Russians when and if they invade Tbilisi. My uncle died recently in a car wreck and I am beginning to think it was a blessing so he did not have to live to see his country destroyed. The US Embassy has refused to issue them visas and I don’t know what I can do. I feel so helpless and even guilty that I am not suffering with my people, guilty that I am safe at home in a free America.
Georgians are a passionate and deeply patriotic people. This has shaken our souls. We only want out homeland, Georgia, to have what is right. We only want to live in peace. Our biggest fear is that this is 1921 all over again.
I want to write a bit about what America means to Georgia. Even during the cold war, we looked up to America. America will always be the shining example of liberty and freedom to the world. It was what we aspired to be. Many Georgian people have left Georgia to work abroad, and they bring back Western knowledge, values, and techniques to Georgia. This has helped the entire country to modernize. It has helped the country to understand freedom. Thoughts of America help Georgia get past the very narrow master/slave dynamic that is your life when you live beside Russia.
Georgians were especially grateful towards the American people as they helped Georgia build up a national Army after the cold war. The GTEP and SSOP programs even lead me to meet my husband. Every division that graduated held a ceremony in Freedom Square in Tbilisi. The nation praised its graduates and thanked the American soldiers also attending the graduation.
Georgia was proud to send soldiers to Iraq to join with American military. We wanted to give something back to the country that had invested so much in us.
Our advances toward freedom have been destroyed. But we are determined to get them back. The whole country fears that everything we have achieved since our independence has been erased. Though Georgians are tolerant people as humans, for us it is important to keep our language, religion, and country. We only want to keep and protect what is ours, never to take from anyone, never to give up no matter what cost we have to pay. Russia does not understand this. America understands this.
Russians have changed their economic system, but not their form of government. The KGB mentality still rules. They are experts in changing history. They have nuclear power to use as a threat to the whole civilized world. They are dividing our country to conquer us. This is an old imperialist Soviet Russian idea: divide and rule. We are witnessing it in 21st century.
Russians are trying to make it look as if they are in the right and only trying to protect Russian citizens. But this is based on a series of lies to the world.
I will use my husband’s words from another article to explain the history : “Russia militarily supported the expulsion of the majority ethnic Georgian population from both Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990’s and granted the remaining residents of both provinces Russian citizenship by fiat years later though there was no legal nexus for the granting of this status. Claiming that the newly-minted Russian citizen’s support of independence or annexation under the principle of self-determination justifies either makes a mockery of the concept of self-determination and indicates that the best way for a country to attack inconvenient sovereignty is to launch pogroms against those ethnicities considered undesirable and offer citizenship and eventual independence as motivational spoils to the victors.”
Now we are waiting. We wait to see if the Russians are really going to leave, we wait to see how long they will maintain these “checkpoints” in our country. We wait to see if they will come back to finish Saakashvili and Georgian independence if we are not torn apart by political repercussions from this war. We wait to see if we can rebuild what we have tried so very hard to accomplish. We wait to see if our friends will be able to stay by our side now that Russia has made the region a political nightmare and threats of wider conflict.
We are encouraged by the actions of our friends thus far. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the Ukraine stand by our side. These States know Russia best and have the most to lose in the future. They sent their presidents to Tbilisi during this war. This must have made Putin very angry. It was brave of them. President George Bush, President Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, John McCain, and many others are with us. Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Bashar Al-Asad, Mouammar Kadhafi, and others like that support Russia’s actions against us. We think that Putin should be judged by the company he keeps. It is a good sign that we are on the right side of this war.
We are afraid, but the Russians will not make us return to the days when they ruled by fear. Georgia has tasted freedom, and progress, and we are willing to risk everything to keep it.
Again, my thanks for these guest posts, and providing some very important history and perspective.