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Sukhumi and Tbilisi commemorate 25 years since outbreak of the War in Abkhazia

14 August 2017
Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, the Minister for reconciliation, at the Memorial of Heroes in Tbilisi. (Ministry for Reconciliation and Civil Equality)

A quarter-century after the outbreak of the War in Abkhazia, opposing sides still mark the beginning of the conflict with contradictory narratives. The 13 month long war started on 14 August 1992 and claimed the lives of thousands, leaving hundreds of thousands displaced.

Families and friends of those killed in the conflict gathered at the Memorial of Heroes near Tbilisi’s Heroes Square on the morning of 14 August. They were joined by cabinet ministers and leaders of several opposition parties.

‘We must do everything in order to reconcile our societies, divided by conflict and barricades’, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, Georgia’s Minister for Reconciliation said.

‘Unfortunately, we cannot change the past, but one thing is clear: we need to move on with peace towards the main task — unification of our country’, Tsikhelashvili told journalists.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili released a statement calling the beginning of the war ‘one of the most tragic events’ from Georgia’s recent history, and laying blame on Russia.

‘The bloody confrontation killed tens of thousands of our citizens — soldiers and civilians — from both sides. Together with our entire society, I honour the clear memory of each of them once again’, the president’s statement read.

‘I deeply believe, that the day will come, when we, together with Abkhazians and Ossetians, start building a strong, developed, democratic, and peaceful state’, the President said in a statement.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said ‘an alien force should not stand’ between Abkhazians and Georgians, referring to Russia, who Georgia claims was behind the war and is now occupying Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

‘I strongly hope, that we will be able to correct these greatest mistakes and that the time will soon come when we will regain the hearts of our Abkhaz brothers and continue living with centuries-long love and mutual respect in a united, strong Georgia’, Kvirikashvili added.

‘The war is not over […] It is important for us to remember why we are fighting. We are fighting for our sovereignty, for our independence, and for our freedom’, Rustavi 2 quoted Paata Davitaia, chairman of the opposition European Democrats party.

According to Russian state-owned media outlet Sputnik Abkhazia, veterans of the war and relatives of those killed along with Abkhazian leaders, brought flowers to the Memorial of Glory in Sukhumi (Sukhum) in a traditional ceremony to mark the beginning of what is known in Abkhazia as the Patriotic War of the Abkhaz Nation.

Commemoration of the beginning of the War in Abkhazia in Sukhumi. In Centre: Abkhazian leader Raul Khadzhimba (Sputnik Abkhazia)

‘We defended our land, thanks to the courage, courage and fearlessness, shown by our soldiers’, Abkhazian news agency Apsnypress quoted Abkhazian leader Raul Khadzhimba as saying.

‘The feat of the veterans of the Patriotic War, of the people of Abkhazia, will remain forever in our hearts, and it is our duty to transmit from generation to generation the memory of these terrible events’, Khadzhimba said.

On 8 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Abkhazia to reaffirm support for its independence. Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence in August 2008, following the Five Day War. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognised as part of Georgia’s sovereign territory by all but a handful of countries.

[Read on OC Media: Putin visits Abkhazia as commemorations held for August War]

In Abkhazia, a campaign on Facebook and Instagram has began in which users change their profile pictures to photos of Abkhazian flags with the caption: ‘I am from Abkhazia and 25 years ago Georgia started a war to exterminate my people’. The campaign mirrors a similar trend in Georgia to mark the 2008 war, claiming the country is occupied by Russia.

The conflict cost the lives of roughly 10,000 people, and left more than 300,000, mostly ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia, displaced from their homes.

American rights group Human Rights Watch wrote in a 1995 report that both sides of the conflict showed ‘reckless disregard for the protection of the civilian population, and are responsible for gross violations of international humanitarian law — the laws of war’.

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.