Ossetians with Georgian husbands grapple with life

Rusiko Amirejibi-Mullen r.amirejibi-mullen at qmul.ac.uk
Sat Sep 27 22:50:55 UTC 2008

TBILISI ? Tidying her room in a decrepit former military hospital  
housing about 1,000 refugees, Valia is among those dealt an especially  
poor hand by Georgia's war with Russia.

The 57-year-old is one of numerous Ossetian women married to ethnic  
Georgians who when last month's war erupted fled from South Ossetia to  
other locations in Georgia.

"It's true I'll always be Ossetian, I was born Ossetian. But I don't  
want to be Ossetian. I don't like them," said Valia, who like all the  
women interviewed asked that her surname be withheld.

The region at the centre of the conflict between Georgia and Russia  
was previously a patchwork of Georgian, Ossetian and mixed villages  
standing side by side.

It was an uneasy coexistence, with occasional clashes between  
Russian-backed separatists and forces loyal to the Georgian central  
government, which lost control over much of South Ossetia in the early  

But the last vestiges of that peaceful side-by-side life are now gone  
after a conflict that killed hundreds on both sides and displaced  
thousands more.

After the fighting began, Valia says she stayed as long as possible in  
the village where she had lived with the man whose name and culture  
she had taken on, trying to save their home.

"The Ossetians were looting our homes and burning them. The Russian  
soldiers came two or three times and gave us food.... And when there  
was no more hope I left," she said of her eventual evacuation by a  
visiting Red Cross team.

Arriving at the hospital in Tbilisi she recalls her sense of guilt  
upon being reunited with her daughters, their families and her own  

"Because I'm Ossetian, when I got here I couldn't look my children in  
the eye. All of what happened was because of us," she said, referring  
to the widespread looting and violence that took place in South  
Ossetia, often under the eyes of Russian soldiers.

On another floor of the hospital, its corridors draped with drying  
laundry, Meri, 68, is also an Ossetian suffering from the conflict,  
though her emotions are more complex.

"I'm angry with my Ossetians, my homeland," she said, telling the  
story of how she grew up Ossetian and married a Georgian in the Soviet  
era before the two peoples were split apart.

Mournfully she recalls the large house she built with her husband,  
their garden, fruit trees and animals, and how she fled in a busload  
of 30 women and children on August 9.

"We used to have no problems between Ossetians and Georgians. During  
festivals we ate at the same table, ate the same bread," she recalls  
of a lifestyle that has now, she concludes, vanished. Having left the  
village and been reunited with her husband she now believes the  
couple's home has been burnt down by Ossetian pillagers.

"The last person to leave the village told me," said Meri.

Hinting at divided loyalties, however, she also makes a bitter  
admission: "If I'd known I was going to have such problems I would  
never have married a Georgian." She then softens and concludes: "My  
family means everything to me."

A few floors up in the sprawling building is Olga, from the same  
village as Valia.

Aged 51, she too is nostalgic for a past era of relative ethnic peace.

Her window is wide open to relieve the harsh odour coming from the  
building's stairwell.


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