Ossetians with Georgian husbands grapple with life
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
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
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