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He, Bulletridden | Aza 68

Village Kldu, Kareli Region

Where was he gonna go, bullet-ridden, you know? You can’t see it on the windows and the walls since we renovated, but it was full of bullet holes. They were shooting even when the door was open, the uncle’s kid was standing in the doorway, and like that, the bullet whooshed by his ear and went straight into that back wall. When we were renovating, we took it out then. Thank God the kid made it.

It all started when Gamsakhurdia came to Kareli with his boys, it was then. In all that commotion, there was the deputy chief of police who told me off the record that when Gamsakhrudia had that meeting, afterward he took the irregulars aside and told them to harass Ossetians to the fullest extent. God as my witness, I ain’t telling no lies, that’s what he said - word for word. He had cancer and is dead two years now. A good man who wasn't cut out to be a policeman. He was too honest. How he managed to work there, I ain’t got no clue.  Anywho, he took them aside and told them to harass us to the fullest extent. Just so y’all know.

Then my cousin was crossing over from Tskhinvali and the irregulars arrested him. You got weapons on you, they asked? He right out and said, Yeah, I do. He had a shotgun. They gave him three years in jail. I was trying to take care of that case too. I said to him, Mister Otar, I know you aren’t one to accept bribes, but whatever they ask for, we can get it. No, he said. 

They sentenced him to three years. When I walked in, you know what he said? irregulars came and told us if we gave him anything less than three years, we’d lose our jobs.

If that judge Ramishvili could do nothing, then how we, Ossetians, do anything? No laws existed for us.

When I used to go down to the police station, on one of those days, some people had come from this village, Kvenatkotsa I reckon it’s called. The irregulars’ car got stuck in the mud and a tractor passed by. He helped them, of course, pulled their car out. Then they asked him who he was. When they heard his last name, they took out their machine guns and shot him dead. I walked in on just that at the police station. They had brought his bloodied clothes with them for proof, and they rejected that case too. 

We sold our house in Tbilisi. We better leave, I said. ‘Cause, you’re going to a foreign country, and you need to bring something with you, right? Besides, this was our ancestral home, we couldn’t have sold this. 

We just emptied this house, me and my sister and in 1991, 26th of May, we left. We left with the understanding that we may never come back. Cause, here, Jesus, I can’t even describe what a nightmare it was. We didn’t sleep at our house for three months. We hid in the forest. Mom didn’t come with us. And the little boy, until he came of school age, we left him with my mother. My niece too. 

We got robbed nine times. Me and my sister were in Vladikavkaz, one time when they came again. My mother holding the child, my niece with her. Looking at them, they had even took off with the furniture, and said we had to take the kid and go. My poor mother, her heart nearly beat out of her chest A robber came, demanded money, gold, weapons. What weapons exactly were they gonna find at my house? Am I military or what? I lived in a peaceful country then. I had never hoarded money. That’s like any other paper, if you have it, you spend it. 

Anywho, I used to come down once every two weeks from Vladikavkaz, but I couldn’t go to the village. They threatened me if they saw me, they’d cut me down with their machine guns. What had I done wrong, I don’t know. My mother had a stroke from that fear. She came to Vladikavkaz for a little bit, but she cried all the time, moaning, I want my house. My cousin’s wife took her back later on. 

Nick and I stayed over there. My sister left with my mother. I managed to get Nick to finish school in Vladikavkaz, and then we came back. Before we moved, my mother died in 2000. The fear killed her. 

Now, I still gotta find out who said, “Aza hates Georgians”. I think I know who said it. I won’t live this down. No way. I thought that it was only said behind closed doors, and now I heard that this was said in front of everybody. A high ranking official came up to me in public and told me in front of everyone, what is this I hear, Aza, about you hating Georgians? Exactly in that tone. This was recent, the year before last. 

I said, now listen here man, what are you talking about? I grew up in Tbilisi and only moved here when I finished 9th grade. When I was already grown up and could travel. These kinds of things were unheard of in our time. What are you talking about? I asked. I have great love towards all the people, how could you even say such a thing, I said. 

When I think back, I swear on Nick’s life, maybe it’s due to my age, I miss my old coworkers so much, I sometimes can’t even calm down, tears just roll down on their own. These phone numbers are so old, nobody has these numbers anymore. I was looking for one, I made Nick look for one, but we couldn’t find them. 

When I worked at this transportation unit during Communist times, Aleko came there for the first time too. He came straight from the institute, he was seven years younger than me, we were very close. When he had a wedding, he sent someone to get me. His father was the senior technologist at the meat plant in Rustavi, and there in the restaurant is where he had the wedding. The guy who’d come for me was late, so  I didn’t come in until the middle of the wedding. Aleko saw me, and jumped up from the table to hug me. The whole 500 guests at the wedding were looking at me. Who could I possibly be, they must’ve thought. 

Anyway, we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and it was about the time we were leaving. I had sent my belongings already to Vladikavkaz, but we still had to get my nephew’s things up there. We were looking for a big car. We went to the transportation unit in Zahesi. They told us that Russian cars were leaving from Ateki. It was Friday, after work hours. The security came out. I said, who is your director, and wouldn’t you know it, he said Aleko! He left about 10 minutes ago, but he’ll be here tomorrow, he said. We went the second day, me and my nephew’s wife. He didn’t know what to do out of excitement! He got us a car, gave me his number and told us, if someone stops you on the road, tell them you are the senior accountant for this transportation unit and the director gave me the car. 

I saw Aleko then and wasn’t able to find him again. 

I also remember, during the unrest, I was working in the agro manufacturing committee. We were 1500 coworkers, Mgeladze was our boss. When the troubles first started, they sent police to Tskhinvali, our co-worker's spouse was working there, and they killed him. And then they started trouble. We’ve got to fire Ossetians from their jobs, they said. A list was sent and apparently only six Ossetians were discovered among 1500 workers. 

I had no idea about any of this. There were a few meetings held. They apparently asked the boss in my division, Why aren’t you firing your accountant? My boss was a bit elderly, What are you saying? I’m not firing my accountant just because she’s Ossetian! How can I say such a thing to her? They drove the man crazy! 

Anyhow, I went to work every two weeks, for the salary and advance. I had such an arrangement with my boss. One time, I said, Parsenich, if you want me to work here, I know what needs to be done, but I won’t be able to come to work every day. I am not going to ruin anything for you by not being here, I give you my word, I said. You just do your work well, and if you want, don’t come there at all, he said. He knew I had elderly parents in the village, I was running around, sometimes I would take the sheep out to graze, sometimes this and that, I don’t even know what?! I would take off my galoshes and head straight into work.  

I would stay as late as the janitors finished. The next day I’d go to the bank, take out money, give out salaries and come back.  

I’ll resign and then you can fire her if you want, he said. They let go five Ossetians and left me.

Then one day, the women of the division told me, Aza, you don’t say a word about these ethnic issues, but we can see it on your face that you’re a patriot?! And you know why we don’t say anything around you? We agreed as a sign of respect to you Aza, that we won’t utter a word about Ossetians. ‘Cause when you aren’t here, we talk a lot. They probably said that this land belongs to them, God gave them this land and so on.

We returned back here when Nick finished school in 2008. He was admitted to university here, and then the war caught up with us. How they loved him at the university! You’re not Ossetian, you’re Georgian - his Georgian lecturer told him. I am Ossetian no matter what you say, he said. Because you are an Ossetian, my heart hurts, you’re so great, she said. 

When I was coming back, I had a lot of problems. KGB followed me around, the one over there. They threw you out, and why are you going back there? they said. I started my life there from scratch. They left nothing for me. I had never lived in this house without my mother, it was very hard on me. 

Nick is still in Vladikavkaz working in television. My sister is there now, her foot hurts and she’s waiting for surgery. I have a good son Nick, when he visits me, he shows me his reports on his phone. Nick is Jioev there and Jiosvhili here. He knows Georgian. When he was going to school, I made sure he learned Georgian. I told him, When you get to Georgia and someone asks you a question, what are you gonna do if you can’t answer back? At the same time, I was thinking maybe we can never go back to Georgia, but a language is a language. How many languages you know, you’re that many men.  

Here, every Ossetian last name has its own name day celebration - Gagloshvili, Jioshvili, Shavlokhashuli from Gori, Tibilashvili. Now, some speak in Ossetian and some don’t. I think everyone should know their own language. We here speak Ossetian from the Kudar region. They’ve never heard of our Ossetian in Vladikavkaz. I asked my daughter-in-law, Ala, you understand our Ossetian? Some things yes and some things no, she said.  Not some things, you don’t understand any of it, I said. 

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From the series, “Recalling Memories” - South Ossetia 1991/2008

Text: Nino Lomadze, Teo Kavtaradze 

Oral history collected by: Toma Sukhashvili and Saba Tsitsikashvili