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I sat in my empty house and started to cry | Elene Kharauli

Elene Kharauli, 78 Years old, Village Nedlati, Znauri region until 1991

A shot rang out in the sky. An Ossetian child died. Did he die from an Ossetian or a Georgian bullet - no one knows for sure. A four year old died in kindergarten. In retaliation, Ossetians killed an elderly couple in our neighboring village called Akhalsheni. They were eating at that time. They killed another in the forest, Vaska. He was in the feld, gathering wood or something. Later on, they found him dead. 

The bullets flew over our heads, the sky was always red. It was year 89, it was a winter month, that’s when it started. I remember well. 

It’s 31 kilometers to Tskhinvali from our village. The trouble slowly tumbled towards us. For example, an Ossetian would come, bring some response from Tskhinvali, we would counter. An agreement wouldn’t be reached. Then the back-and-forth started, no, you go, we’ll stay. First the Ossetians were supposed to go, one group even left, and we Georgians stayed. But then these other Ossetians came, and the situation tilted in their favor. We have come here now, and we’ll see who stays or leaves, they said. But that’s really how it was. They came, and we left. It seemed like over half of North Ossetians settled there. 

Towards the end, Ossetians were walking around with sneakers and carrying big sticks,  patrolling saying in case Georgians attacked us. We lived in constant fear. They broke everything. They would go to neighbors and set their houses on fire, we would see this and hide under something in the basement. They threatened us. They picked up an Ossetian, so now we have to pick up a Georgian, they said. We slept in our gardens, in our vineyards, sometimes they would open fire at us to scare us. We had bullets lodged in our houses and our yards. They took our cattle, they stole our money. We need to buy automatics so we can come right back and shoot you Georgians, they said. 

Sometimes they would take us and question us, whose side are we on? We don’t mean anyone any harm, we were born with Ossetians, we were raised with Ossetians, we said. It was exactly so, we got along great before that. If things didn’t get messed up, we had no problems. The distinction between Ossetians and Georgians didn’t exist. 

I lived with my husband and child. I built my family from when I was young, I worked for everything I had. I worked with Ossetians for 25 years in the garment factory, in the Tskhinvali division. Kozaevi, Pukhaevi, whoever, I had normal relationships with everyone. I didn’t differentiate anyone, we all sat together. 

My boy was christened by an Osstian, my husband was a distinguished driver, he benefited from having a good name. We had suchs great attitudes towards each other, Ossetian boys would come up to my house, open the refrigerator themselves and eat while I was working. We never talked about politics. 

Then after all that, I would recognize many who were picketing, some were my classmates. We finished school together, Ossetians and Georgians, it was one school, they were learning and so did we. But they sold our relationships out, they stood on those posts. It was in the dead of winter, there was a lot of snow, and one time, we were returning from a wedding from the West. We had food in the car - they had packed up food for us, piglets and other things. They were standing on the picket in our neighboring village, and I decided to give them the food. Go ahead and enjoy, I said. They let us go. 

First they were afraid of us, georgians, but then when the orders came and Russians came in, they were always going around in BTRs. 

We had one neighboring woman, Meriko, she had a big mouth. If someone came to my house, I am going to smash Ossetian heads, she threatened. They heard about this. They attacked her in the middle of the night, they made her scream and squeal. The house was a little far, but I could still hear her. Meriko's husband was with us. This woman was crying out for her husband, Gaioza, Gaioz. This Gaioz couldn’t move a muscle, he couldn’t go home to save her. Meriko said later that they made her hold the gas canister. I don’t know what else they did to her. The husband and wife went to Rustavi to live with their girl. They died soon after from old age and war. 

Sometimes we slept in gardens, sometimes we slept in our basement, sometimes with our neighbors. I used to light a lamp upstairs in the house, thinking if they saw the light, they would leave us, while I would go sleep with a relative. My mother’s cousin was married to an Ossetian, and we would go there. One night when I slept at their house, my relative's boy took my cabinet. Your furniture was taken last night, they told me the second day. Everything was taken. They could’ve left my beds. I was sticking it out for the sake of my furniture, to protect my things. I didn’t have the heart to lose it. I had done everything in my youth, when I was young, I decorated the house. I couldn’t just let it go without a fight. 

What was left for me there now? The girls were married, the boy was 18, and stood on the Georgian picket. When they heard this, we got scared. Plus in those fields, they killed my husband’s nephew. 

They killed Temur on 21st of May, in 1991. A BTR came to Koda. Georgians were camping there, and when this boy saw that Ossetians were coming in, he stood in front of the tank with an automattic, they shot and killed him in the field. They found him the next morning with the automatic laying next to him. 

We got scared, we got very scared. We were afraid for our son since he was firing against Ossetians. 

Then my husband’s Ossetian friend came, come with us, we will protect you tonight and we will help you escape in the morning, or they will kill you. We left that night, snuck out in our slippers at night. We came to Agara. We walked 18 kilometers - from Agara there is a Znauri turn to get to here. We walked empty-handed, on foot, forest by forest, here and there. What else were we supposed to do? The Ossetians were picketing and no one would have mercy on us. 

When we arrived in Tbilisi, we stayed with my sister for one month. We slept in one room, my husband and me in my sister’s lap. She had her kids and daughter-in-law in that house and us. Then we moved here, it was dirty, there were small wooden cottages. My boy redesigned everything, made it beautiful, got a wife. 

One time when we could enter, I headed there alone. Not a soul was around us. There was nothing left in the house, it was emptied out. I sat down and started crying. I cried out loud, I cried bitterly. Then when no one stopped me, I stopped myself. I stood up and left. 

Then later, it was supposed to be calm, and I took my daughter-in-law, she was pregnant with her first child. I wanted her to see our nature - our nature was so great. There was nothing there, neither downstairs nor upstairs, everything was taken, including wires. Everything was bullet ridden. In front of us there was an Ossetian village. My daughter-in-law and her girlfriend stood outside, and Ossetians from that village drove by. They rolled down their windows and showed off the guns in their hands. My child couldn't stand it, and they left. 

There is now a forest by our house, what are we supposed to do? The village is dead even if we return. I left at 48, and now I am 78. We thought we would go back, but a lot of time has passed. 

From the Series, “Rebuilding Memory - South Ossetia 1991/2008”
Text by: Tamar Babuadze

Transcription by: Mariam Urushadze
Photo: Vladimir Svartsevich / Anastasia Svartsevich from the archives

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