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Shovel | Khvicha Nadiradze, Znauri district, village Alibari [ENG]

Khvicha Nadiradze. 55 Years old. Znauri Region, Village Alibari. 

Today he lives in the Didi Dighomi refugee settlement.  

After the army, I started working in the village. I was the only Georgian working in forestry-agriculture administration. One day they called me in and told me I was fired because I was Georgian. This was 1989, after the 9th of April (An anti-Soviet demonstration was dispersed by the Soviet Army, resulting in 21 deaths and hundreds of injuries. April 9 is now remembered as the Day of National Unity). 

I travelled less in the region and stayed put in the village. There were probably 60% Ossetians who lived in Alibari. They started eyeing us badly, then they attacked our house. They broke our gate to our yard with a tractor. Why don’t you leave here, there is no place for you here, this is our land, they said. So, we stayed quiet against our will, we didn’t have much power to do much else. 

In December of 1991, they came back with an even bigger vehicle destroying the yard. They beat my father, my mother and uncle. My brother and I weren’t home. They came back every day looking for us, but of course we didn’t stay the night. They left the elderly alone. 

At the end, we fled. A pregnant sister, daughter-in-law, and a six-year-old nephew were with me. I didn’t have a family back then. My brother asked me to go with them, while he stayed behind to see what would happen. The neighbor woman and her child also came with us. There was a lot of snow in December. We walked five kilometers on foot and stopped because of big snow it was impossible to move on. We stopped by whatever village was nearby. I asked one Ossetian man, who I considered close to me, if he would let us spend the night there, and we would leave right away in the morning. He threw us out. Told us, if he had a weapon, he would massacre all of us on the spot. Someone else gave us shelter, a Georgian. 

I didn’t think we’d make it out of there alive. We spent the next day on the road until nightfall. I would walk ahead, sweep the snow, then let the women walk past ten to fifteen meters while I helped the children. Then I would do it all over again. We toiled our way like this. We passed a village of Ossetians, Ninotsminda. We heard insults and cursing though they didn't touch us. They cursed and spat on us on the road. They could tell we were Georgians - we had bags and children with us. 

These outsiders who came in, they are the ones who escalated things. The ones they call irregulars. Vaja Adamia’s people would intrude. Guerilla fighting went on. There would be one shootout, which led to many killings. Seven or eight people were burned alive in one of the villages. 

All of a sudden, news spread that a boy was killed from a Georgian helicopter. In reality, who knew if it were true? There was a war, nobody knew who was shooting at what. The person who was in the helicopter supposedly looked like my uncle. When in reality my uncle was a disabled man, he wouldn’t have been able to climb up to sit in the cabin let alone kill someone. 

My poor uncle lived with his family next to our house. One day, they charged in. First they shot him and wounded him, then they tied him up to the bed and lit his house on fire. His wife told us this. She was tied to a tree in the yard. They left her there. She was kept tied until he burnt up. Then they got bored looking at how my uncle was burning along with the house. 

My father watched from the yard next door.

The only things left were bones and ash from the house.

This was the Ossetian boy’s father.  Outraged, he burned whoever he met on his way in the village. He burned down seven or eight elderly in their own home. This man is no longer alive. 

My mother was Ossetian, and they were cursing her, how could you raise Georgian kids, they said. What am I supposed to do? It was a different time then, I couldn’t just throw my children away, could I? She said. You should’ve kicked them out of the house, they said back. An Ossetian man helped my parents escape to safety, and when he returned, they beat him up. They were angry for letting them escape.

A few years later, my family returned back. Now and then, I used to go down to the village. I used to take the car. In 2004, they were waiting for us. My brother, nephews, cousins and I were together. They beat us up in the middle of the yard. They hit my mother with a shovel, they beat my father. We barely made it to the Russian troops. They accompanied us to safety. 

A dignified man wouldn’t do that. Those who were born in the 1990’s didn’t have love for Georgians. The older folks would enable the younger ones. When they beat us, the village Ossetians would stand and laugh. 

My mother was bedridden after they hit her with a shovel. We cared for her for three years in Tbilisi, but she passed away. My father was forced to leave. They took all animals from him. What was he supposed to do alone? He also passed away here. 

At the end, even the Ossetians avoided each other. Those who were friendly to us, they didn’t even say hello to us. They would only talk to us when no one would see them. Don’t think we are that kind of people, but what can one do in this day and age?! They would make excuses for themselves. 

Recently, my fellow villager sent me a photo. We grew up together, he is three years younger than me. My heart hurts looking at it. The whole house is cleaned out. 

Up until 2004, it seemed like we were going towards reconciliation. There was regular trade happening. We used to visit, we even took the kids. Sure, I was beaten by them, but now they left me alone. I wasn’t really going out much anymore, anyway. Old hurts were already being forgotten. I would forget too, if they let me go back home. 

From the Series, “Rebuilding Memory - South Ossetia 1991/2008”
Text: Nino Lomadze
Photo: Khvicha Nadiradze’s private collection 
Transcripts by: Ninuca Metreveli 

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