Pines and Fir in Gujarati | Luba Gogichashvili18.06.2021 | 15 Min to read
When you leave Machartskali, on the left side, there is Tsinubani, and on this side, Gverdisubani. Past Gverdisubani is Vardevani over there. These were all Ossetian Villages. Vardevani and Gverdisubani had many Georgian brides. Both my sister and I married Ossetians. It’s plain as day, there wasn’t any differentiation back then. In the Gujareti Valley, as they say, life was thriving. Cattle raising, sheep raising, they had so much cattle! People used to look forward to Ossetians coming to the markets in Tsagveri and Borjomi, – they brought such quality cheese and milk products.
It all started from 1991, after Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Part of me loved Zviad Gamsakhurdia, if he had the right advisors, there wouldn’t have been a luckier country. But they sabotaged him when they started with that stuff that everyone needs to find their very own nest from his movement, then later…I don’t know, the unimaginable things that happened here!
One fine day, I saw my cousin come up. They are surrounding us, forcing us to leave, what shall we do? They said. They were taking their cattle from them and robbing their houses. I cry when I remember this story. A paraplegic woman was lying on the bed, she had beds stacked up from the ground, it looked like she was afraid they would steal them. They threw her out of bed, took it and left. They left the woman thrown on the ground. Even this disabled woman had four cows. Despite that, she would still be able to enter the barn and milk the cows. What she couldn’t do, the village would gather the hay for her. They took from my sister 65 sheep.
My sister lost her boy in 1988. 28-year-old boy. He was competing in Sverdlovski, and we brought his body from there. My sister made a memorial for Tamazi. On the wall she had a picture of him in a black frame. Beside it was a cassette player from Russia, a gold ring and 100 rubles, that’s what they brought back with him. When they broke in, one of them had grabbed the cassette player and the other said to him, come on man, this belongs to a dead young man. Shut your mouth, or I’ll put this bullet right between your eyes, he told him. Do you know what a yoke is? It’s what they put on bulls. They beat my brother in law with a yoke. They told him, we know you've sold the bulls, so bring the money. That’s how they left their son’s grave and went to Vladikavkaz. On the way there is a village, Rekha, in Tsalka region, they walked in snow all the way there. Until the end of April, almost to the beginning of May, there is always snow here. There was snow back then too. The hills always have snowdrifts. The wind stirs up the tallest snow drifts. It was hard to walk on foot. My brother-in-law also took his mother by foot. Absolutely everyone left at the same time, the Ossetian villages were emptied.
They say that those robbers came from Tsagveri. From the neighborhood Timote. That much is clear. There was talk of three brothers, they called them Kurtos. They say it was them. They were scapegoated for the robbery, thievery – everything it seems, but probably others did way more than the Kurtos. But that’s it. Murders didn’t take place. The only thing that happened was they killed a Gverdisubani woman. Her child was working in Tskhinvali at some administration job, and so they attacked her saying they were agents. This woman ran towards the attic, they thought she was getting her weapon, and so they shot her. Everybody knew that woman didn’t have a weapon. Her name was Tamara, her son, Givi, if I’m not mistaken. Sanakoevi was the last name for sure.
A few brave people emerged who took photos, though from a far. Some pictures came out good, some bad. In some of them, even I was able to identify people. I remember one where a woman is running in the forest with a child, and a man is chasing her. It’s when we visited my sister in Ordjonikidze, I saw those pictures there.
The one I identified in the picture, it was him, the one who was boasting in the village: I took this one’s mother out, I helped this much and that much. When in reality, the one he was talking about, he took his mother on his back all the way to Rekha. Come on!! I never think before I speak and I’ll say it in their face that, yeah, we know, we all know who did what!
The ones that went to Ordjonikidze didn’t last there. If they got to 70, they died off. There aren’t any coniferous trees, firs or pine cones in Ordjonikidze to absorb the humidity. They can’t handle the humidity and die.
When they come down from Vladikavkaz on 21st of September during Virgin Mary’s Feast Day. Back then we used to celebrate it always, there used to be 7-10 musicians, a lot of people used to gather together. On the other side of the alcove, the church is on this side, up there, on the highest hill. It’s in ruins, but you could still see it. When they gather, I tell them, you all befriend those that sucked your blood the most. I can’t say more. I still come down here, I have kids. That’s what’s stopping me. I can’t mess it up for them.
Nobody has sued. They couldn’t sue, it was said, all of their documents were completely burned up. Then, apparently, documents could be found in the archives. I, for one, know who took my sister’s flock.
There is still fear now, isn’t there? Wherever my son tried to do something, all kinds of people would ruin it for him out of nowhere. I am Georgian, but my kids are Ossetians and my husband is Ossetian. Georgians outnumber them. Finally, I reached the conclusion that if they want to, they could make us leave forever. Though I won’t stop coming here.
We lived in constant fear after they came for us in Zanavi. Three men. Only one of them is alive still.
They didn’t come to steal. That’s a lie, I shouldn’t sin. You have to leave, they said. We need to go forever, I said. Not you, we aren’t after you, your husband needs to leave, they said. Where is he supposed to go? I said. Who is supposed to take care of the family? How am I supposed to do this alone? We have cattle, even bulls, a yoke, don’t they need taking care of? I said. They had just been tilling the neighbor’s yard, and he was a bit drunk. Forgive me sister, they threw him out of bed in his underwear, and one of them even punched him in the nose. Go outside now, they said. He will not go outside. If you take him, I’ll be right behind him too, I said. I wouldn’t let him leave and that’s when he punched him in the nose. Won’t you come outside now, he said? And I was worried about the two young girls who’re upstairs on the second floor. The little one was nine years old, she was sleeping and didn’t hear a thing. Then they shot off their gun. If it hadn’t lodged in the ankle, forgive me sister, the bullet would’ve gone through my older girl’s inner thigh. We will come back the day after tomorrow, and we better not find him here, they said. Where is he gonna go? What do you have against him? What has he done? What can we do that he is an Ossetian? I said. They opened the door. Now give us all your weapons, they said. Go on now, here is the house, you can take the house apart piece by piece, wherever you think you’ll find weapons. Then go murder my children in front of my eyes and then kill me too! I said. I can’t stand the sound of guns. When I hear it, I start trembling. It scares the living daylight out of me.
Let’s go upstairs, they said. My boy used to sleep in the veranda, the bed was made up. Who sleeps here, they asked. Badri, I said. Where is he? They said. On the picket line, I said. There used to be picket lines so no one would come into the village. What? They said. Why shouldn’t he stand on the picket line? Isn’t he a villager? Isn’t he from here? I said. If others are standing there, then why shouldn’t he? I said. They told the girls, don’t be afraid now girls, we apologize. Despite the fact they were trespassing, I remember all this quite well. I recognized one of them. He is dead now. That path is righteous, my path is crooked, he won’t come back this way, I will go to the next life so I won’t tell no lies. I always repeat this: Curse them Lord for coming into my family but bless them for leaving my girls alone! When they said to go upstairs, I thought it was all over, we were ruined. What are you supposed to think when you have two girls upstairs, and three men are going up there? But like I said, they apologized to them, said we’re not here to harm you kids. The girls were trembling, plastered to the walls.
My boy is now an economist, the next girl is a philologist, the middle girl is teaching Georgian in an Armenian elementary school in Tabatskuri. The youngest girl is a doctor-psychologist. Only the eldest girl has a job, but I still achieved what I needed.
Now my heart aches when my husband tells the story, I yell at him. Don’t remind me of that time, I tell him. What’s it all for? We are the only ones left in Gaujareti. The Azeris come up from Marneuli to let the cows graze. It’s just us and them.
Later on we did meet one of the ones who came into our house. I also know who took my nephew’s motorcycle. It wasn’t worth it. You know, when they try to apologize, to make it somewhat better, then you just gotta stop. It’s best to leave it at that.
From the series, “Reinvigorating memory - South Ossetia 1991/2008”
Text: Nino Lomadze
Transcript: Ana Surguladze
Photo: Toma Sukhashvili