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Promise | Marina, Tbilisi

Marina, 53, Tbilisi 

My friend, an Ossetian girl, got married in 1991 amidst the mayhem. She married a Georgian boy. It felt like the wedding was more of a funeral. To play Ossetian dance music was like an act of heroism. My husband would do it, he would make them play Ossetian on purpose. He did it out of respect for me, but also because he was also looking for a little trouble. I was always terrified someone was going to kill him. 

People got swept up by Zviad [Gamsakhurdia], but during the Soviet Union, I never noticed anything. I’ve never hidden the fact I’m Ossetian. When they used to change their last names and try to convince me that they weren’t Ossetian, my heart would always break. I felt sorry for them that they rejected themselves out of fear. There were things like that before, but during Zviad, it was really in style. They even changed their names in the archives. My cousin had a document saying we were supposedly highlanders with an ancient last name before chance brought us to an Ossetian world. Then apparently we learned the Ossetian language, while our last names were ruined by Russification. I had that sealed document in case I needed to save myself if someone asked, but in reality, it was a useless paper. 

Kutaisi was liberated from these things. There were very few Ossetians living there, maybe that’s why. I got married there and generally, the whole city was free from hate. While in Kartli, it was awful – in the Gori district and Tbilisi. 

My family lived in Gori, my father’s brothers right by each other and an uncle lived right next door. His girl was only 15 when she had already been kidnapped twice . They would take her, and then ask for ransom from her father. You must deposit money in some Merab Kostava fund. Don’t think we are ordinary thieves, we need that money for higher purposes, they said. The man would run off, he would take the money out of his store he had. He returned her twice like that. 

That year, my second uncle died while I was pregnant. My aunt was from Tskhinvali, and people from there knew that she lived in a nice building in Gori. So one day, they knocked on her door, barged in, and told her, From now on, we live here. They took the keys and left. My aunt ran to my father. Her boys were already working in Russia, she only had a little girl with her. My father went and changed the locks and calmed her down, Don’t worry, he asid. They won’t be able to enter. In a few days, they came for my father and beat him within an inch of his life.  There were three men in one car. 

My cousin, Joni (the girl’s brother), saw this from the building next door and came down to help. He managed to land just one punch, but then they pulled a gun on him, and he was forced to run away. They emptied the whole clip, but all the bullets missed him. When his father saw all this, he thought that they had come to kidnap his daughter again. He grabbed the girl’s hand and escaped by the back. The father was laid out on the ground in the front yard. No one thought he would recover. He was 44 years old. They still stole my aunt’s house. She got it back through the courts later on. 

After that, Joni went to fight in the Abkhazian war. We couldn’t stop him. He said, I couldn’t make it to the Tskhinvali war, at least I can go to Abkhazia. Now I know why he left, he wanted to prove that he deserved to live here, that he deserved that his sister shouldn’t be kidnapped, for his uncle not to be beaten and his father not to be blackmailed, that he also loved his homeland. He died in that war. My brother couldn’t bring himself to see him dead. They grew up together.

Georgians would also come to my father from Vladikavkaz, saying, Let’s trade our houses. My father would not let them near him, he was insulted by this and sent them off insulted as well. He would curse: Let the man who is less of a Georgian man, show himself! This was the period when Zviad was gathering and organizing rallies: What do you need gold for, sell it and buy some weapons. Everyone must go back to their homes. Georgia is for Georgians, he said. Who, exactly, planned to be born here? Not my father, nor his father and why should Zviad decide who gets to live here and who doesn’t? 

But they still made my father leave his job because he was an Ossetian. Unemployment quickly beat him down and aged him, it really broke him. Like a fast moving train hitting a wall, that’s how that man was destroyed. My mother first started out working in Turkey, so she could support us. They both ended up having to move to Vladikavkaz. For my father, it was hard to be there. He couldn’t imagine another country beyond Georgia. 

In Vladikavkaz, there is a different kind of community there. Even today, they are picky, they stick to each other and think of themselves as their own kind. Father didn’t have to be there for long but those few years were like a prison for him. He cried every time we talked on the phone. You will take me with you, Daughter, you’re not going to leave me here, are you? Bury me next to my father, he said.

Yes, Father, I promised him, but I haven't fulfilled it, I had to bury him there. I still have to honor my promise to him. 

Interviewed by Teo Kavtaradze
Text: Nino Lomadze