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Two troupes in one theater | Maka Geladze

Maka Geladze, 53 years old, Tskhinvali/Tbilisi 

Ossetians killed one Georgian guy. Then they claimed that the Georgian killed an Ossetian. It started this way, the situation was manufactured.

I think it was the 7th of January, 1992 when Russia announced that they were entering South Ossetia. We were living in an apartment then, the whole building was shaking. 

I worked in the theater, in a Georgian theater company. In the same building, there was also an Ossetian theater company. One day, one company put on a play, and the next day, the other company put on a play, that’s how it went. 

It was exactly in the theater where the first scuffle happened between Georgians and Ossetians. Before this, I only remember very few incidences of aggression, but I have carried it from childhood. I remember I was in the 7th grade when I saw a map without Georgia for the first time in my life. They told us that back in history, Georgia didn’t even exist. Though, they did teach us that this wasn’t South Ossetia but Shida Kartli.

All of a sudden, anti-Georgian rallies took place even in front of the theater. One time I got so worried that I had a dream where I thought evacuation had begun from Tskhinvali’s School No. 1. It’s like I felt there was a real possibility back then. But these things never created problems for us with our Ossetian friends, neighbors, or acquaintances. We are still friends even today. They are extraordinarily sensitive, educated, and virtuous people. 

I think it was 1989, when my papa started baking bread. He kept stockpiling them in boxes. I said, Papa, what are you doing? We will need this, he said. Then my Ossetian neighbor told us, Maka, leave the city immediately, there will be nothing good here for you. Back then, without needing to say anything, I realized I was caught up in something terrible. Next, they put up an Ossetian flag on top of the theater. We said, then we should put up a Georgian flag too. We were placating each other saying that the theater was no place for political opposition, that theater was love and it was a way of showing people how to live with kindness. One day though, we found the Georgian company’s rehearsal auditorium closed, and Nino’s cross broken. I don’t know who did it, but it was hurtful. 

The last play we put on in the theater was “Bakhtrioni”. Someone said that we were waving the Georgian national flag. In reality, this flag was from the King Erekle period, a prop in the play. Was the director supposed to get permission from the audience which flag to use when putting on a play about that time period? The situation intensified. In the middle of the play, they told us the theater was surrounded by armed people. We were doomed. Then from the audience, someone started singing, “My Good Country”. Maybe this is how we were defending our dignity or maybe this was a moment of desperation, I don’t know. We stood on the stage singing while awaiting to be slaughtered. Then someone cursed Georgians. I remember, one Ossetian boy stood up and said, “How dare anyone curse my Georgian mother.” Then everyone understood that either his mother or father was probably Georgian, maybe an Armenian grandmother or Russian. All the families were mixed like that there. Others followed suit, and the tension broke thanks to this boy. 

After the November 23rd protest, we left the city for the first time, but we returned soon after. We did this a few times, leave and come back. [On November 23rd, the National Movement organized a protest where 15,000 people congregated at the entrance of Tskhinvali]. One time, Mother and I were in the apartment alone when they shot up the windows. That day we spent the entire time crawling on all fours. On the next day, my mother stood by the broken windows ironing like nothing happened. Looking at how casual my mother was acting calmed me down. In the evening, our Ossetian neighbor came and pleaded with us Georgians to leave because the Russians were coming. She was crying, everyone wanted to spare us from what was to come. 

Georgian police were already in Tskhinvali, separately Georgian and Ossetian nationalist leaders were agitating people. 

By that time, there were shootings everywhere. I remember my aunt and I were leaving town by foot, and suddenly I saw my old Ossetian neighbor, who was working as the city’s prosecutor. He recognized us and pointed for us to follow him. We were communicating with each other with our eyes and heart. We walked like that to the bridge, on foot. My aunt and I followed behind without making a noise. He had already crossed the bridge while we were still making our way in the middle when firing started. They were shooting automatics. My aunt froze up. The bullets were flying around our feet. It was probably fate that saved us, otherwise how would you explain dodging all the bullets that were aimed right at us? Finally, I whispered to my aunt, Mediko, I beg you, you're gonna die, I’m gonna die, please, let's go, for the sake of your children. 

On the other side, the Georgian police were waiting. They were also pointing their automatics at us. Who are you, they said. Who are we supposed to be? We are humans, I called out. 

When we moved here, I later learned that my friend from Tbilisi was beaten a few days earlier. She was my guest. When things escalated, her parents came to get her. Though we showed her out of town, they still made a wrong turn and accidentally ran into Ossetian women. They really went at her! They slammed her head against the wall. What are you doing here? they said. People had lost their minds at this point. 

Then Mother moved here, but Grandmother and Grandfather wouldn’t come with us. We are going to stay at home in our own house, they said. That bread Papa baked really came in handy. They stayed there for three months. They thought they would save their house like that. Twice they were robbed, they beat my grandmother’s hands, they broke Papa’s head open. 

At the end, it was another Ossetian who saved them from the robbers, but they were unable to bring them down here. We found Russian soldiers, paid them, and they brought them down. They were crippled.  Papa had surgery, lived for a while longer but not much more than that. Grandmother’s mangled hands would freeze up for months, but she ended up living for a long time. 

Back then we didn’t think we were leaving for good. I did have a strange feeling, like, I was trying to remember everything at my house, I would look at our belongings closely. I wanted to remember everything. Then I struggled for years in my sleep, I would try to enter my house and couldn’t. I couldn’t open the lock. In the last dream, I somehow finally opened the lock and entered. It was like I could finally breathe. I haven’t dreamed of that place since then. 

P.S. Right when we became refugees in 1991, the theater company met up in Tbilisi. 7 Petriashvili St. is now home to Tskhinvali Theater. 27 years later, for the first time, they gave us the building. Our plays attract a lot of attention, and I’m happy. Young people come. This means that they are finding themselves in us. I am most happy about this. 

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Text: Nino Lomadze 
Transcriber: Mariam Sisauri 
Photo: From the Private Collection of Maka Geladze