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War Daires | Beso Doiashvili | 1991, Tskhinvali

Beso Doiashvili, 65 Years old, Former captain of the Georgian police 

[Fragments marked in a different style in the text are taken from the fighter’s diary. The interview was recorded in 2020]

Like I’ve been saying, I have everything written down. When I went there, some people were writing things down, so on one mission, I started too, thinking, Man, 30 years from now, I should remember something. Long story short, 28th of February, 1991 is here.  

They stationed me at the second post. There are three of us. All this is happening in one famous restaurant in Tskhinvali. It’s a few stories high, like my house. They put us there, police from Kutaisi, Rustavi, Kakheti and from other places. They gave us a slightly larger room. We had to sleep there. 

The restaurant is very beautiful on the outside, I think of it as my house. They made me in charge of the second post and gave me 500 bullets. It has to last me the whole night. 

It’s 8 pm. The gunfire started. I’ll be honest, the sound of automatics has a terrible effect on me. I’m being careful, I left my mother sick worry. 

My shift is at night from 2 am to 8 am. 

From the lower side of Tskhinvali, awful shootings started. All the glass was shattered, the lights were falling on top of my head, the beam was hit from a sniper’s bullet. No one is paying any attention to me at this time, since Koba, our sniper, got wounded. All the boys rushed to his side. I am busy filling up this diary. 

1 March
It’s 12 pm at night. They shot a rocket from Tskhinvali, it hit the basalt stone stairs, the shrapnel hit the windows. It’s crazy here. 

It was the 20th of January when I first went down there. 

Before then, nationalist movements would come down and organize protests. No one liked this aggressive tone, neither the locals, nor outsiders. Militants also didn’t play a positive role. They were kind of like outside agitators. 

I was already 35 years old by then. They brought the police departments into Tskhinvali to keep order. Russian BTRs and the Russian military were stationed nearby. By 8th of February, they were already there. How else were Ossetians going to be able to challenge us by themselves? We would’ve finished everything by sundown. If there was any trouble, right away, Russian BTRs would show up, we were routinely holding our hands up – they weren’t going to show us mercy. 

12:20
I see that an extremist is crawling towards us. I know that I must commit a sin already, but I am holding off. I’m scared too, how am I supposed to kill a man? I have him in my crosshairs, I can’t pull the trigger. I started shooting. He starts crying out, I think he has fallen. 
The extremist is dying. His own people have swarmed by his side and taken him away. 
During the day, I went to the place where he was standing. It’s filled with blood. 

There wasn’t a total war or anything like that, but there was definitely shooting without a break. In my time, two detectives from Kalinin district [now Mtatsminda] were killed. Tchiripashvili and Qiria – they were blown up on the bridge. Before that, Kevlishvili was killed, he was hit with a sniper’s bullet in the building. 

Already the battles had gotten very aggressive in the middle of the city from the side of the cemetery. This restaurant where we were, where the Soviet police department and Afghanistan veterans were standing, was destroyed bit by bit. The people who had fought in Afghanistan were very prepared, were willing to do anything, real patriots. I haven’t heard of Mkhedrioni fighting there. They hadn’t even cut their teeth back then. That came later on. 

They always took the dead with them. Our sniper, I can’t recall his last name, would kill many on top of the dead one when they came to get him. 

 Their sniper once blew a hole in the left hand of one Kutaisian. I had four handkerchiefs. I took it out and dressed his hand. Then they started shooting from the other side. Everyone took their automatics and ran off. 

I quickened my pace, first I put on the vest and started heading out. There is a blanket hanging from the doorway. I was about three meters away when 18 bullets hit the blanket. At this point, thank God, nothing hit me. I stood there frozen, then the Rustavelian smacked me with his hand and threw me on the other side. I need to slaughter a sheep. Probably my mother prayed for me and she saved me. I turned around and lied down on the bed, terrified. 

I remember before we left, they gave us instructions during training, don’t drink a drop of alcohol there. But then when we got there, there were so many things waiting for us – if you wanted vodka, spirits. Everyone drank. We had to fight. It’s easy to fight with vodka – you’re willing to do anything. 

Otherwise, you’re always afraid. You know how they pretend to be brave, it’s easy to do when you're at home. There – it’s all fear. Then once we drank vodka and spirits, one would yell out – let’s go and that was the only way to gather courage. We hyped each other up.  

This one time man, two kids came, they were school kids from some town in Gori. They came with a shaved off gun in their belts – told us they were volunteers. What were they talking about? Are these kids infiltrators, we thought to ourselves. We took them to headquarters. The commander was there. He spoke to them,took their guns away and threw them in the safe, and gave the boys small automatics. 

These kids are the ones who are going to save us, these kinds of young people, he said. Then when they left, he told us quietly, Don’t take them out to fight, just have them by your side. So we had them by our side. It was all, bring me this and bring me that, then when we went out at night for an operation, they would get mad at us, we wanna go too and so on. We lied to them, we couldn't tell them to their face, y’all are kids, and you're gonna be more trouble for us there. 

On the third day the uncle of one of the boys came. I barely made it, they won’t allow us through the checkpoints, he said. Man, I am here to take the kids back, one of them is my brother’s kid and the other one is his classmate. Apparently, they had run away from home. We could barely hand them off, they refused to leave. We took their automatics, gave their guns back, and we stroked their egos, told them: The fact that you were on this battlefield, it was a huge thing for us, we said. 

 Then a new shift came to replace us and we left. We went to Mtskheta to eat a little bit in the Salobie. What do we see?  It’s packed with people. We think that probably the whole restaurant is talking about the war. Tskhinvali this, Tkshinvali that. Everyone is there to have a good time. Our nerves were shot since we had already gone through losing a few men back there. The boys ended up getting into a fight there. 

Shouldn’t there be a common cause, man? Police and army are going through hell, there are so many people dying over there, all this stuff is going on while you all are coming here and wining and dining in restaurants? Nothing can be built like this. 

 This is also from 28th of February. It looks like I wrote this on the same day. 

 These rockets are like pipes. On the back they have rings. Inside of it there are about 55 razor-like thin metal bars. When you shake it, it rattles. When you shoot it, it explodes and reaches the height of sixty men. The rocket hit the stairs, the shrapnel flew inside. 

Good man, you should’ve minded your mother, where did you think you were going? I thought to myself.  I fell out of the bed and accidentally fired my automatic. The restaurant’s cabinets were shot up. I feel like I am in a movie. Thankfully I had drank a bit, or else I would’ve lost my mind. If I stayed alive, I would count myself lucky. 12 were wounded. Everything was torn down and wrecked. Grenade blew up. The hardwood floors fell on me. I don’t even know where to run. 

It’s 2 pm at night. They made me stand by the fir trees, the trees are going to save you, they said. All I can think about is how I feel bad for my mother and father, my death is going to destroy them. Shooting started. I stop writing. 

I see the extremists about 20 meters away, 15 meters away, 10 meters. The sun came up, three are rolling on the ground dead. They called to us, Let us take them away. They said they’d come with a car and collect them. So we asked for an exchange – this kind of bargaining took place throughout the day. There were people in the city, so we had agreed that we wouldn’t engage in any shooting during the day. 

But that night, we lost a boy from Bodbe. He was lying on bags when he was hit by a rocket. It threw him up so high and then he fell dead. We brought out the BTR and took him to be buried. His stomach was in pieces. We couldn’t grasp his intestines in our hands, they were so slippery. Just to lay his intestines on top of him took us 20 minutes. So we were more aggressive than usual that day, we told our sniper that since we lost this man, you must take one of theirs out during a funeral. All of a sudden, he got scared, said, What are you guys talking about?! But then they later told him, If you don’t shoot someone, you're working for the other side. 

They riled this guy up. Who you calling bought off? Watch this, he said. He took out his gun, and he assembled it slowly. There is a funeral in the centerof Tkshinvali at 2 pm in the middle of the day. From here, another one of our guys is looking out with his binoculars. Two minutes pass. I killed him, he calls out. I hit the guy with the hat on. The hat fell to one side, and the man fell tothe other. The second guy with the binoculars said that the people threw the coffin down and everyone started running all over the place. Great job man, we told him. We are patting him on the back. He killed a man, we are happy. Then everything went insane at night. Ossetians were descending on us from every side. They were very mad, we killed a man during a funeral. 

These papers flew out of my hand. I don’t know what to do. My life hangs in a balance. The rocket exploded. 17 men fell, 11 were injured. Nothing happened to me, probably, my mother’s prayers have helped me again. 

There are heavy shootouts, they are 80 meters away. They are about 150 extremists. Everything is being destroyed in the building, I don’t know where to run. The BTR’s driver is wounded, Gocha Archvadze. I’m so glad I have some drink in me. To see all this sober would’ve been very difficult. The BTR brought two dead extremists. One of them had a bullet hole in his forehead. They threw them down by the stairs, while we waited when they would come up from Tskhinvali to get their dead. 

 We also had an Ossetian sniper as a hostage, he was missing a hand, and they had the village chairman. We exchanged them. But the chairperson was so badly beaten, he passed away in two weeks. Their sniper might still be alive today. If that exchange didn’t take place, we would have probably killed the sniper. 

By February, 85 people were already killed. Back then, Dilar Khabuliani was our minister. Zviad, Sir, nothing can help us. Already 85 men have been killed, their side is being helped by the Russians. There isn’t much we can do, we should pack up and leave, he told Zviad [Gamsakhurdia]. Zviad replied, It’s fine, it’s time for the police to atone for their sins anyways. He let something this ridiculous slip. He slipped up, and it turned out very badly for him. When the civil war in Tbilisi broke out on the 22nd of December, they called in an order to Kalinin District Police: All ten districts must report to the Parliament at once to defend the President. They called around, and no one had any desire to show up. Can you believe it? They even told them in his own words. Let Zviad say that the police need to atone for their sins, they said. It would’ve made all the difference in the world since each department had about 150 employees armed with automatics. At least 1,500 officers would’ve shown up and the fate of the civil war in Tbilisi would have turned out different. 

The shootings have started, who gave so much gunpowder to these sons of guns. I can’t hear anything out of my ears. They are aiming at us directly, machine guns are shooting at us. 

March 1st. Oh, how badly we are meeting the beginning of Spring. 

In front of our position, there are 11 extremists, over here we are 6 men. They don’t know that we can see them. They are wearing white uniforms. The snow is camouflaging them. We killed three of them. They grabbed them by the legs and dragged them down. A bullet hit me on my helmet and blew it off along with my hat. My friend returned it, and said, Brother, you got some luck. 

Our building is now in shambles. I am supposed to leave on March 3rd. Now our Kutaisian and Batumian boys started fighting among themselves, shots rang out, we ran in the room and broke up their fight. 

One of them is my friend. When he saw me, he stopped. He called out to me, Beso, my man! We were in the police camp together. 

I was standing by the sandbags when a sniper shot at us. It hit the bags, and the sand got in my eyes. Now I am really tempting fate. How long until my luck runs out? Vakho doesn’t have any more bullets left. He’s calling from the outside, Beso, hand me some bullets! He was a great fighter, terrific guy, even his looks were terrific, he looked like Alain Delon. He got injured. 

I climbed out the window, I immediately regretted it, why did I do this? Ossetians targeted us from the back of the building. I was forced to draw my weapon from my pocket and shoot at them six times. I saw with my own eyes how the Ossetian fell on the stairs. I was so happy that my heart almost burst from joy. 

How about that?!  A man died, and I’m happy about it. I feel like I’m reading someone else’s writing. What made me write this? 

I’m yelling: Boys, give me a round at least or I’m gonna be killed. May God protect him always, that Kutaisian opened fire on them from above. Ossetians fled towards the cemetery. 

I have never crossed myself my entire life, and now I am scooting down and crossing myself. Stones are rolling down on the walls of the anti-aircraft machine guns. I can’t write anymore, I am tired, but the things happening here must be written about, something like this will happen only once in a lifetime, maybe not even once. 

It’s 3 am at night and I’m stationed at the second post, we are four men with automatics, Ossetians and Georgians are cursing at each other on the walkie-talkie. Right when I am writing this, 400 meters in front of me, a two-story house is burning. Now they are aiming at each other. Three little kids were burned in that house, all three of them were little girls. Our boys took them out, reduced to ash, in front of my eyes. This affected me severely, I’m a wreck. 
I’m terrified of losing my mind. Our side is firing a machine gun. They ran away towards the ravine. I know that S. is wounded. There are about eight of us lying down. He called out to me, Beso, help me out, hand me the gauze. 

He’s leaving a trail of blood on the asphalt, I don’t have any nerves left. Vakho took my automatic and ran towards the cemetery. His cousin doesn’t have any color left in him, he doesn’t even know where he is going. I don’t feel like writing anymore, but how can I not write what I’m seeing. Everyone else is also writing, astonishing things are happening. Vakho said to bring him the automatic but both rounds were empty. I’m calling out to our commander to bring me bullets. I’m not wearing a vest, and I can’t go outside. Gunshots… it’s getting dark, I can’t see anymore, I wanted to write, two attractive girls have come into the room, correspondents from Batumi, they take down my name and last name. I can’t see a thing, heavy firing has started. The boys are lying down on the floor. What kind of hell is this? 

I was deployed six times. At the end of 1991, people were starving in Tskhinvali. The roads were all closed up – from here to there, there were Georgian roadblocks everywhere. The starvation went on for a long time. Then with the help of Russians, they were able to get produce in there from Roki. They watched us and watched us, and then at the end it was Russians again who helped them. 

From above, the boys are watching like hawks. It is now known throughout Georgia that an Ossetian man is a traitor. 

It’s almost dark, I have intensified my writing so I can make it before sundown. 45 of us went up to the cemetery, we’re going there while shooting nonstop. A man can die so easily that they won’t even know about it. I’m wearing a vest, it was hit three times from far off shots. I'm not supposed to be writing this, but what am I supposed to do, I won’t let anyone read this, it's only for me. I keep firing until morning. This is my last letter. 

Fourteen of us men are going to Tbilisi. A little bus came for us, yellow-colored. The boys are grieving. Every guy is good, I didn’t think until now that Georgian policemen were capable of such courage. May God bless you boys. I’m leaving the accursed former restaurant, everything around me is riddled with bullets, in ruins. My heart hurts that I am leaving R.K. injured, we had taken him to Tkviavi Hospital. A sniper’s bullet had hit him in his legs, he is unbelievably such a great guy! I am walking up the bus and tears just start streaming down; the night before, he had covered me with his coat, you know we are old friends. To be frank, I am almost completely unhinged psychologically. No brother, unless there is no other way, why would I ever come back here. 

_______________________________
From the Series, “Recalling Memories - South Ossetia 1991/2008”
The respondent requested we leave out the last names of the people mentioned. 
Text: Nino Lomadze 
Transcription: Ana Surguladze, Marta Melikidze 
Photo: Vladimir Svartsevich / Anastasia Svartsevich from the archives