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War Lessons | Temur Kokoity, Tskhinvali

Temur Kokoity, 34 years old, Tskhinvali 

The first time I was ever afraid was when I was 5 years old. It was the 23rd of November, 1989. This day is etched in the minds of all the locals of South Ossetia. There were ambulances zooming around the entire city, I was afraid of their sirens. They were going around sounding the alarms and letting all of Tskhinvali know that a huge mob was trying to enter the city. They were pleading for us to go outside. I couldn’t tell what was happening, but as the adults were panicked, it spread to the kids. I also remember that in January of 1991 Georgians entered  Tskhinvali. It was dark, there was no power or water, we didn’ have food. But we weren’t cold, we still had gas at that time. 

In August of 1991 we left Tskhinvali for Vladikavkaz. We settled in a two room apartment there. There were countless relatives who had fled the war and came to stay with us. Sometimes there would be ten to twelve people staying with us. We loved it as kids since we had fun. In May of 1992, my mother’s aunt died on the road to Dzari. This happened before the well-known Dzari tragedy. People were taking their home belongings with big cars from the city. Her aunt travelled with one of those cargo cars. She was standing in the trunk of the car. During a sharp turn, the furniture dislodged and crushed the woman.  

In June, my mother and I went for her aunt’s 40th and we stayed in Tskhinvali the whole summer. It was constantly getting blasted from the South - from Teki and Eredvi. It calmed down a bit in July - August. Peacekeepers came in. During this time, they burned down Tsnelisi and other Ossetian villages. After that, international humanitarian organizations built houses for people, my great grandmother was one of them.  

I didn’t love being in Vladikavkaz. They spoke in Russian in school there. I didn’t know Russian. When I wanted to say something, my tongue was tied, I confused words and everyone made fun of me. I withdrew more and more within myself. I did learn Russian quickly, but language was still a problem. There is a huge difference between Ossetian Southern and Northern dialectics. During lessons, they would force us the kids from Tskhinvali to speak in the northern dialect. We protested, but they would still deduct points from our grades even though we knew how to speak our own language freely. 

I couldn't wait to return to Tskhinvali. My relatives and neighbors were all there, and I felt the best in Tskhinvali. After 1992, it was more or less peaceful, but in 2003, things got tense again when Saakashvili came to power. 

I was studying at Moscow’s Customs Academy in 2004. In the summertime, I visited Tskhinvali. In July and August, when the armed clashes got intense, I wanted to be enlisted as a volunteer, but they didn't want me, they kept giving me the runaround, come tomorrow, come the next day. When I was returning to Moscow at the end of August, I felt like I was a deserter. All of my friends in Tskhinvali were volunteering, they were taking shifts in trenches while I was heading to Moscow. 

I finished my education in 2008, I got the diploma, and in June I started working in customs. War was nearing. 

On August 1st, six civilians were already killed on our side. It was becoming clear-cut that war was unavoidable. After that day, we took special measures. We set up barracks, we received weapons, and prepared. There was no way I could avoid taking part anymore. It was very nerve wracking when I got my first automatic with four cartridges. We had to get uniforms and boots ourselves. The war started on the 6th of August for me and for my battalion - we defended the southwestern part of Tskinvali. Georgians were already firing for two days towards Tsunari (Khetagurovo). 

I am more angry with the people than politicians. I’m mad at both sides. People still didn’t learn any lessons. Conflict remains unresolved. A lot of people from our side think that we have nothing left to talk about - that they are the aggressors, and they need to apologize. I don’t need an apology from Georgians. I think nobody who has lost anybody needs an apology. 

I need something else from Georgians: I need them to understand that we can’t bring back yesterday. We won’t be able to live in one political-legal space. That’s why it’s important to talk directly, so every Georgian who speaks about getting South Ossetian back grasps this. 

Even if you get the territory back, you’ll have to cleanse the entire territory of Ossetians first.

It also makes me mad that Georgia can’t see us, and they only acknowledge Russia as the other side of the conflict. If Russia took back their recognition, we still wouldn’t return to Georgia, and we would fight for independence. I don’t even know any Ossetian who would even allow such unification. These kinds of people simply don’t exist. Twelve years ago, many residents of Tskhinvali and I were forced to pick up a gun and fight. We didn’t have any other choice. 

It was possible to collect our relatives and run off northward to Russia. This is what 100,000 Ossetians did in the years 1980 to 1990s when they fled Georgia. These people may have evaded death, but they still cannot live any happier there even after 30 years. They reminisce about their motherland. They still ended up as foreigners in the place they live today. 

Even if you concede your house and your land, no one will give you anything in return. This is how life is. That’s why I didn’t fight for someone’s geopolitical interests, but I fought to defend my house. I demand the same thing today - I would like to have the right to live in my house and with who I want to live and in the way I prefer. If my neighbor starts thinking that my house isn’t my house and thinks that everything that I have I must yield to him, then I will fight again. I don’t hate Georgians. I honestly think we can live peacefully together. We can have good relations. But for this to happen, he must respect my right to live freely. 

From the Series, “Rebuilding Memory - South Ossetia 1991/2008”
Text: Tamara Mearakhishvili 

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