Wednesday, 5 October 2011

South Ossetia: A Chronicle of Contract Murder

This book “South Ossetia: Chronicle of Contract Murder” is dedicated to the victims of the Georgian invasion of the disputed South Ossetia, during the 2008 South Ossetia War, which lasted from August 7-12. The book contains some striking photographs of the conflict, as well as survivors’ testimonies, and was released by human rights movement, Soprotivleniye (which stands for ‘resistance’ in Russian).

Along with Abkhazia, this is one of two disputed regions within the official borders of Georgia. South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in 1990, calling itself the "Republic of South Ossetia". The Georgian government responded by abolishing South Ossetia's autonomy and trying to retake the region by force. This led to the 1991–1992 South Ossetia War. Georgian fighting against South Ossetia occurred on two other occasions, in 2004 and 2008. The last conflict led to the 2008 South Ossetia war, during which Ossetian separatists and Russian troops gained full, de-facto, control of the territory of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast.

In the wake of the 2008 South Ossetia War, Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Tuvalu recognised South Ossetia as an independent republic. Georgia does not recognise the existence of South Ossetia as a political entity, and considers most of its territory a part of the Shida Kartli region under Georgian sovereignty, occupied by the Russian army.

The 2008 South Ossetia War claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Both law enforcement bodies and non-governmental organisations are now investigating circumstances in which those civilians died. Soprotivleniye was one of the first to take up the job. On August 15 2008 psychologists filed out to Russia’s Rostov region to assist refugees from South Ossetia. At this time a hot line was also launched for the victims of the conflict. Now professionals of the movement are helping to search for people, work out schemes for transfers of humanitarian aid to South Ossetia and assist people to get financial compensation.

“We believe that in the days of the Georgian aggression European media were flooded with deceptive information about what was going on in the conflict zone,” said the head of the Public Committee Olga Kostina. “Now the world community has got access to photo and video and other documents which prove that Georgian soldiers in South Ossetia were actually committing genocide against its people. We hope that our book will help European parliamentarians and ordinary citizens to understand what really happened”.

The publication of the book “South Ossetia: Chronicle of Contract Murder” is another step in the public investigation of crimes in South Ossetia. Dedicated to the victims of Georgia’s aggression, it also marks 60 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.

The book album contains three chapters: “Crimes”, “Victims”, “Witnesses”. The first chapter briefly presents historical background of Georgia-South Ossetia relations and chronicles events preceding and following August 8. The second chapter features testimonies of people who lived through the horrors of five-day war. The third chapter is dedicated to testimonies of witnesses’– journalists, doctors, clerics. All documents are accompanied by photographs taken during the fighting in Tskhinval and after the repulse of Georgia’s attack, when first aid was delivered to South Ossetia.

Whilst there are, of course, two sides to every story – and this is very much the South Ossetian side – one cannot deny the impact of the photographs and accounts here, which seem more linked to the horrors of the Second World War than a European country in the 21st Century…

From South Ossetia I travel to Abkhazia – the other disputed region within the official borders of Georgia. I take the (relatively) safest option of leaving South Ossetia and take a public marshrutka going back to Georgia, south on the main road from Tskhinvali towards Gori and on to Tbilisi.

However, public transport from Georgia to Abkhazia does not exist. So I take a chance – and a train – from Tbilisi to Zugdidi, close to the Abkhazian border (the train, a night train, costs 18 euro for the 318km one-way trip). In Zugdidi I am able to organise travel to Abkhazia via a local “travel agent.” As cars with Georgian number plates cannot cross into Abkhazia, this transport consists of a jeep to the border, then a change of jeep with different plates and then a 30 minute drive to Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, and a former holiday hot-spot located on the Black Sea.

As with South Ossetia, literature for this barely recognised state is thin on the ground, and so I have chosen a collection of short stories entitled “The Thirteenth Labour of Hercules” by Fazil Iskander – arguably the most famous Abkhaz writer – which are largely childhood recollections of the post-WW2 era, although some are more contemporary.

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