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'There Is no Way to Peace; Peace Is the Way' - An Appeal to the Georgian Nation

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False Information Hinders Restoration of Human Relations between the Abkhaz and Georgian Peoples

Inga Takalandze, Otobaia 

Otobaia is a village in Gali district where ethnic Georgians have hard life, but many families do not hurry to abandon the village. During the war in August of 2008 Otobaia was considered to be the most secure place in comparison Zugdidi. It might sound strange but many residents of Zugdidi and others too were sheltered Otobaia during the armed conflict. Today, there is no safe road towards this village; but the life goes on in Otobaia. Teacher of the Otobaia Public School # 1 Larisa Khupenia talked with the Human Rights Center about the current relations between the Abkhaz and Georgian peoples. 

-We have perfect children in our school. If we support them, they will be perfect people in future. I see the future of our village in this school where a perfect generation is growing up. Of course, they read less. We heard about late Georgian poet Niko Gomelauri from TV and now I have his poems here to read them to our children. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to buy books. Our old library was burnt, and children are eager to get as many books as possible from the new library. So, I urge everybody to supply our library with books. We have a good generation and these children really deserve to read good books. 

-As we were told here, books were supplied to the library lately; how did the school manage it? 

-We have about 1 000 books. Most of them are in poor conditions – dump and mossy. Those books were saved in the Agricultural institute of Abkhazia and our director brought them here by a mini-bus. We were so happy to have them; we paid the expenses for transportation in order to get books for the children. After that our school events have become more colorful. 

-Which topics are the most popular among children today; what are they speaking about? 

-We sometimes speak about topics which have nothing to do with the lesson, but in the view of education similar lessons are more valuable than those envisaged in the time-table. We often speak about current problems. Speaking about these topics develop their mentality and speaking skills. We have children in the school who are interested in philosophy. We had an open lesson on the topic: How close Shota Rustaveli was to Plato and Sokrat and to their ideology. Our children get to know our cultural roots. Our children should know that Shota Rustaveli knew ancient philosophy in the 12th century. I am proud of being descendent of this culture, but I do not speaking about it loudly. I do not suggest that people do the same, but at least they should have information about it. 

-How does the tense situation impact on the children in Gali district? 

-Of course, children have to endure difficult situations too. We try to cope with it and we have already got used to it. When something happens, children do not cry at all. They were more afraid in their early childhood. Now they are old enough to understand that we are in our homeland and we should not be afraid of anything. On May 9 I was scared too. I thought the war broke out. We heard explosions. I am local and I can walk in the street more bravely and proudly. All others are guests here. If somebody greets me I will also greet him/her. 

-Have you ever cancelled lessons because of tense situation? 

-It has not happened for a long time already. One incident happened a long time ago – drunken soldiers entered the school. They had automatic guns and children got afraid. Elderly people were involved in the situation and the soldiers left the area without problem. Nobody has ever failed the schooling process on purpose. Now, big trucks are moving here carrying construction materials to build a military base in Pichori. We feel more unsafe and weak. Our children also feel it. A child should know the problems of adults. If you ask our pupils when they will feel happy, they will answer – when we will not see Russian flag here. Who said that we do not have an honorable new generation?! 

-How do you think will this generation have to fight for the reintegration of the country? 

-Everything can happen, but if diplomacy, human sense and clever politics succeed, we should avoid this war. Should we always depend on others?! I do not grow up my pupils with similar feeling. 

-Do you think that the ministry of education of Georgia should design special program for Georgian schools of Gali district because of the urgent situation here? 

-Something can be thought of. International organizations should also take part in the process and the policy of the government can be easily implemented with their support. We cannot do everything alone. We teach our children what we want and we have our policy. I do not agree the topics of my conversations with the pupils with anybody else. Children will confirm that nobody restricts me here. We speak about nationality and patriotism, about our soldiers. Every pupil is ready to defend their homeland and we are not afraid of anybody because we raise them with this feeling. 

-Do representatives of the de-facto education ministry of Abkhazia arrive in your school from Sokhumi and do they control or supervise you? 

-Of course they arrive and visit us, but they are very friendly. We have the same relation as we used to have in the past. I do not know what they think in their deep heart; we do not feel it. 

-So, they are not aggressive towards the Georgian school, are they? 

-No, they are not. We have common relatives and we recall our common past. The deputy head of the department is a woman and I speak with her about my uncle, cousin and when I told her the story about the death of my aunt she cried. Can you imagine that an Abkhaz woman cried about my family tragedy? How can I have negative relationship with her?! My aunt was a teacher; she was a perfect person and they know each other. The deputy head of the department did not know about her death and she was very sorry for her. Now I love her because my aunt was very precious for me. 

-How do they put up with the fact in Sokhumi that there are several Georgian schools here and how do they see the future of these schools? Are there any attempts to change the school into Russian one? 

-As for the villages of the upper zone of Gali district – Dikhazurga, Saberio, etc the situation is really very hard there; people are really under oppression. We belong to the lower zone. I am afraid the same might happen here too. When I start a lesson and see nothing has changed, I am grateful to God and tell the children – we are happy that nobody forbids us to speak in Georgian. 

-Is it necessary to change the schools of those villages from the upper zone into Russian language? 

-It is not necessary at all. 

-If Abkhazia is an independent state, why should pupils learn in Russian language instead of Abkhazian? 

-It is clear whose policy is implemented here. It is hard for those Abkhaz people, who fought for the independence of Abkhazia, to admit that they have lost everything and their “victory” was not a real victory. Abkhaz people, the lower layer of the society, admitted it. It is not difficult for them to admit it because they have nothing to lose. As for higher layer, influential Abkhaz people who might lose much cannot realize the reality. They think that if they change their positions it can influence their welfare. We also lose something and it is not difficult to admit it. 

-How is your school funded? 

-It can rather be called humanitarian aid than funding. International organizations assist us, but I do not know their specific names. 

-So, children do not pay money at school? 

-No, they do not. Before 2004 our monthly salary was 60 GEL and the former minister of education told us that there were teachers who received lower salaries and that we should not have demanded more. There are mostly female teachers in our school, so we keep our families here. 

-What has changed since 2004? 

-They have increased our salaries. Though we do not know where they found the funding. I think that the ministry of education of Georgia does it. We go to Zugdidi to get salaries by carriages. We are lucky if the carriage does not turn over and reach Zugdidi peacefully. If it turns over, we do not care about salaries then. Each teacher, regardless of their working hours, receives a similar amount of 200 GEL. The de-facto ministry of education of Abkhazia pays our salaries in Russian rubles but three hours out of 16 working hours are not reimbursed. When they explained to me that I could not work extra three hours I said that I am ready to work for my homeland during those extra three hours. 

-What is the difference between the salaries of the de-facto education ministry and the allowance you get in the Bank of Georgia? 

-The salary we receive from the Abkhazian de-facto ministry is half of the allowance we get from the Bank of Georgia. Besides that, we get the allowance from the Bank once in three months. We can leave it in the bank all year long and get it only once a year; we could save the money in the bank but my family needs it and I cannot do it. 

-Does the ministry of education know that you get allowances from the Bank of Georgia too? 

-Of course they know. Teachesr of Abkhaz language also get this allowance in our school like many Abkhaz people. They like this very much and nobody protests against this. The teacher of Abkhaz language gets a bonus of 5 000 rubles per month from the de-facto ministry of education. She is a student and learns in Sokhumi simultaneously. Do not think that she is like a white raven among us. She travels to Tbilisi and likes the city very much. She was delighted with the city. She visited Kutaisi once and Martvili twice. If we deal with the politics it is a very complicated topic. We of course have much to divide us but since it is my homeland and she thinks that it is hers too, we have to argue about it. We will plan an outing this summer too and she will also go with us. 

-What kind of person is your Abkhaz colleague? 

-She is a very nice girl. She is clever and considerate. I think she is very modest here. She is trying to get used to us. She is not sincere with everybody. She is close to the teachers of her age and goes to parties with them. 

-So she has become a member of your staff? 

-Everything is going on beyond political level.  We avoid speaking about political topics with her. We know that this topic cannot be useful for any of us and we do not want to complicate our relationships. She has never started speaking about politics either. As for propaganda, she has even never tried it. If she had done it, we would definitely have had serious conflict. We speak about general politics and problems with her. She can understand Georgian language but does not expose her real feelings. As a teacher she has much to learn yet; sometimes she punishes children, pulls their ears; puts bad marks to them; parents do not like it and they complain. Of course, the Abkhaz teacher does not like it either. But children are naughty and when they make her angry, she has to punish them. 

-What do you think about wrong information reported by Georgian TV-companies in Otobaia village? 

-We do not like it when TV-companies spread false information. We are ashamed of Abkhaz people because they are often blamed in what they have not done. It would be better if they did not invent stories. If they want to establish normal relationship with Abkhaz and Georgian peoples here, then they should not spoil those relationships by lies. If somebody thinks that similar politics succeeds, he is mistaken. I think that Russia will never win the information war. The entire world sees what this state does. If we also act like Russia, we will also lose the information war. 

-The Human Rights Center started Sorry Campaign. Some Georgian people apologize to Abkhaz people for not having prevented the war. Those people have joined the campaigners who think that it is necessary to apologize to Abkhaz people in order to restore relationships… would you also apologize to them? 

-Do not think I am proud, but I will say that I was always against the war. After the statement of the late president of Georgia Zviad Gamsakhurdia we urged everybody not to be provoked. Thousand other residents of Sokhumi stood with me then; we knew that it was Russian intrigues from where we could never escape. Those, who supported the war and liked Kitovani’s statement (former minister of defense) “Invade Abkhazia in two days”, have to do much more than apology. 

-Will you join this campaign? 

-Why not? I took part into anti-war demonstrations but I could not prevent it. I will apologize because it is necessary for my homeland and to melt frozen hearts. I will apologize to prevent bloodshed in young generation. I will do it and forget my pride which tells me that others also have to apologize for me… 

-Who else should apologize? 

-If I, a person who did not participate in the war, apologize for not preventing the bloodshed between the brothers, there are people on Abkhaz side who think like me. They should also take a similar step. I do not know what this campaign will do but it proves that we really want peace and we have really subdued our pride. If people will not honor it, God will see it… If somebody does not believe in it, it is his/her problem. 

-How do you think are Abkhaz people ready to accept the apology of Georgian people? 

-At least they will start thinking about it and ask themselves – “what do I have to share with Georgian people if s/he apologizes to me though has not done anything wrong for me?” 

-Do you want to add anything in the end? 

-I am very glad if it really happens. Enough time has passed since the conflict to think over our common problems. The radicalism shall be subdued which destroyed us in the past. If going to the church is not in fashion and we really listen to the holly words – “Do not judge”, “: Forgive others”, “Love your enemy”… Everybody of us should realize that life without God and belief is enough. We should prove by our action that we really want peace. We should recall our common past and live in future with this feeling. 

17 Jun. '10