Abkhaz Children Learn of Parents' War

Young people in Abkhazia are struggling to understand the conflict with Georgia.

Abkhaz Children Learn of Parents' War

Young people in Abkhazia are struggling to understand the conflict with Georgia.

Wednesday, 14 August, 2002

In a small courtyard in Sukhum, a group of children is playing war games. One of them, evidently the leader, cries out, “Come on, let’s make teams – we’re Georgians and Abkhaz!” They proceed to act out a bloody war that began before many of them were born.

Adults know that the war between Georgia and Abkhazia began on August 14 1992, lasted 413 days and cost thousands of lives on both sides. What do the children of Sukhum, who have grown up since then, know about it now?

“I heard about the war from dad and grandma,” says Anri, aged seven. “It was a war between Georgians and Abkhaz because the Georgians attacked us. Grandma said that the Abkhaz couldn’t go to the town, because they could be killed. It was frightening living here in that year. Dad said that he was wounded in the leg.”

After a short pause, the boy adds, “Maybe when I grow up I will be friends with Georgians.”

Sergei is 13 years old but admits, “I don’t remember anything about the war, although I was with mum in Sukhum in that year.”

Karine is three years younger than her friend. She tells IWPR, “I can’t say anything, but I heard that they took us away from Abkhazia because the war began here. When the Abkhaz won, we came back home.”

“My dad and uncle were killed in the war,” says Lana, also aged ten. “We keep dad’s machine gun at home. I hate war because my dad died.”

Most of the children seem to know about the war – or at least have heard of it – only if it touched their family directly. While less than half had been taught about the conflict through the tales of their parents or grandparents, it was not quite clear to them who fought and for what.

One of the boys begins by saying that, “one side attacked the other to take away its motherland and the other side tried to beat back the enemy and won.”

A girl of 14 quietly says that she had a vague memory of how, at the age of four, she was put on a huge white ship. “There were a lot of people, everyone was shouting and pushing.” In all probability she was talking about the time when people were hurriedly evacuated from the city after it was captured by armed men from the Georgian National Guard.

Some children have not heard of the events of 1992-3 and are not at all interested in IWPR’s questions. Their parents had not told them about it – not out of pacifism, but because they were frightened at the thought of their children becoming politicised at a young age.

The father of one of the girls explains, “I fought so that my daughter could live in a free and independent country. We’ve lived through ten years; somehow we’ll carry on living. That’s what we fought for, after all. My daughter will find out about the war later on.”

The issue of what young people do or not do know about the war was discussed at a recent conference devoted to the tenth anniversary of the conflict and organised by Abkhazia’s opposition movement, Aitaira, or Revival. The conference was attended by historians, deputies, writers and former combatants.

Revival leader Leonid Lakerbaia noted in his speech that many schoolchildren do not know the meaning of the date August 14. “I’m afraid that this day will only act as a memorial for those who took a direct part in the fighting of 1992-3,” Lakerbaia said.

The conference delegates discussed the events leading up to the war, the main phases of the formation of Abkhazia’s armed forces, the role of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus and of volunteers in the Abkhaz victory.

Worries were expressed that the history of the war has not been written, that many people who know a great deal about it and who “made history” through their actions will soon no longer be alive to tell their stories.

A deeper worry is that the conflict remains unresolved and that the children, who innocently play street games about a war that they can barely comprehend, are reflecting the very real division that remains between Georgians and Abkhaz.

Indira Batsits is a journalist with Abkhaz Press news agency in Sukhum

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