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A Georgian-Ossetian family sees in the New Year

9 February 2012 No Comment

Tserovani IDP Settlement, Georgia. Image Source http://mtskheta-mtianeti.gov.ge

Tens of thousands were displaced during the August 2008 war with Russia over South Ossetia, an autonomous oblast in the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia which broke away from Tbilisi’s control during fighting in the early 1990s. Many are now accommodated in the Tserovani IDP settlement in Georgia proper.

Gogita Aptisauri reports on how a mixed Georgian-Ossetian family celebrated the New Year and their recollection of similar occasions in their native Tamarasheni, a formerly majority ethnic Georgian village situated within the administrative boundaries of South Ossetia, recognized by four countries but officially known in Georgia as the Tskhinvali region.

Zareta Khulumbegova, a housewife from a mixed Georgian-Ossetian family, celebrated the New Year with her husband and children at the refugee settlement of Tserovani. The mother and her daughters laid the table together. Among the festive treats were Ossetian khabizgini, Imeretian khachapuri, gozinaki, boiled fowl and wine. The mixed family made the first toast to peace and the next to reconciliation.They wished blessings to all their relatives, both Georgian and Ossetian.

After a toast to fond memories, Zareta started to cry as she remembered her childhood and the days spent in Tskhinvali [Conflict Voices Note: the defacto capital of South Ossetia]. Her children also remain deeply shaken by the armed conflict between Georgians and Ossetians. They say they will never forget this disaster and only dream of reconciliation.

“In Tskhinvali and Tamarasheni we would celebrate the New Year differently,” she remembers. “We would often visit our relatives. I was always so happy when I went to Tskhinvali to see my loved ones. But now the situation is so complicated. We’re very tense and disinclined to go. That’s the war taking its toll. I really want to go visit my relatives, but never seem to get the opportunity.”

Zareta’s daughter, Eka Datashvili, also feels nostalgic for the past. For her, the time spent in Tamarasheni was unforgettable. Nobody used to care about ethnic origin, with both Georgians and Ossetians visiting each other’s homes. Celebrations would last for almost two weeks.

“I have very fond memories of celebrating New Year in Tamarasheni. It was very different,” she reminisces. “Everyone was happy about meeting the closest – Ossetian – friends and relatives. I come from a mixed family and I am part Ossetian. It is very hard for me now. I really miss my relatives. We would spend New Year’s Eve at home with the family, and the next day we would drive to Tskhinvali and go to the city centre with our relatives.”

The most memorable for her, however, was 2007 when she and her sisters sneaked into Tskhinvali to welcome in the New Year at the city’s central square. At the time the atmosphere was already heating up and the road between Tskinvali and Tamarasheni was blocked by armed soldiers. Even so, the sisters still managed to reach their Ossetian relatives. While visiting one Ossetian family, they were even surprised when everyone stood up to toast the Georgian women.

“One Ossetian man invited us over, and it turned out that he had some police officers as his guests,” she says. “We were startled at first, but our emotions turned to astonishment when they stood up to toast Georgian women. It was so delightful. I turned to my sister and said ‘They drink to Georgian women – that’s so surprising.’ But unfortunately, it was our last New Year celebration in the homeland.”

Zareta Khulumbegova and her daughters’ only New Year’s wish is for reconciliation between Georgians and Ossetians so that they can finally return to Tamarasheni. That wish continues year after year and refugee family have not lost hope that one day it will come true.

This post was produced as part of the project “Media Cooperation and Peace Journalism in the South Caucasus” implemented by the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation (ICCN) in cooperation with the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) – Caucasus.

Gogita Aptisauri is a correspondent for Media.Ge.

Onnik Krikorian of Caucasus Conflict Voices was one of two trainers at a project workshop held in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus, in September 2011. The original article, written in Russian, is available on the project blog, the Caucasian Circle of Peace Journalism.

The project’s Facebook group is here.

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