Audi alteram partem

Tales of War: Georgian Narratives and Their Justifications 30 Years On, by Alexey Lomiya

Abkhazian fighters sit in a hallway. Sukhum, September 1993.

Abkhazian fighters sit in a hallway. Sukhum, September 1993.

In 1993, the Abkhazian population, numbering only one hundred thousand, stood unwavering against five million Georgians and emerged victorious. This required every single person to perform extraordinary feats.

I have always found social networks intriguing. They often spring surprises. One such anomaly presented itself on one of the world's most frequented platforms.

While scrolling through my feed, an engaging conversation caught my eye. It was a spirited exchange between young representatives of our nation and their Georgian counterparts. On the surface, it seemed like a typical debate with each side passionately defending their patriotic views, discussing the events leading up to and during the 1992-1993 war.

Admittedly, I have grown weary of engaging with opposing viewpoints, so I took a step back, preserving my own peace. Nonetheless, I perused the discussions, curious about unique takes on historical events. Under usual circumstances, I would have briefly noted the conversation and moved on. However, one participant's remarks grabbed my attention. He claimed firsthand knowledge of the war, having experienced its gruelling challenges and perils. This piqued my interest, prompting me to delve deeper into his profile. Surprisingly, it wasn't a facade – the account belonged to a genuine individual with authentic photos and details. I've always been wary of those who hide behind whimsical usernames or fabricated identities. As I looked through his pictures, I recognised him. He was among the prominent figures in Georgia's youth elite before the war, known for his basketball prowess. And when war broke out, he eventually joined the Georgian army, actively serving until the war's end.

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The Irony of Fate

It's ironic that our paths even crossed. The encounter occurred in September 1993, during our successful breach of the Georgian troops' defence, gaining a significant position around the lower Gumista bridge. After a gruelling day, I was tasked with standing watch right at the front line. In essence, we would inch closer to the enemy under the cloak of darkness, identify a relatively secure spot, and keep a vigilant watch.

Our primary mission was to detect any attempt by the enemy to displace us from our position. I emphasise "detect" because the nights were pitch-black, and we lacked night-vision equipment. As it turned out, the Georgians had dispatched a scout too. There we were, mere metres apart, fully aware of each other's proximity. We both refrained from overt hostility, silently communicating a mutual understanding. The hours that night seemed to stretch infinitely, laden with tension.

To pass the time without waning alertness, I initiated a conversation with the adversary. Initially, we exchanged a volley of insults. But, as curiosity got the better of us, we exchanged names. You can imagine our astonishment when we discovered a mutual familiarity, even though we had never met before. The conversation meandered through questions like, "Why are you here?" and "Who really holds the truth?" Our dialogue, however, hit an impasse; our convictions were unwavering, leading to a brief exchange of gunfire, though neither of us got hurt.

This seemingly trivial interaction might have faded from memory if not for his extensive comments online. He seemed keen to regale the younger generation with tales from the warfront. His primary reasoning for the Georgian occupational forces' defeat was the direct intervention of regular Russian troops in favour of the Abkhazian militia.

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"I personally fought off Russian paratroopers that September! Took down so many I lost count. But they had the upper hand – numbers, artillery, air support. We had no choice but to fall back. I am certain I didn’t see a single Abkhaz in the fray," he reminisced.

I felt compelled to intervene in the discussion and set the record straight, particularly addressing his claim about the absence of Abkhazian fighters. After a moment, presumably after checking my profile, he must have realised that I was the last person to let him peddle stories of vast numbers of Russian paratroopers malevolently stepping into the conflict against a beleaguered Georgian populace. Predictably, he soon disappeared from the chat. I suspect he blocked me, perhaps to ensure his narrative remained unchallenged.

The True Advantage Isn't in the Arsenal

It's indeed challenging to fathom how an Abkhazian population of a mere hundred thousand could resolutely stand against, and eventually triumph over, the formidable five-million-strong Georgians. Such a victory required every single one of us to execute a heroic act. And that's precisely what we did.

In a conflict devoid of advanced weaponry, aviation, or naval might, victory often hinges on the soldiers' motivation. Inevitably, there comes a moment when a soldier must step out of the trenches and bunkers, potentially bidding life farewell, and advance. They march forward, driven by a profound purpose. The rationale for such self-sacrifice must be so compelling that doubts don't even surface.

Otherwise, the instinct to survive dominates, causing you to falter, rendering you incapable of facing your destiny—whether that's a bullet or a piece of shrapnel. Perhaps we didn't have the sheer numbers needed for a full-scale assault on the enemy's defences. Traditional military wisdom dictates having significantly larger forces than the defenders. We might have been adequately armed but not sufficiently to overpower the adversary with ease. We certainly lacked dominance in artillery, aviation, or heavy equipment; our situation was quite the contrary.

"I can confidently say that 90% of the killed Abkhazians and prisoners with whom I worked were ethnic Abkhazians. Meaning, the Abkhazians fought, they shed their blood, and, of course, to say that the Abkhazians didn't fight – for me, that's absurd."
 — Paata Zakareishvili 
(Thirty-Year Struggle: Georgia and Abkhazia's Lost Opportunities for Dialogue)

However, one thing was unmistakably clear: we recognised that we were putting our lives on the line to reclaim our homeland. As trite as it might sound, this profound realisation was our primary edge, the pivotal element in our success. Three decades ago, driven by this profound purpose, the people of Abkhazia achieved something monumental.

The July Offensive: A Pivotal Moment of Heroism

The July offensive stands as the bloodiest and most decisive confrontation of the conflict. To compel the enemy to abandon their entrenched positions, our soldiers executed acts of heroism that stretched the bounds of belief. Some were transported deep into enemy lines, launching surprise attacks on bunkers and trenches from the rear at the precisely planned moment. These soldiers had to stealthily navigate extensive mountain terrains. Others braved the river currents, mounting a frontal assault to secure a foothold at the lower Gumista bridge, diverting the Georgian command by simulating a significant offensive from that direction. Some traversed the river to engage the formidable defences at Shroma. Concurrently, our partisans in eastern Abkhazia obstructed the primary pathway to Sukhum, preventing the enemy from bolstering their besieged forces there. Several embarked on barges, navigating the coast to alight at Tamysh, enhancing the likelihood of the eastern factions holding their ground. Others were transported to the strategically vital Akhbyuk height, with some scaling Mount Apianda and others heading to Tsugurovka. The totality of these endeavours can't be captured entirely, but their culmination led to the resounding defeat of the enemy.

During the Georgian-Abkhazian war (1992-93), Abkhazians lost 4% of their population; each Abkhazian family lost at least one of their members. In terms of the population of the U.S., that would be 12 million people.

Excuses are for the losers

I'm convinced that the 'raconteur' I mentioned earlier might grapple with the memories of those days as they truly unfolded. Perhaps he feels compelled to present a modified narrative to the younger generation, anticipating their questions about the nature of their defeat. From this need arise tales of a mysterious "third force" and "substantial external backing." Yet, the truth possesses an undeniable weight. The valiant acts of the Abkhazian people will forever be etched in the annals of history, serving as an inspiration for generations to come!

This article was published by Sputnik Abkhazia and is translated from Russian.




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