Georgians in the mountains of South Ossetia
The Georgians and the Ossetians live side by side there. They have similar cultures. Both nations are hospitable and like endless feasts. Nowadays, there’s peace in the republic, although seeing a grenade vest — a gift from Russian soldiers — sitting on a bench next to children’s toys is nothing unusual.
On the eve of the collapse of the USSR, Georgians made up about 30% of the South Ossetia’s population. People from different nations created families, lived in peace, but then there were some conflicts.
These conflicts made Georgia de facto lose part of its territory in the immediate vicinity of the capital. Russia committed to financially and politically supporting the troubled republic and found itself in international isolation. South Ossetia residents complain about corruption and welfare issues. In addition, they have been cut off from Georgia. The highway leading to Mtskheta is perfectly visible from the mountains at night. It is not far from there, but the roads leading to it have long been closed.
The border separates not only countries, but also families. The Ossetian woman named Izolda complains, “My children, brothers, and sisters live in Georgia about 17 kilometers (10 miles) from here, but we don’t get to see each other. Can you take a picture of my house? Show them at least something.” Some South Ossetia residents go to Georgia and come back illegally, risking being caught by border guards.
Nowadays, there’s peace in the republic, although seeing a grenade vest with machine gun magazines — a gift from Russian soldiers — sitting on a bench next to children’s toys is nothing unusual. Everyone is grateful to Russia, but many understand that corruption and ineffective management are direct consequences of its policy in the region. People say, “The worst thing is when they give you free money.”
People talk about the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 pretty often. You quickly realize that these people have their own truth, and they defended themselves from the Georgian invaders because they had to, not because Moscow ordered them to. It is enough to know how the highlanders had to use wild pears to treat their children’s diarrhea and glue and cobwebs instead of adhesive bandages because of the blocked roads. However, they don’t hate Georgians, often calling them brothers and saying nice things about them. Sometimes, even the war participants say, “For a long time, I have dreamed that all Georgian houses burned down, but when they actually caught on fire, I didn’t feel any satisfaction, only a sense of dread. And we don’t live in their houses, and Ossetians’ houses in Georgia stay empty…”
Yet, there are Georgians living in South Ossetia. They don’t trust the local KGB. In February 2018, Archil Tatunashvili, detained by security forces, died under suspicious circumstances. According to the official version, he tried to snatch an escorting officer’s gun, fell down the stairs, and died of his injuries later in hospital. However, Georgians do not complain about relations with their neighbors. Fortunately, they have similar cultures. Both nations are hospitable and like endless feasts. If you happen to drop by your neighbor’s house for a minute, you are staying there for a long time and leaving only after drinking a couple of liters (half a gallon) of wine. In these both highland countries, people crush grapes, make Churchkhela, and all have walnut stained fingers from peeling green walnuts.
Kazbek’s house is located near the winding road of the Medzhida Mountain Gorge.
Seeing the guests, the owner immediately goes to get some wine.
While men are feasting, his Ossetian wife is busy with household chores.
She brings food and makes cheese. Givi Dvalishvili and his wife, an Ossetian woman named Leila, live nearby. Their son came home late because he was at the Ossetian wedding party and, according to him, drank about seven liters (1,8 gallons) of wine.
There is a church not far from the Givi’s house in Ardisi. Legend has it, the family tower, in which a silver cross was kept, used to be in its place. It was completely destroyed by an avalanche. When the snow had melted, the astonished highlanders saw the undamaged relic among the piles of stones and decided to build a church and dedicate it in honor of this miracle. Before entering, Givi walks around the church and gently kisses every of its corners.
There is an inscription in Georgian and a lot of small bells above the entrance.
A large bell is nearby. Givi rings it and enters the church, bending under a low doorframe. Inside, two parishioners, the Georgian Givi and our Ossetian guide, light a candle together.
Givi carefully takes out a processional banner. The silver cross — a silent witness of times past — glows in the dark.
Pictures and text of our guide Vladimir Sevrinovsky. Article has been published in Russian in «Кавказ.Реалии» magazine.