Guli Tchitanava, 68, Sokhumi/Anaklia Lia Tchitanava, 66, Sokhumi/Anaklia

Guli Tchitanava:

“I was among those who left Sokhumi on the day it fell. I stayed till the end. My brother and son were fighting and how could I leave them?! When we heard artillery shots, we went running to bunkers for shelter. We were not warned [about the danger], we just intuitively knew we had to run and so we ran. We did not lite candles at night to stay invisible so as not to become targets.”

Lia Tchitanava:

“I don’t know when the conflict between the Abkhaz and Georgian people started. It surely did not start naturally. My sister and I both remember how we used to help each other during feasts and funerals, how we stood by each other. Abkhazian friends used to bring food to us during the war time too. They took care of us. When Sokhumi fell, the Abkhaz people took us to the Svaneti road by car: “Don’t go, maybe you can manage to stay at your home; where would you go there?!” Sometimes I think maybe it would have been better if I had really stayed there, in my house. Maybe I would not have spent 25 years in the expectation of the allowances…”

Guli Tchitanava:

“When Sokhumi fell, they came and told us to go. I broke out laughing hysterically; I thought they were joking. I grasped the reality of the situation when I joined the line of hundreds of displaced people on the Tchuberi road, winding on the mountain road like ants. It was September 11, 1992. That’s the “velvet season” in Sokhumi but in Svaneti it was winter. We were walking, wearing sundresses and flip-flops and it was snowing on the road. “Don’t go, maybe you manage to stay at your home. It will be difficult for some time but soon we can overcome the difficulties together,” I constantly regretted rejecting this, when I saw the men and women dying in the endless ant-like line.”

Lia (Tchitanava):

“The fallen were themselves asking to be left on the spot. Everybody was on their own. People were trying to survive and the fact that we had a conscious realization of this was the biggest tragedy of all. Mothers buried their children on the way. There was a woman walking next to me; she was holding a saddle-bag close to her heart for two days. I thought she was keeping food in the bag. She did not speak at all. Later we discovered that she was keeping her dead infant hidden from us in the bag, because she did not want to leave her child in the forest of Tchuberi. The men buried the baby afterwards.”

Guli Tchitanava:
“The men could not stand the difficulty of the road and the emotions. My neighbor Shukri fell off the rock in front of his wife. He could not continue the road and go through that horror. We endured all human tragedies that one can imagine – cold, hunger, death. They used to drop bread from the helicopters but often the packages fell into the unreachable places, in the rocks. The men walked down the rocks to fetch the bread at the risk of their lives. When we finished eating our pieces of bread, we’d find men collecting breadcrumbs from the newspaper and eating them.”

Lia (Tchitanava):

“I could not hold back tears when I watched the shivering men standing in the line for some hot porridge, holding their iron bowls. On the 11th day people met us ready with hot food and warm clothes in Tchuberi. We felt that we were not alone. They told us – “don’t go” – but we were glad that we had left and survived.”

Guli Tchitanava:

“Initially we were settled in the communal shelter in Zugdidi. They promised us to give permanent accommodation but it has already been 25 years and we still have no property. We could not recover [from poverty]. A relative, who migrated to Russia, gave us their house in Anaklia and we have been cultivating their plot for three years already. One day the relatives will return and we will have to leave this place too. With the festivals [in Anaklia] we earn some money. [During the festivals] I work in the local canteen, bake Khatchapuri and then live on that money throughout the year. We have low scores as an indigent family but get only IDP allowance. At some point they told us “you are not our IDPs”, later they even dared to tell us “you are no longer IDPs.” Who are we then? Where are we from? Who do we belong to?!”

Lia (Tchitanava):

“Recently I saw my house on the internet. They have opened a hotel in my house and they rent out rooms for 50 USD. Abkhazians are the owners. I cannot recall when this conflict started between us. It is all political games; we had such a good friendship; we supported each other. They even told us “don’t go.” Maybe I would have had a better life there if I had stayed there, in my house.”

Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Salome Tsopurashvili
Translation: Nino Tlashadze

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