Luiza Dudaeva-Askilashvili, 72 years old, Eredvi-Koda

My mother is an Ossetian raised in Georgia, but I always said that I was born in Georgian and Tskhinvali is Georgia.

My mother died when giving birth to me and I grew up without her. I was a really beautiful girl, I sang well and my school let me study at the Gori music school. I met my future husband there, who sang in an ensemble. I was only interested in music. My husband was older than me and was a very charming young man. He often came to our village. When I was 15 years old, I gave up everything and married him. Why in hell would I do that?! I was a stupid little girl and it seems to be my fate to have been married and widowed at a very early age… I was 22 years old when my husband died in a car crash and I was left alone with two small children.

I had one year left at the Gori Music school when I got married. So, they came to my house after the marriage to ask me to continue my studies. My mother-in-law answered, ‘’If she wanted to study, she wouldn’t have married my son’’ – that’s how she humiliated me in front of them and kicked them out. In this family, education wasn’t important and I was not able to finish my studies. For years, I worked at different places – for a while in the Tskhinvali hospital, then some other places. I was so heartbroken that I said I would never go back to music. But in the end, I went back to music – to my true inspiration. In Eredvi, we had a very big Culture House with many different ensembles. I led the folk ensemble and raised many generations. We had many achievements together. At the Eredvi Culture House, I had a whole wall in my room full of trophies.

Many women were actively involved in the national movement. We often went to strikes in Tbilisi and I always stood in the front line with a flag in my hands. During one of these strikes in front of the government building, Georgian women came to me and asked to say in front of people, that Georgians and Ossetians should continue to live together. At that time, there was a Svan woman with a machine gun and when she heard I was Ossetian, she screamed at them, even dead Ossetians cannot be trusted; and you want to trust one that still breathes?! She said she already had collected 9 ears from Ossetian bodies and wanted to cut one from me as well. We were surrounded by many people and I was so scared, that I fainted. Although I only remember support from Georgians, I have to say that, when I was left alone, the whole of my village stood by me like a family. They took care of my children. How would this Svan woman know that Ossetians too perceived me as a traitor, because I considered Tskhvinvali to be a part of Georgia. When the Russians came to Eredvi and Disevi to punish the ‘’enemies’’ and ‘’traitors’’, I was on their list too. I was informed they wanted to take me, therefore, I didn’t stay home overnight and hid with others. On the day I was taken, I went to my house at five o’clock in the morning. It turns out the Russians were following me and took me to Tskhinvali. In those moments, I said goodbye to everything – my children and my home. But I decided that no matter what they’d do, I would not say anything to harm Georgia. I remember they showed me a huge iron ‘’barrel’, telling that they would boil me in it. Time to time they would open the prison door and tell me, that they would take me out soon and burn me. On the second day of my captivity, Georgians again stood by my side. My whole village was there for me, people rushed to Tskhinvali and blocked the roads. They said: if this woman wasn’t released, they would start a war. Their protest worked and I was freed a day later.

I remember one moment from this captivity. They brought one Ossetian woman to me, whose son was killed by Georgians. She was asking me to tell her where his son was taken, where he was killed. I, of course, knew nothing. Ossetians behaved the same way. Georgian boys were tied to trees, forced to sing about Georgia, and set on fire. Do you know, how many such stories happened there?! Ossetians have their reasons to be angry at Georgians. Georgians killed a lot of young Ossetians too, many Ossetian young people were killed, innocent families, who did nothing wrong, were left embittered. Many Georgian-Ossetian families have also been broken up by this conflict. There was a crime from both sides and innocent people were its victims. Eventually, after the 2008 war, we all had to leave and I’ve been living in Koda since then. I started working with children again here and I’m already raising my second ensemble.

Although no one would harm me here because of my Ossetian surname, I still switched to my mother’s last name and became Askilashvili. My husband was also Ossetian, but I also gave my children my mother’s surname; their children too. It probably was a protest on one hand, because the Ossetians have broken my heart on multiple occasions; and, on the other hand, I was scared of what I’ve heard from the Georgians’ towards the Ossetians in The 90s.

Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photographer: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili