Tamar Berianidze, 26 years old, Akhalgori

Student of the Academy of Arts. A potter.

It’s one thing when you make your own decision to leave home; but then there’s what happened to us…

I was 16 years old when the war began and we left Akhalgori. Even before that, a year ago, there were important changes in my life – my mother moved abroad and I was trying to get used to living without her. I had spent most of my childhood there and I think that the circumstances had an influence on my personal development, on my imagination and about my worldviews.

After the war, for about a year, I was still able to mostly live in Akhalgori. Before the border control got tightened. After the war the streets were empty and it felt like time had stopped. People who lived there didn’t realize the situation and often asked, what had changed? Everything seems to be the same as before. You ask yourself – What am I afraid of? There is nothing to fear.
Our house was on the outskirts – even before the war, nobody lived there except us, and after the war, it emptied totally. I remember the period after the war. My brother and father weren’t at home and I was alone. The door opened and a soldier entered with the gun in the hand. He told me something in Russian. Of course, I don’t remember what he said, he checked out all the rooms, bedroom, kitchen, corridor. And I was just standing there, without saying anything. As I found out later, he was looking for a fugitive soldier. It was usual in those days to count the number of military helicopters or the number of armored transporters crossing the road during the day.

In spring we arrived in Tserovani settlement. I remember this muddy and boring road, seemingly endless, and I felt like I was standing in one place, everything looked the same. I slowly realized that things changed for everybody and I wasn’t an exception.

In the beginning, the settlement was very similar to the Soviet Union structure. Symmetry, monotony, even dinner plates were the same – everything was counted. Everything was numbered with many different labels.

I still went to Akhalgori often. I missed the place. Once when I went there suddenly I asked myself – whether it was a part of my life or not. I lived there for 16 years, I remembered everything: streets, houses, curtains, all of the doors and my yard gate, but the people who lived there weren’t there anymore. There were not only Ossetians and Russians but also military soldiers, moving there with armored transporters and guns. Then you think again, there is nothing to be afraid of, there is no danger. I realized that I was questioning the 16 years I spent there, and I asked myself if it was still a part of my life; or even if I was still part of it. I felt alienated and even though I missed the place and I really wanted to go there, I couldn’t stay there anymore.

Then I decided not to think about my memories – I prohibited myself to even think about Akhalgori. As for everybody, my future too looked uncertain and vague. I have to say that in the settlement if someone had any kind of a plan, it was always linked to Akhalgori. Even a new purchase was made for the temporary “locked’’ homes. Every goal was related to it. For me, as a teenager, the struggle of these people was a good example of how to find a way to recreate the lost life. I believe that I grew up among strong people. It’s hard not to follow them and not to act as they do – struggle for a better future.

Despite the fact that the settlement is small, communication is still a problem. I was lucky that my first job was in the settlement. On one hand, it was my chance to find my vocation; on the other – interesting people for communication, of which everybody was starved. The social enterprise, which was established by the NGO, was interesting, relating to my work; in addition, the organization’s activity was very important. Discovering and solving the problems in the settlement turned out to be interesting for me.

After graduating from school, I first studied at the Ilia State University and later in the Academy of Arts. I believe that it was a step in the right direction, I found the way for me to be able to express my thoughts. At the end of my studies in the Academy, I created my graduation project, represented by 25 white cubes of the same size, containing clay houses. The exhibition is extended by the photos taken from the satellite in Tserovani IDP settlement, before and after the war. Also, Georgian villages that no longer exist.

This is a story of houses without people and people without homes.

The Idea of the work was born during the observation of the IDP settlement. It aims to show the attitude of people who left their homes and what they think about ‘home’ now. In addition, it’s meant to bring the difficulties of forced displacement to light.

The pottery, which is my main job now, has given me the opportunity to express my accumulated emotions and to break free.

Now I’m working on a new project, which is again related to my settlement and the people living there. 2002 pieces of ceramic clay will have an address in Tserovani engraved on one side and on the other the address where these people lived before, before the war. I believe it will simplify communication here in the settlement. On the other side, it will also be a memory of those addresses, which we were forced to leave and when thinking about them, we always ask ourselves – was it apart of our life and were we a part of it?!’’

Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Salome Tsopurashvili
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili