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11/24/13

The Land of Abkhazia by Vladic Ravich citizen journalism 2006 undergrad, Gather

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The Land of Abkhazia


April30,200603:48PMEDT 2006byVladicRavich Tags: citizenjournalism2006undergrad

WordLimit:1500 ThereisastoryofcreationanyvisitortotheRepublicofGeorgiawillhearthefirsttimeheisinvitedtoaneveningoftoastingatthekitchentable.'Doyouknow whytheGeorgiansliveinsuchabeautifulcountry?'theTamada,ortoastmaster,willinevitablyask.Hewillnotsitdownuntilthestoryisfinished. WhentheworldwasmadeGodbroughtallthedifferentpeoplesoftheworldtogethertodividetheearth,theTamadawouldbegin.Whenthewholenoisyaffair wasover,Godexpectedcalminhishalcyonrealm.Instead,Heheardthesoundsofglassandlaughter. There,sittingaroundabigwoodentable,weretheGeorgiansfeastinganddrinking,oblivioustowhattheyhadmissed.'Youfools,'Hescolded,'howcouldyou forgettopickahomeland?'TheGeorgiansabruptlyrealizedthegravityofthesituationandhuddledtodiscusstheiroptions.OneemergedandsaidtoGod,'Do notbeangrywithusLord,wemeantnodisrespect.WewerecaughtuptoastingYournameandYourholydeeds.'Godwassopleasedbythisresponsethat HecameveryclosetothisGeorgianandwhisperedinhisear,'Don'tworryaboutthehomelandyousee,there'sthisbeautifullittleplotIsetasideformyself...' Andthatishow,theTamadawillsayashetakeshisseatandfinishesthetoast,"weGeorgiansgotsucharichhomeland." WhenItraveledinAbkhaziaanunrecognizednationthatbrokeawayfromGeorgiathroughabrutalwarIwastoldthissamestorybyastoreownerover homemadevodkamixedwithhoneyandgrapes.Exceptinhisversion,itwastheAbkhazpeoplewhohadmissedtheselectionprocessbecausetheywere honoringGodbyattendingtotheirguests.TheAbkhaz,likealltheethnicitiesoftheCaucasus,pridethemselvesontheirhospitality.Aguestisagiftfrom above,Iwasrepeatedlytold,andtreatinghimwellisamatterbetweenthehostandGod.Hopingnottooffendhimashepouredanotherround,Itimidlypointed outthattheGeorgianshefoughthaveasimilarstoryoftheirorigins."Well,suretheydo,"theAbkhazigrinned,"theywereourguests." Abkhaziaislandofunsettlingcontradictions.IfirstencountereditsmixtureofprideandisolationwhenatwelveyearoldboynamedYurabegantotellmeabout thewaronmybumpybusrideintoSukhumi,thecapital.Thefirstthinghementionedwashisolderbrother'sfourteenthbirthdaypresentaKolashnikov.The brotherdidnotlivetoseefifteen. IttookanhourofwilddrivingondirtroadstogetdeepintothelegendaryAbkhazmountains,whereallmannerofvegetationovergreweverytrail.There, streamsofvarioussizescutupthelandjustasthejaggedpeakspartitionedthesky.Sukhumiitselfspiralsoutfromtheblacksea,withpalmtreesandbroad boulevardsparalleltotheshoreandgreenmountainssurroundingthesprawlingapartmentbuildingsonthecity'sperimeter. Yet,amidstSukhumi'sresorttownatmosphere,itisraretowalkablockwithoutseeingaburnedout,bulletriddenbuilding.Mostofthesehomesand businessesbelongedtotheGeorgianswhomadeupalmosthalfofAbkhazia'spopulationbefore1993(theAbkhazthemselvesmadeuparound20percent). Now,some250,000GeorgianrefugeeswhofledduringthewararerebuildingtheirlivesthroughoutGeorgia. MostoftheconversationsIhadwiththelocalseventuallycamebacktothewar.EverywherewereremindersofGeorgiansavageness:"here,inthislot,they smuggleddrugsandpastthelargerock,theyopenedfireonaboatfuloffleeingtourists...overthathill,theyfiredrocketsonahelicopterfullofevacuating pregnantwomen...."Thesestoriescannotbeverifiedandthereisnoshortageofrecriminations.InawarwagedbyGeorgia'spoorlytrainedarmyagainst Abkhazmilitias,withamessofmercenariesandparamilitaryelementsonbothsides,thefactsremainasmuddledasthedestructionisclear.

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11/24/13

The Land of Abkhazia by Vladic Ravich citizen journalism 2006 undergrad, Gather

WhenwearrivedinSukhumi,Yurainsistedonproudlyshowingoff"ourcapital"ashepointedoutallthemodernbuildingsandnewbusinesses.Nexttoathem wouldbeartilleryravagedskeletonsofbuildings,butYurionlyacknowledgedthembyguessingwhatwouldbeputupintheirplace. Duringthedaylightitishardnottosharehisoptimism.Thecityisstillverysparselypopulated,andwhileelectricitywasadailyquestion,itdidnotseemto mattertotheRussiantouristsortherestaurantownersthathappilycateredtothem.WhenItookoutmycamerainfrontofawarravagedchurch,anelderly AbkhazwomanscoldedYura"takeyourfriendtothenewbanktellhimtotakepicturesofthatinstead." Abkhaziaasacountryexistsinlimbo.TheAbkhazwonthewarandpushedtheGeorgiansoutoftheircountry,butonlywithcrucialsupportfromRussia. WhereasmostGeorgiansimmediatelyassumeRussiaprovokedthewar,itsroleremainstheelephantinthelivingroomofAbkhazpolitics.Russia'sinfluenceis rarelyacknowledgedbytheAbkhazatleastinthepresenceofanAmericanjournalist. SergeiShamba,Abkhazia'sdefactoForeignMinister,constantlyreferredtoGeorgia's"bloatedmilitarybudget"and"aggressive,opportunist"policy."Thenwhat keepsthemfrominvadingagain?"Ihadtoask."ItisfearTheyknowwhathappenedlasttime..." TheRussianPeacekeeperbasesthatcarveoutthisunrecognizednationwereconspicuouslymissingfromhislongwindedanswer. ItiscertainlyinRussia'sinteresttokeepGeorgiadestabilized.AfterthecollapseoftheSovietUnion,GeorgialeanedtowardtheWestandNATOthistrendhas onlyacceleratedsincetheRoseRevolution.IaskedAbkhazia'sdefactoPresidentBagapshifheisnervousaboutAbkhaziabeingswallowedintotheRussia Federation:"WeareasafraidofRussia,"hesaid,"asGeorgiaisafraidofAmerica." Thispoliticalandeconomicisolationmeanscrimeandsmugglingareconstantproblems.Atnight,theempty,unlitSukhumistreetslaybarethedangersthe Abkhazfacedailyeveryrooflessbuildingshellgrowsominousasitsshadowsfadeintodarkness.Thereisapoliceforce,butitisconcentratedinthetourist areas. ThewomanwhorentedmeanapartmentinsistedIshouldnotbeoutwhenthesungoesdown.OnmysecondnightinSukhumi,shetoldmeIhadmissedtwo phonecallsfromwomenclaimingtheyknewme.Iaskedherhowthiswaspossible,sinceIdidnotyetknowmyownnumber.ShebegantoaskmeaboutYura: HowdidIknowhim?Washeactingsuspicious?Itriedtoreassureherthathewasharmless,butsheexplained,"it'snothimI'mworriedabout.Hecouldhave toldhisfriendsorbrothers.Thisisasmallcityandtherearealotofthreats."Iunpluggedthephoneandwenttobed,afraidtoclosemyeyes.IknewYura meantnoharm,butIwonderedhowoftenhegoestobedwithhisownfears? Georgia'smaindemandisthereturnoftheGeorgianrefugeeswhowerechasedoutduringthewar.ThiswouldautomaticallymaketheAbkhazaminorityin theirowncountrynottomentiontheinevitableclashesbetweenthebitterneighbors.WhenItoldseveralmenfishingintheidyllicAbkhazmountainsthatIwas goingtointerviewtheirPresidentthenextday,oneleanedinandsaid,"heisapolitician,agoodone,buthecan'ttellyouthetruth.""Andwhat'sthat?"Iasked. "Hecan'ttellyouthatwehatethem." TheAbkhazhavetheirownproblematicdemand:fullrecognitionoftheirindependence.ToaGeorgian,thisisoutrageous,sincetheyconsidertheAbkhaza violentminoritythatforcedeveryoneelseoutwithRussianguns.Furthermore,Georgiaisdealingwithasimilarbreakawayrepublicinitsnorthandisunwilling tosetaprecedentforseparatisminanalreadyfracturedregion. Completecommitmenttopeacemustbethetouchstoneofanynegotiationsbecausethreatsandbluffscaneasilyspiraloutofcontrol.Internationalpressure mustfocusaboveallonavoidingwar.Thereisnocompromisethatwillresolvethetensioninonetriumphantpressconference,buttimemusthaveachanceto givethisregionagenerationraisedwithoutwar. Caucasiansarerenownfortheirhospitality.TheGeorgiansandtheAbkhaztreatedmewithmorewarmthandfriendlinessthanIcouldhaveeverhopedfor. Yet,despitearelativelypeacefulprewarhistory,theseneighborscannotevenvisitoneanothermuchlesswelcometheenemyasaguest."Welovetoshow ourlandtoanyguest,"saiddefactoPresidentBagapsh,"providedtheycomeasaguest." Originalphotolinkdied,sohereisalinktofacebookalbumwithsamephotosforthetimebeing: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2031414&id=28600650&l=85ced0db71
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11/24/13

The Land of Abkhazia by Vladic Ravich citizen journalism 2006 undergrad, Gather

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