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Stealth Genocide
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Madina Gusalti is a journalist from South Ossetia who arrived here on the afternoon of Fri., Aug. 8 to visit a classmate from university in Germany. She had asked to come and work at the Messenger for a week to see how a Canadian community newspaper operates, but just hours before arriving in our community, Georgian soldiers had invaded her homeland, destroying homes and murdering innocent women, children and the elderly. Among the 2,000 slaughtered were her uncle and two cousins, killed by a Georgian soldier who found them and tossed a grenade into their hiding space. It is the third time that South Ossetia has faced an ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Georgian government, but it is a story that the western media has either ignored or denied. This is her story a story of her people and their culture, their hope, their horrors, and the genocide that the world refuses to see. 

 

 

I look at the moon every night, and I wonder. This moon that I look at every 

night while I am visiting here is the same moon that my people in South 

Ossetia look at. Here, it is a beautiful moon, surrounded by stars. I see 

airplanes flying below it on their way to the Ottawa airport. But to the 

people in my homeland, this same moon is looked upon differently. It is a 

moon of fear. It is a moon that tells us it is night time ¬ a time to be 

afraid of what may happen in the night. Ossetians do not have time to study 

the moon¹s beauty, but they wonder if they will see the moon tomorrow night. 

Like there is another side of the moon, there is another side to the story 

that has been unreported by the western media. This is the story that 500 

million Eastern Europeans know, but one that the media has kept away from 

Canadians and Americans. The story you have heard is that Russia invaded 

and occupies a sovereign nation. The truth is both far more simple, and far 

more complex. This is the story of my family and my land. 

 

They died without reason in their beds, on the night of August 7. On the eve 

of the Beijing Olympics, while the world waited to celebrate the opening 

ceremonies in front of their television screens, the first of hundreds of 

artillery shells smashed through their ceilings, incinerating children and 

parents in their beds. They destroyed furniture, family photographs, 

heirlooms ¬ everything that could burn, along with the overall sliver of 

security that the people believed they finally had. The shells rained down 

without warning. There was no time to escape or defend. By morning, 2,000 

Ossetian people lay dead. 

 

Two days earlier, these people sat in front of their televisions and watched 

the president of Georgia professing his love of South Ossetian people, 

promising them continued safety in the territory they reside. This message 

was supposed to be the commencement of peaceful negotiations between Georgia 

and South Ossetia regarding peace in the region. This message proved to be a 

deceptive ploy, a communiqué unobserved by western watchers, facilitating 

the surprise evening attack that left 2,000 South Ossetians dead. 

 

The heavily-equipped Georgian army entered the town of Tshinvali, executing 

an operation that had been planned since 2006, code named ³free field². The 

secret operation was uncovered in documents from a small group of Georgian 

soldiers, recently captured by Ossetian civilians. The military operation 

called for the quick and efficient destruction of all homes and their 

inhabitants; predominantly children, women and the elderly. My grandfather 

escaped the city the morning of August 8, awoken by the Russian Army who had 

entered the region to protect citizens, like my grandfather, from the 

invading Georgians. It was not an invasion by the Russians, it was a 

defensive action that was made in the nick of time. ŒNo people, no problem¹ 

was already the longstanding motto in Georgian politics, made famous by the 

most famous Georgian in history, Stalin. I am guessing these words are still 

relevant in Georgia. The Georgian military orders were clear ¬ no one was to 

remain. 

 

My grandfather was the lucky one. He survived. That same night of Aug. 7, I 

lost my uncle and both of his daughters ¬ my cousins. They were murdered by 

Georgian soldiers in their home in the middle of the night, less than 24 

hours after the Georgian President had promised peace. 

 

In 1992, the parents of my uncle were murdered by soldiers in Georgia for no 

other reason than because they were South Ossetian. They were killed in 

their home. They were Ossetian by blood, but lived in Georgia in the home 

their family had owned and lived in for three generations. They were shot at 

point blank range, executed in front of their children and two grandchildren 

both under five years of age. They were all told, before the trigger was 

pulled, to watch closely, ³This is what we do to Ossentians in Georgia². 

 

Over the years, many of my family members have fled the South for the North. 

One evening in 1991, my aunt (my motherŒs sister) and her two daughters fled 

Georgia to North-Ossetia in the backseat of an old Ziguli brand car, hidden 

under potatoes, motionless, and barely able to breathe. The car was driven 

by an ethnic Georgian, who passed through numerous military checkpoints 

under the guise of transporting the produce to a distant market. The 

Georgian man risked his life for my family. He saved their lives. 

 

During the war from 1989-92, South Ossetia lost almost half of its 

population. Thousands of people had to leave their homes and thousands of 

refugees travelled through the Caucasus Mountains to North Ossetia for 

refuge. Tshinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, still has not recovered. 

Even after 16 years, there remains no municipal water system and electricity 

is barely intermittent, coming from fuel powered generators. Food is 

available, however, unfortunately food exists for the same reason that the 

region was so easily attacked by the Georgian army two weeks ago ¬ all the 

males are gone. Forced to leave for employment, they earn money as migrant 

workers in Russia and other CIS regions and send money and food back from 

North Ossetia. 

 

I want you to know that the civilian people of Georgia don¹t want war. They 

are simple people, who in that sense are no different from the Ossetian 

people. I hold no grudge or hate toward them. I tell this story as I lived 

it. This is a war of politics and economics; a war of geography and egos. 

The people who are caught in the middle are the ones who suffer. When 

innocent people die, resentful people are born. This is why the conflict 

must be resolved while a few still remain on both sides who have still not 

been completely jaded by war. Peace must be built for both sides. 

Three genocides have already been committed against the Ossetians by the 

Georgian government. Why does this remain unreported? Why hasn¹t the 

Ossetian story been heard? 

 

The Russian army did not invade Georgia. They entered South Ossetia to force 

out the invading Georgians who were in the process of killing the remaining 

Ossetian people. If the Russian army had not arrived within 12 hours of 

Georgia entering South Ossetia, the 2,000 dead would clearly have been more, 

and the culture and people erased from the region forever. Later, the 

Georgian army admitted that they never anticipated the Russians to arrive so 

quickly, having estimated their undefended attack could last for days before 

any resistance would appear. 

 

The population of South Ossetia is roughly 80,000. Obviously, a population 

of this size commands a very small audience on the world stage; therefore 

its voice is rarely heard. The territory is surrounded by Georgian land. 

The territory is not sovereign, nor does it form part of a supportive 

nation. It remains alone. The people hold no citizenship to their land. Over 

time, they have gradually been granted Russian passports even though the 

land is not Russian. Without these papers, they remain hostages to their 

land. Imagine living in a land where you can´t leave because, legally, your 

citizenship does not exist. Ninety percent of the South Ossetian people hold 

Russian passports, and as a result, Russia considers it their responsibility 

to defend these people against aggression, which is where this conflict 

stands. 

 

It is a personal shame that the world hears only about my land in connection 

with conflict and war. It is a pity that in today¹s time of open 

international politics, with hundreds upon hundreds of international 

organizations, who are tasked to grapple with these issues, that truths 

still remain untold and voiceless people continue to suffer. 

The world turns on its televisions, they see smoke, rubble, tanks and 

soldiers generally in barely identifiable military fatigues. The newscaster 

flashes unpronounceable names and cities, but the story is never completely 

explained. The connections and backgrounds behind the conflict and the 

people who have died, will die, and those who must carry their memory, are 

an afterthought. 

 

It is a pity that in the time when the free press defends freedom, the truth 

and story of these people¹s lives still remains untold. 

This is the picture of my land ¬ South Ossetia ¬ that you have come to 

learn. What I want you to remember is that the story of these people 

continues to be untold and, therefore, continues to suffer in the dark. The 

country¹s struggle has now been lost in the international political battle 

between Russia and Georgia, a battle which receives far more attention than 

the 80,000 voiceless souls who live within a territorial line that has 

become the background for the news stories you see and hear. For the last 80 

years, South Ossetian people have lived for peace, freedom and autonomy. 

They have again paid a very high price for their hopes ¬ they paid with the 

lives of their children, mothers and grandparents. 

 

History of Ossetia 

Ossetia is the country of the Ossetians and lies in the Caucasus, nestled 

between the Caspian and Black Seas. Today, the country is divided 

politically into two different areas, bordering on each other¹s regions and 

belonging to the different states. North Ossetia-Alania is a part of Russia, 

South Ossetia is an internationally-not-approved separate republic in 

Georgia. The Ossetians are descendants of Alans and the Sarmatian people, an 

old Iranian nomadic group which moved approximately 5,000 years ago from 

Persia in the Caucasus. 

 

The culture of Ossetians is unique. The language of Ossetian is threatened 

with extinction and is, hence, a sign for the today¹s history and above all 

a unique spring for the linguists. South Ossetia has an old and unique 

culture, and it even has its own religion. The Georgian government wants to 

eradicate the culture and the language, refusing to allow the language into 

schools. People even have to change the spelling of their surnames to a 

Georgian name to get jobs. The South Ossetians are proud of their language 

and culture, and want to preserve it. 

 

King Arthur was a Scythian warrior, or that Alans left, everywhere in 

Europe, their tracks of sophisticated culture, inspiring scientists over 

and over again. This identity and culture is what the Ossetians have tried 

always to preserve. 

 

Georgia-Ossetic conflict 

At the end of the 20th century, the breakdown of the communist regime in 

Eastern Europe created several bloody and unforgotten ethnic conflicts, one 

of these remains the Georgian-Ossetian war. 

The autonomous status of South Ossetia was granted in 1923 in the Georgian 

Socialist Soviet Republic. Near the end of the 1980s, Abkhazian and Ossetic 

nationalists started to seek more autonomy. The communist regime, 

particularly that of the Soviet Union, has consistently tried to manage and 

accommodate the national and ethnic differences between the people of 

region. Now free from communist doctrine, the Georgians, although having 

originally granted Ossetia autonomy, have continued to remove this right of 

free rule and cultural independence of the Ossetian people. This explains 

the surpression of the Ossetian culture and language, as explained above. 

The Georgians brought instability into the territory in order to drive the 

people out of their land. They persecuted the Ossetians through looting, 

killing of cattle, burning of crops, and have instilled fear in the people 

through extortion. 

 

this time that Ossetia¹s national language was first forbidden. The only 

language to be spoken was Georgian. All Ossetian people were forced to 

change their names to Georgian names. The people became ³guests² in their 

own land. The houses of Ossetian and Abkhazian people were burned. The 

Georgian army threw the small children, old people and pregnant women off of 

cliffs, which are plentiful in this mountainous region. They burned 

thousands of towns and villages and, within days, 5,500 people were killed. 

After three weeks, the first purge of South Ossetia left the territory 

nearly bare. It was at this moment that South Ossetia was granted autonomy 

in Georgia. 

Currently, the Georgian government continues to call itself a democratic 

sovereign nation, safe for its people and neighbours. Georgia does not call 

its actions genocide, they call it war. But a war is between two armies, not 

between an army and a nation of women, children and the elderly, who are 

killed in their sleep. There are very few men in South Ossetia, as most are 

away working in Russia. 

 

For several decades, the South Ossetian government has tried to achieve the 

status of a sovereign state. I, and my people, want no war. We want to live 

with our neighbours in peace. We want a state where there is no fear of 

repercussion; where we can live proudly in a country that allows its people 

to have its history and culture. Never again do we want tears. Never again 

do we want grief. There is a new hope for peace and freedom, but it is a 

pity that so many people had to die for this dream. 

 

It¹s difficult for some people to understand what our people are going 

through and how we feel. Canada is beautiful, and everybody in your 

community has been wonderful to me. Canadians are a lot like Ossetians. Our 

countries are beautiful and our people are friendly. The people I have met 

are proud to be Canadian, just as we are proud to be Ossetian. 

In Canada, however, people can stop and enjoy the beauty of their country. 

In Ossetia, there is no time to enjoy the beauty of the land. We stay home, 

and when we go out, we are afraid. We cannot stop to see how beautiful our 

country is. We just do what we have to do, and then we go home as quickly as 

possible. The people are angry and upset and afraid. They don¹t know what 

the next day will bring. Ossetians are, culturally, a very loud and happy 

people. In the evening we would celebrate life. There would be guitars being 

played on the streets and people would be happy and dancing and having fun. 

But the biggest difference that I see is with children. In Canada, the 

children laugh and play and smile. They even cry. In Ossetia, we have a 

generation of children who cannot be children. They may not understand 

politics, but they know fear. I want that to stop. I want the children ¬ 

both Ossetian and Georgian ¬ to have peace and to have hope. More than 

anything, I want the children to have the same childhood that I had in 

Ossetia. I want them to laugh and to cry and to smile and to dance. I want 

them to be children. But that is a dream. Right now, a bigger issue is that 

women are afraid to even have families. What kind of violent world would we 

be bringing children into? 

 

And at night, I want them to look up and see the moon, and I want them to 

feel what I am feeling when I look at it here in your homeland. 

 

 

Madina Gusalti is currently completing her PhD in Politics and Languages at the University of Hamburg, Germany. She is an active member of the NGO, non-political group that promotes cultural understanding within the Caucasus region, as well as the Ossetic and Georgian Diaspora “Alanis”. 



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Outstanding Ossetians