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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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”.