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“Vast Part of Tskhinvali’s Residents Evacuated 1-Month before Battle”

Nona Suvarian, Tbilisi

“We might claim that Georgia initiated the war … but it appears at first impression more like a situation when somebody spits in your face twenty days on and finally you react by slapping that person back. Suddenly, the provocateur blames you for the overreaction and says, ‘I have only spit on you but I never hit you….”

“Georgia did not carry out any ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia. Maybe Georgia did not act properly but Georgians are not murderers,” Aleksandre Mnatsakanian, a key researcher for Human Rights Watch concluded in a recent conversation about the Georgia-Russian War with such important words. After hostilities, Aleksandre Mnatsakanian visited both Georgian and Ossetian sides in the conflict zone. On September 12 he shared his overall impressions in the conflict zone during a presentation of the Media Club, which was organized by the Human Rights Centre.


Aleksandre Mnatsakanian and his two colleagues first arrived in Tskhinvali in the evening of August 12. Earlier, on August 10 they had traveled to Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, Russia Federation. On August 11 and 12 they had the opportunity to witness the actual situation that had transpired in the villages of Tamarasheni, Zemo and Kvemo Achabeti, Kurta and Kekhvi in South Ossetia (Tskhinvali buffer zone).

Aleksandre Mnatsakanian: “I visited Tskhinvali one month before war operations actually started. The city had already been emptied of most residents. Two-thirds of the local male population of military age was dressed in military uniforms. It is now clear that nobody could insist this was peaceful city at the time. It was clear that only some elderly people had remained behind in Tskhnivali. There were no children or youth to be seen anywhere in the streets.  It was obvious that nobody could feel the heartbeat of an ordinary city. I asked old women in the street where the OSCE mission was located. The grandmothers showed me the way and then suggested me to leave the city immediately.

“As for the military operation itself, according to the tactic, everything was done ideally. The city was first hit by artillery shells and people found shelter in the basements of their homes. Then military units proceeded to occupy Tskhinvali. When people went out of the basements, they could see that a new government had been installed in their city. If Russia had not intervened in the conflict, everything would have still been OK. The Russian army used the same tactics as it had used in Grozno, a Chechen city in Russia.  There Russia had instigated a planned program of panic and it was the same with recent events. Georgia was blamed for carrying out ethnic cleansing and participating in organized genocide. However, I do not agree with such a conclusion, as Russia has no moral right whatsoever to even mention the word “genocide” – and I make this statement based on how it acted in Grozno, and especially in the village of Komsomolsk which was completely destroyed. 

Although Tskhinvali is severely damaged, only between 10-15 percent of houses are totally destroyed; and 15-25 percent of them are in need of some serious reconstruction; all the other need only cosmetic repairs. This information is not based on my personal observations – as it based on the data provided by“SpetsStroi” (Russian construction company), which is half military and half civilian in its structure. This company is now involved in the re-construction of the damaged and destroyed buildings. When I saw Tskhinvali I could only respond, “People have not you seen Grozno? So stop complaining!” Only basements remained in the village of Komsomolski. I know that destruction of each house means the tragedy of the people living there but the Russian Federation has not the right to speak about it. In addition, the most damaged or destroyed buildings are governmental structures or administrative entities where military units were actually deployed.

“I was walking in the street and ran into one man. He claimed, “Georgians are barbarians; even Hitler did not act so severely; how could they bomb kindergarten?!” I entered the kindergarten and saw many spent bullets casings on the floor. At that moment the same person told how some “guys had opened a military post here….” Thus, how it could be a kindergarten if soldiers were actually stationed here. “Why, the table on the wall states that it is kindergarten…but then where are the children?” “They are in Vladikavkaz.” I do not protest that troops opened their post in the kindergarten but when they manipulate with the military base you must consider that the building has been transformed into a base of military operations and was not being used as a kindergarten. The same can be said about Georgian army – if the Georgian army deployed their bases in the villages then they should not as well be now complaining about the Russians when they bombed peaceful villages.

“As for casualties, I would directly say that I do not know how many people died on the Ossetian side. I can mention only those figures that I managed to obtain officially.

“Even if I had not arrived in Tskhinvali, my 17-year-old working experience in hot spots was able to help me to guess that 2,000 people could not have been killed in Tskhinvali. Putin did not mention any figures at all. If 2 000 is the correct number then it would seem that dead bodies should be lying on every corner of Tskhinvali. How can seven thousand buildings be destroyed in three days? It is incredible because there is only something around 7-7, 5 thousand buildings in Tskhinvali in all. Not even the powerful Russian army could have managed such a feat in Grozno.

“We also entered Tskhinvali hospital and questioned several doctors: how many dead people had been delivered to the hospital. The doctor-on duty told us the number was 44. I asked, that figure indicates only peaceful civilians? No, he replied, civilians and soldiers all together. I was looking at my colleague astonished. I then proceeded to ask, “How many wounded did you register? The doctor replied that there were 273 in total. They then showed us the registration book where everything was properly recorded. Later, correspondent of the Itar-tass met me and said do you know how many dead bodies they actually have? I inquired and he whispered into my ear: the number was only 69.

I then asked him as just how he knew this figure?  He explained he had received the information from the investigation committee that is within the Russian Prosecutor’s Office. The committee confirmed the information though pointed out that final number had not yet been fully determined. I was leaving Russia one week ago when the investigation committee announced the estimated number of 134 dead on the Ossetian side. That figure consists of civilians, police, Abkhazian soldiers, MVD and FSB forces (intelligence), with the exception of Russian troops and deployed peacekeepers.


We visited villages starting from Tamarasheni to Kekhvi. It is clear that the on-going situation there was well-planned and involved a pattern of systematic looting and ethnic cleansing. On August 12 we could see only 4 people in those villages. To tell the truth, I traveled in those villages with two women from the HRW and we were afraid of looking too close. Thus, all we saw where the sights from our initial visit on the way. We witnessed a car driving along the road and a soldier suddenly gets out of the car and takes out a TV Set, fridge, washing machine, children’s clothes, bicycles and other stuff from the car. We arrived in Java and met local MPs. We asked them if they knew what was going in the villages of the valley. One of the MPs, Adolph, (I do not remember the surname) replied that Georgians had inflicted damage on them and consequently the troops are getting their payback. The head of Java Administration, a very honest person, is sitting next to him. He kicks him with leg to show that he is speaking about off the wall things. However, Adolph could not help his anger and told him: “Why are you kicking me? I am telling the truth, Georgians must not live here anymore!”

“The villages of Tamarasheni, Kekhvi, Zemo and Kvemo Achabeti do not exist any more. Everything has been burned to the ground. We saw several old people. I saw an old woman with burns to her body. I know just several words in Georgian and when she heard my Georgian, the woman begged me not to speak in her native language. We gave her 500 Russian rubles; she could not buy anything in the village but if the looters would threaten to kill her then she might be able to bribe them with that money.

“When we were driving through those villages, several houses were still standing; but on our way back everything was burnt down. One, two, three, ten… We took pictures from the car. People in New-York office of the Human Rights Watch asked me whether houses on our pictures were one and the same. No, they were not; they were several houses just standing next to each other. I hope, one day Russia will be charged for its illegal behavior. I want it not because I do not love Russia, but because I love Russia. If Russia finally wins, it means it will be very difficult to continue living in that country.

Who Started War?

As for who started the war, we might say that Georgia started it. But it is like the situation when somebody spits in my face for 20 days and finally I slap him back. Then he turns around and blames me for slapping back, claiming he had not abused me just spit in my face several times… and continues to claim innocence by saying I did not hit you.

Russia was the first to breach the 1994 agreement that was negotiated. South Ossetia did not have right to keep heavy artillery on its territory under the terms of this agreement. Russia was the guarantor of this agreement. However, 6 artillery pieces were in South Ossetia and only 4 of them were actually working. Consequently, Russia did not fulfill its responsibilities under the mandate.

It is much discussed about who was using artillery. Journalists or law enforcers cannot make an exact estimation. Most weapons have Soviet markings on them. Only special units are able to investigate it. However, there is one point, any authority that uses artillery indiscriminately must be punished for such a blatant action.

“Maybe, Georgia was not acting perfectly but Georgians are not murderers.”

Aleksandre Mnatsakanian recalls the relationship of Ossetians with Georgians; he also explains just how scared the population was at the time.

“There was an incident in Khetagurovo. We entered the village and traveled to the southern part of it, close to the village of Nikozi. We saw an old man standing near his house. There is a huge hole in the wall. He told us that Khetagurovo was bombed on the night of August 8. Georgians entered their village in the morning of August 8; when they saw that there was nobody, detained somebody and then left the place. Then Russians later arrived and they also soon departed. The village was bombed on August 8 and 9, and in the morning hours of August 9 Georgians entered in the village and seeing the hole in the wall asked the old man if he needed their help.

“Ossetians claimed Georgians are barbarians. They took our peaceful civilians, boys to Gori. Then I asked-where are those boys now? They replied: Georgians returned them on that same evening because they did not need civilian hostages….

“We went to Akhalgori. We met a young girl there. She said: “Oh these Georgians are animals; they captured my boy-friend; seized his guns; beat him and broke his ribs and then they let him go…” I thought if it happened in Russia, not only that boy but the whole settlement would have been totally destroyed.”

An Ossetian “KGB” agent in Tskhinvali suggested us to go and see one street where people were shot in the basements. But, we had visited that street on the previous night and no such thing had happened. As a rule, under such circumstances people are guilty of spreading exaggerated information, and if they really had encountered such incidents, then they would have shared their experiences with us. Anyway, we went there to see for ourselves. I met a woman and I asked her whether people had actually been shot in the basements. She agreed and said they had been inhumanly attacked. Then I asked whether people had died? She denied; there were no wounded either. I then inquired whether she was sure about the basements and people being shot (I repeated the question several times). However, in the end the woman still said that she was sure. I then asked: Were you in one of the basements? Yes she was. We entered the basement with a lantern and could not see any bullet holes or results of grenade blasts there. The woman explained they were firing at the staircases. I took pictures of the entire wall but there was nothing. Then she said: “I do not know where they were shooting. I have picked up plenty of bullet casings in the yard….

What can I write after that? Anyway, I understand that woman. She was really scared. If you hear firing from artillery for two days you would definitely be scared too!

It is evident that Georgia did not carry out ethnic cleansing. Maybe, Georgia did not act their best but Georgians are not murderers….”

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Name: გიორგი
2011-10-16 06:56
რუსები ფაშისტები არიან
Name: სოფო
2011-02-16 15:28
მე აჩაბეთიდან ვარ, ვკიტხულობ ამ ინტერვიუს და თვალებიდან ცრემლი ტავისიტ მოდის.მადლობა ასეთი საოცარი სიტყვებისთვის.
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