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Guram Odisharia: “We Will Have Permanent Problems with Abkhaz People Until Our Policy Becomes More Human”

March 12, 2010

Tako Khutsishvili

“Today, many people make slogans to restore territorial integrity. However, the main purpose is restoration human unity and relations. We do not need return of Abkhazia in square meters but first of all we should gain the trust of the people back. Unfortunately, politicians do not see the human factor at all. They just see politics and certain schemes,” said writer from Sokhumi Guram Odisharia in his interview with the

Guram Odisharia finished both secondary and high school in Sokhumi. He has been writing poems from childhood. However, his paintings were published earlier than his poems. By profession he is historian and linguist. He was advisor of the Union of Writers in Abkhazia and was active journalist in Sokhumi. Since 1987 he was editor of the magazine Ritsa in Sokhumi which, as he said, was a bridge between Georgian and Abkhaz peoples. After the fall of Sokhumi, he fled to Tbilisi via Caucasian range. Nowadays he is busy with writing novels. His book “Return to Sokhumi” was published 5 times and has become one of the reasons to start negotiations between Georgian and Abkhaz peoples. The writer has a lot of Abkhaz friends and still continues his relationship with them. Guram Odisharia believes that doors are never closed for human relations.

-Mr. Guram, you often visit Abkhazia. What kind of relation do you have with local people; have your relations changed?

-Our relation is very sincere. I often receive Abkhaz friends. Even completely unknown Abkhaz people visit me. Many Georgian and Abkhaz people visit each other. They are not famous people; and Georgian-Abkhazian Commission assists them too. I have friends and acquaintances almost in every field. I started negotiations with Abkhaz people in 1997. First I met them in Sochi. We have met in Tbilisi and other countries of the Caucasus. I was in Sokhumi on January 10, 2004 for the first time after the war.

-Wasn’t it difficult for you?

-It had its own pre-conditions. They had already read my books in Abkhazia. “Return to Sokhumi” was translated in Russian and they accepted this book very well. In the book I described my memories about beautiful city of Sokhumi, which they also miss. After the war, cities rapidly changed. Sokhumi has changed too. Thus, they read the book with nostalgia. People are fed up with tension and controversy. My book is full of sympathy and pains of both sides. In 1997, when first meeting of Georgian and Abkhaz public diplomacy was preparing, Abkhaz side wished to meet with me. I have my childhood friends in Abkhazia – they are Abkhaz, Greek, Armenian, Ukrainian and Jewish. We were very close to each other in the city. Current government of Abkhazia is also my generation. I avoid political meetings but they still invited me several times. I am not a politician or decision-maker. When elections are approaching, members of various parties call me and they request me to stand with them to show that they negotiate with Abkhaz people. But it is temporary action. After elections finish, they forget Georgian-Abkhazian relations. Abkhaz people know that I am independent writer and painter and sincerely understand their grief. So, it makes my relation with them easier. I can tell them some bitter truth directly, though they will not accept it from other person. One Abkhaz woman told me: I am happy and proud that I am member of Sokhumi literature circle.

-Do you think there is real resource for the reconciliation of Abkhaz and Georgian peoples? Maybe, you have thought of it quite often.

-After each conflict, there always exists resource for reconciliation because politics are changed and everything can happen very suddenly. We lived in Sokhumi before war and saw how situation was getting tenser. But neither we nor our Abkhaz friends believed similar war would break out. Unfortunately, neither party had leaders who could find a common language. It was a period of illusions. When time passed, these illusions disappeared. Everybody is aware of global politics. My friends and I think we will take honorable place in global politics with the support of our wisdom, historical experience, love and sympathy. Even a child knows the aggressive policy of Russia. They also feel Russian invasion on Abkhazian territory.

Today, many people make slogans that restoration of territorial integrity is very important. However, restoration of human unity and relations are most important. We do not need to return Abkhazia in square meters; but first of all we should gain back the trust of the people. Unfortunately, politicians do not see the human factor; they just see global politics and certain schemes. We cannot speak with the people with whom we co-existed and built churches during many centuries in accordance to these schemes. This genetic memory exists in people but many of them do not use it. We will have permanent problem with Abkhaz people until we make our policy human.

-The Human Rights Center started Sorry Campaign in 2007. People say Georgian people do not have anything to apologize for. What do you think about this campaign?

-I have information about this campaign and I appreciate it. Unfortunately, I do not know the reaction of Abkhaz people about it. Though, I know reaction of Georgian people – many of them get angry saying we have nothing to apologize for and they should apologize, etc. We both had radical leaders. Unfortunately, the leaders have not reached an agreement yet. When a person, even if he/she is not guilty at all, apologizes to another; it warms relations. I am one of those people who think that we could avoid the war. We must speak about our mistakes. We cannot achieve the goal unless catharsis does not occur in our hearts.

-Position of Abkhaz elderly people is very important for Abkhaz people. Reportedly, 20 years ago, at the so-called Likhni meeting, they had anti-Georgian position. What is their current position, how do they assess the reality?

-Unfortunately, in the current situation the opinion of Abkhaz elderly people is not that important and significant. Abkhazian society is small and still controversial. They see problems in various ways. Many Abkhaz people want to settle the complicated situation and are ready for dialogue. They want to find a common starting point for communication that will be good for both Abkhaz and Georgian peoples. There are also radical opponents of this relation who do not wish to negotiate with Georgian people. However, the recent events in Abkhazia, recognition of their independence by Russia and violence of Russian soldiers changed their opinion. It is urgently necessary that decision-makers do their job. But it is bad that the political elite has not analyzed the period of two years ago. They have not studied the causes of tensions and military operations. Unfortunately, they have not considered the opinion of people who had relation with opposite side.

-Did you visit your house in Sokhumi?

 -I have not visited my house since the war and I am not going to before everybody returns there. Before arrival in Sokhumi I visited North and South Caucasus; I saw many impoverished IDPs and realized one thing – unless people find a common language, my house is a composition of just sand and bricks for me which was standing and will stand in future too. Many people lost properties during the war but cemeteries and memory are most important for me; they should not disappear. My Abkhaz friend looks after my father’s grave; even the stone has not moved from the place. And it is the most precious thing for me.

We live in ultra-political space where there is small place left for human relations which was particularly important for us and the Abkhaz people before. Many people say that Abkhaz people hate us. This is not true. When you arrive there and get rid of newspapers and television, only ordinary relations remain. First lady of Abkhazia is Georgian – Shonia. It is a big resource.  Doors are never closed for human relations. We have not only common cuisine but our songs and dances are also similar. Our world-view is also common; I mean, we equally honor bravery, love and faith. Abkhaz people have not changed their Apsuara – unwritten moral law.