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Building Trust across Wire-Fences

October 29, 2015
Lado Bitchashvili, Shorena Bitchikashvili, Shida Kartli

„If we wait for the removal of these wire-fences to start dialogue between the peoples, we will lose much time. We must start actions immediately,” executive director of Human Rights Center Aleko Tskitishvili opened the meeting with these words on October 23 in Nikozi village, Gori municipality. The meeting was about Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian dialogues. 

The meeting was organized in the frame of the project Coalition for Trust. Organizations working on trust building and reconciliation initiatives, residents of Nikozi village and representatives of the NGOs operating in Shida Kartli participated in the meeting. All of them strive for peaceful regulation of Georgian-Ossetian conflict and have implemented many activities in this direction. The purpose of the meeting was to start a dialogue between the civil society and grass root population of the conflict affected region, to exchange experiences and opinions about trust-building processes.

Several houses in Nikozi village still have traces from 2008 Russian-Georgian armed conflict. Tskhinvali is located several dozen meters from the village. You can view the town with its residential buildings and people walking in the streets from the hill in the village. One of the districts in Tskhinvali – Shankhai was almost linked to Nikozi village and before the war locals took products to the Tskhinvali market across this district. Maintenance of these trading relations after 1990s conflict mitigated tense relations between the conflicting parties. “Before 2008 we had rebuilt the trust,” Mzia Mosiashvili, resident of Nikozi village said.

Mzia Mosiashvili: “Our relations stopped in 1991 but we, people, managed to restore trust. We could not only spend nights in Tskhinvali but otherwise we could travel there every day, we sold our products and purchased other products there. Since 2008 everything was lost. We must restore trust again but unlike 1990s the situation is much more complicated now. Russian soldiers were not deployed in so many checkpoints before 2008. Nowadays, people are not allowed to cross these checkpoints from either side.”

Journalist of the Radio Liberty/Free Europe Goga Aptsiauri often reports about peacebuilding initiatives. In parallel to his professional activities, he actively participates in the Georgian-Ossetian civil dialogue.

Goga Aptsiauri, journalist of Radio Liberty/Free Europe: “I always suggest NGOs to leave offices, visit villages and meet people who were directly affected by the conflicts because they most of all praise the peace. We must not speak about conflict resolution only from Gori and Tbilisi but first of all we must start process here, where people were direct targets of the war. Many organizations work on the resolution of Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts but people, who live in the villages, do not know about their activities. So, it is necessary that they [NGO members] came here and selected young people who will participate in the peacebuilding process.”

After 2008 armed conflict, Lia Chlachidze established nongovernmental organization Ergneti and implemented significant projects for the promotion of peace process. Nowadays, Chlachidze works at the Gori district administration. She believes the state shall work harder to rebuild trust. “Unfortunately, the state is too late to take concrete steps. Although I personally work for the state institution, I can make this statement loudly. We have delayed working process on the restitution problem. Ossetian citizens, whose properties were seized in 1990s and were persecuted on ethnic grounds, still have not achieved justice,” Lia Chlachidze said.

Civil activist and Law Lecturer Arina Tavakarashvili said surveys are very important for the trust-building process, will it be survey of public opinion or other scientific studies in the field. The main point is that surveys shall be conducted alongside the ABL where victims of the armed conflict live.

Aleko Tskitishvili, executive director of Human Rights Center: “Although it is complicated situation in Shida Kartli and people are divided by wire-fences, today’s meeting again demonstrated the wish of people to live together. It shows the ways how we can reconcile. We discussed the resources which will support the reconciliation process. It is good that special medical programs are implemented by the state for Ossetian and Abkhaz people. Doctors working in Nikozi also participate in this program. There is an outpatients in the village with well-equipped laboratory and doctors are ready to provide people living on the other side of the wire-fence with medical assistance. Although there are artificial barriers like wire-fences, the desire of people is the most important. There are mixed families, who more or less maintain contacts with their relatives on the other side of the ABL. Today we heard stories that people often contact with each other on the phone and sometimes they even manage to meet. We also saw that it is necessary that the government supported the trust-building process to speed up reconciliation.”

Since 2012, Norwegian Helsinki Committee with financial support of EC and Norwegian Foreign Ministry has been implementing project Coalition for Trust in the South Caucasus region in partnership with local nongovernmental organizations. In Georgia, Human Rights Center and Multinational Georgia are partners of the project. Public discussions and TV-debates were organized in the frame of the project. Georgian civil society representatives met their Abkhaz and Ossetian colleagues several times.