A new Georgian film, Liza, Go On, has been released in theaters in time to mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the 1992-93 Abkhazian war. Directed by Nana Janelidze, the movie is based upon the real-life experiences of Lia Toklikishvili, who covered the conflict for major Georgian newspapers. “If we don’t confess and repent,” the lead character in the move declares, “we won’t get anything back.”
Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. I had the pleasure of vacationing in Gagra in August of 1991. I stayed in the villa of Lavrenti Beria. But mafia guys kicked me out of the villa before my vacation ended. There was fighting in the region shortly after and I always wondered if that was why they kicked me out. They even purchased train tickets for me so I could leave early. The slaughter that took place there in 92 is so sad... I don't even know if the villa where I stayed is still there. I am glad your father-in-law survived and lived on to build a life in the US. And I am glad he defended that bridge. Such a beautiful, lush region... it hurts to see it torn apart by fighting. I can only imagine how your father-in-law felt when he was torn from his beloved land.
This was really beautiful, Scott.
Puts into a spotlight the arrogance and inhumanity of the current crop of war-mongers, where lives are seen as “cheap” and death is an abstraction...
Thank you Scott, for such an eloquent article, anyone who is unfamiliar with the horrors of war will gain a far greater understanding because of your words. Thank you again, and I grieve for your family's losses of both land, and loved ones.
Thank you very much Scott! I spent many happy summers on Sulhumi beach. My uncle and his family gad to flee, when this all began..My father still cannot talk about his brother's ordeal and what happened there...
The fact is that the Georgian military were firing missiles into civilian apartment buildings where Russian-speaking civilians were living and this is what initiated Russia's response. Even the BBC's flagship news vehicle 'Newsnight' had an exhaustive programme which confirmed this was the case and confirmed in so doing that it was the Georgian government who initiated the violence.
'What really happened in South Ossetia?'
Three months after its short but bloody war with Russia, Georgia is facing increasingly difficult questions about its role in the conflict.
Its attack on August 7 on the break-away region of South Ossetia triggered a Russian invasion, which in turn sparked the biggest crisis in east-west relations since the Cold War.
The United States, Britain and other Western governments offered Georgia strong diplomatic support, accusing Russia - South Ossetia's ally - of aggression and massive over-reaction.
But now mounting evidence is casting doubt on Georgia's account of the origins and course of the war. It suggests that Georgia played a bigger role than it admits in provoking the conflict, and that it may have violated the rules of war in the first days of the fighting.
The latest evidence comes from the international community's chief observer in Georgia at the time, former British army officer Ryan Grist.
When war broke out, he was acting head of mission for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, which acts on behalf of its 56 member governments in Europe, North America and Central Asia as an early warning system for upcoming trouble in conflict zones.
The OSCE's briefings to member governments are confidential. But Mr Grist, who's now resigned from the organisation, told Newsnight in an exclusive TV interview what he and his fellow monitors reported before and during the war.
On the night of August 7-8 he was in constant contact with the three OSCE military monitors based in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, when Georgia launched its artillery strikes on the town of about 30,000 people.
"It was an indiscriminate attack on a civilian town," he told Newsnight.
"The monitors who remained there that night reported 40 to 50 shells landed close to their office and that is nowhere near any target - though it is near the base of the Russian peacekeepers."
Ten members of the Russian peacekeeping battalion in South Ossetia were reported killed in the attack - one of the justifications the Kremlin used for ordering its troops into the territory on August 8th.
Georgia insists Ossetian militia had attacked Georgian villages from sites at or near the peacekeepers' base.
But Mr Grist's account backs up eye-witness testimony gathered by the BBC in Tskhinvali, which suggests most damage was to ordinary homes and civilian infrastructure.
During our visit, the first unrestricted access granted to a Western news organisation since the war, I heard accounts, and saw evidence, of how Georgian 'Grad' rockets - which cannot be accurately targeted - fell on residential quarters of the town.
In at least one case Georgian tanks were said to have fired directly and repeatedly into an occupied apartment block, killing one civilian sheltering in the basement, and fatally wounding another.
The international investigative organisation Human Rights Watch, which has carried out its own research in Tskhinvali, also believes Georgia used "indiscriminate force" against civilian buildings - a violation of the Geneva Conventions governing the conduct of war.
Human Rights Watch now says it also has evidence that Georgia - as well as Russia - made extensive use of cluster munitions during the war. It says that caused civilian casualties, including some in Georgian villages.
Georgia denies it ever deliberately targeted civilian objects during the war. It also claims the main Russian invasion of Georgia began about 20 hours before its attack on Tskhinvali.
But the BBC understands that OSCE monitors have been unable to confirm that. Mr Grist said there were "provocations", including shooting incidents, by both the Georgian and the Ossetian sides in the run-up to the war. But he said Georgia was responsible for a "severe escalation" of the conflict in July.
For the first time in several years, it fired artillery rounds at targets within Tskhinvali - an incident he says he reported to a meeting of foreign diplomats in Georgia.
"At the briefing when these 20 or so ambassadors arrived," he said, "I made the point very clearly that this was a severe escalation.
Not only did it put our staff, and every civilian in Tskhinvali at risk, but [the town] has Russian peacekeepers. It would give the Russian Federation any excuse it needed to support its own troops."
Several hours before Georgia launched its major attack on Tskhinvali on August 7th, President Mikheil Saakashvili appeared on television to offer the separatist forces a unilateral ceasefire.
Georgia says South Ossetia ignored the peace offer and began intense firing on ethnic Georgian villages within the region.
But that firing does not appear to have been recorded by Western military monitors. And Mr Grist told Newsnight Georgia was already moving artillery into position around Tskhinvali on the 7th, in apparent preparation for a possible assault on the town.
His allegations have been strongly disputed by the Georgian government. The deputy foreign minister Giga Bokeria told the BBC that Georgia had called for an investigation into all the disputed facts and the credibility of Mr Grist's reports were "highly questionable".
He said: "The continuous attacks on Georgian controlled villages prior to 7th August are confirmed by numerous sources including the documented report by the OSCE."
All attempts of the Georgian government prior to the 7th August to engage in ceasefire negotiations with separatists had failed because the separatist had refused to meet. Earlier attempts by the OSCE and EU had also failed.
Georgia deeply regretted any loss of civilian life.
He said: "The damage to Tskhinvali was due to several factors. One huge factor was the Russian aerial and artillery bombardment of the city after Georgian forces took control of it after 8th August. This is not my version - this has been independently verified by numerous international organisations."
Mr Bokeria said there was extensive evidence Russia's involvement began 20 hours before Georgia's action.
Georgia argues that Russia, the main backer of the Ossetian separatists, had laid long-term plans to justify and prepare for a possible invasion of the territory, including the granting of Russian citizenship to thousands of South Ossetians and the building of new military installations.
But Mr Grist, who has worked as a monitor and peacekeeper in conflict zones for 15 years, said Georgia had not made sufficient efforts to reintegrate South Ossetia peacefully into the rest of the country.
"The Georgians were only ever lukewarm to this idea of peace," he said.
"There are many Ossetians who want to go to [the nearby Georgian town of] Gori to do their shopping.... Many Ossetians were tired [of the conflict], some I know personally are people who got involved in the early 90s [in fighting against Georgia] and almost through an accident of history have stayed in uniform since that time. And if more efforts had been made [by Georgia,] and a real hand held out to the South Ossetians, things could have been different."
You really did justice to this history, Scott. Much respect.
This brings me to tears and I'm just in the first few paragraphs.
Powerful piece, Scott, thank you, my good man!
War is hell, always!
Always look forward to your posts Scott!
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Nice personal story. Thanks. What I really would like to know is the history of the Abkhazian animosity towards the Georgians. Why did they feel so strongly that they had to go? Was it a majority or minority movement?
A detailed tribute to the memory of those brave defenders.
Thank you for reminding us what humanity is.
Passionately written, from the heart. Thanks Scott
I appreciate Scott Ritter's very moving narrative, a beautiful tribute to his Georgian father in law. I particularly appreciate it because I grew up during World War II - and also traveled to the Soviet Union in 1988, which included a visit to Georgia. I wrote a memoir about all this, The Door in the Nightmare, which was published in 2021.
However, I wish Scott had also explained about the Georgian/Abkhasian conflict, and the Role of Russia - and how all this relates to the turmoil following the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. I feel Scott would be ONE source I could trust to explain it all.
I love the way Scott writes more than the way he speaks. I feel sorry for Georgian people . In the early 90s I too wrote on my notebook “the value of peace is really tasted by those who endured war”. I believe anyone who had been in a conflict due to circumstances yearns for peace more than anything else. Watching “The Bridge” may not happen soon, but reading your articles is a treat. May you succeed with your fight for peace so we all could live a better life in this world!!