The case of Jariasheni village
In August 2008, the conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia started to escalate. On August 7th, Georgia started a military operation in order to hold the city of Tskhinvali. The next day, the action was followed by a 5 day war between Russia and Georgia. On August 12th, the two opposing sides, with the help of the EU and the president of France, signed a ceasefire agreement. On the 26th of August, Russia recognized the independence of de-facto South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Today, these areas are Georgian breakaway regions, unrecognized by most nations worldwide.
In early October of 2008, Russia removed its initial troops and other military forces out of Georgia; however, they installed buffer zones on the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian troops control the areas still today, which were formerly controlled and populated by the Georgian people. During the invasion by Russian troops, several important hotspots were occupied. One of them was the ancient, strategic city of Gori, which is located 15 Miles from de-facto Tskhinvali.
Jariasheni and the current situation at the border
Another Georgian village located in the war zone is Jariasheni. It is adjacent to the Gori municipality. Jariasheni is populated by 70 families and comprises 173 Acres. It was occupied as a result of Russo-Georgian war and nowadays remains under the control of Russian troops.
Jariasheni struggles mightily under the regime of creeping occupation. As a result of the occupation of private lands, 32 families are left beyond the border. The population suffers from significant emotional stress as a post-war syndrome; but this is not all about their struggle. Locals are not allowed to cultivate their own lands or even visit the graves of their ancestors and loved ones that are left beyond the border. This means they are left with no means to work the land and survive the economic distress.
The fact that the occupation border has illegitimately been expanded several times without a reaction from Georgia’s current government, leads the population to believe that local governmental defense services are not working properly and that the government’s approach towards Russian occupation is too timid. There have been several instances of kidnapping from the occupation lines. For example, on 27 November of 2016, an 18 year old Georgian citizen, Mikheil Khubulashvili, was arrested and kidnapped near the occupation border, the 4th abduction so far. Moreover, a similar incident took place in Artsevi, another village located in the border area, where three Georgian citizens were kidnapped and accused of crossing the occupation border, when in fact, they were visiting the graveyards of their family members on Easter holidays. In March 2016, Russian troops started construction of a road in the middle of Jariasheni, which crossed apple orchards of the population and the private property rights have been abused once more.
Visit to Jariasheni
My first visit to Jariasheni was part of a student protest. The visit was planned by Free and Agricultural University students on the 9th of April 2016 – the date was chosen symbolically – for Georgians, the 9th of April marks a demonstration which turned tragic in 1989 and when Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Georgian students arrived at the occupational line in Jariasheni village and held a rally to protest against the occupation of Georgian territory. The peaceful event consisted of a small performance of the song called “Sakartvelo” (Georgia), written by Irakli Charkviani (local composer), and the launching of kites with Georgian maps printed on them, as a symbol of the unity of the Georgian republic. The students of my age were extremely enthusiastic to visit the border and somehow express their support toward the local population.
However, the locals did not seem happy to have guests. They even expressed their dissatisfaction and stated this kind of visit might be counted as a provocation from Georgia and may be a threat to the people who live in the area. This attitude from the locals proved that the occupation not only harms the general political weather between Georgia and Russia, but also affects peoples’ everyday lives. It not only harms people economically, but destroys them psychologically by instilling distrust and fear.
Even today, while military clashes are absent, border defense is working in an illegitimate and violent way, without any recognition of human rights. There were no military troops during my visit in the village, but as the locals informed us, Russian soldiers appear from time to time near the border and arrest or remove someone. Basically, this is all to remind the population of their presence and power over them.
While living in Tbilisi, or other non-occupied areas of Georgia, it is hard to face the reality that is only a hour drive from the capital city. It is clear that Georgia is suffering from a creeping occupation and the people living close to the border areas are not physically safe. Georgian citizens still living in occupied areas cannot get help either from the Government of Georgia, and of course, neither from Russia. How long will it last and what is the best way to solve the Russian-Georgian conflict? Despite the variety of arguments, discussions and theories, this question still remains unanswered. Over the past two decades we’ve seen wars in Georgia destroy thousands of lives, as well as unanswered provocations not being a great help either.