Towards dawn the songs and dances on Rustaveli Avenue were replaced by an ominous silence - everyone was awaiting the attack of the security forces
Thirty years have passed since the tragic events of 9 April 1989 in Tbilisi, when the Soviet army used tanks and poisonous gas to rout out the peaceful demonstration of several thousand participants supporting the independence of Georgia.
As a consequence, 21 people were killed on Rustaveli Avenue, with hundreds wounded, maimed or poisoned.
The events of 1989 took place in front of the Georgian parliament. People started laying down flowers last night at the memorial erected in honour of those who had fallen.
On the morning of 9 April, politicians and representatives of various public organizations came to pay tribute to the victims.
“All our centuries-old history is the history of the struggle for freedom, which continues today.
“I bow to the memory of our heroes and I am sure that our people will remain faithful to those ideals around which we united 30 years ago.
“The result of this unification was the restoration of our statehood,” said Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, after laying down a wreath at the memorial.
Thousands of Georgian Facebook users have responded to the 30th anniversary of 9 April 1989 with the hashtag #WeRemember [Geo. #გვახსოვს].
Some users have posted lists of the names of those who died, while others have shared their memories of what transpired 30 years ago today.
A few noteworthy posts:
“We must always remember where we came from, who our enemy is and for what our forefathers fought.”
“On that night, my mother and her girlfriend barely came out alive. I believe that all those people who stood on the side of freedom are also making the right [pro-Western political] choice today.”
“This was the first time when my pain was not directed at my personal affairs. This was my first anger and hatred of Russia, my first desire to fight, which since then has not left me.”
“I was studying in school. Now I’m a grandfather already, and soon my grandchildren will go to school. But even years later, I am sure that freedom and independence are worth fighting for. Even at such a price. I am proud of my nation, which always fought for its freedom and independence.”
“The choice of a Euro-Atlantic orientation was not defined by the state of Georgia, but by the events on 9 April. On that day, we saw that we could not have a common future with killers.”
The night of 9 April 1989
On the night of 9 April, riot police appeared on Rustaveli at 3:56 am. Thousands of participants had gathered in front of the Parliament building. They had been informed that units of the Soviet army were ordered to disperse the demonstration.
In an effort to prevent bloodshed, the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia, Ilia II, asked the people several minutes before the raid to enter the temple and pray. The protesters, however, didn’t move.
At dawn the sounds of dancing and singing could be heard on Rustaveli Avenue, which was later replaced by deathly silence – the participants were in anticipation of the raid. Shorty after the Patriarch’s address, the armed forces started approaching the Parliament building. Armed with entrenchment shovels and blunt weapons, soldiers under the command of Colonel General Radionov started to brutally rout the protestors. The riot police also used chemical gas. As a result, 16 people were killed on the spot.
In the following days, the death toll reached 21. The majority of them were women (including pupils). Most of those who died received mortal wounds from entrenchment shovels, while 3,500 people were poisoned by gas.
Such was the dawn on that day. The tragedy was followed by the declaration of a curfew.
The Soviet Press, to this day, attempts to conceal the use of poisonous gas, and doesn’t mention soldiers using shovels to bludgeon the protestors. The deceased were declared victims of the clash.
The Communist Newspaper regarded the actions as prevention of disorder. Two years later, on 9 April 1991, the independence of Georgia was declared following the results of the referendum.
The Supreme Council, by order of Zviad Gamsakhurdia (the first democratically elected president of Georgia) adopted the act of the independence of Georgia’s statehood.