Georgia mourns Papa Data – the story of a man whose home got swept up in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict
The death of Papa Data
Many in Georgia are commemorating the death of Data Vanishvili, an 88-year-old man commonly known as “Grandfather Data, who lives behind the barbed wire.”
His house stands right on the dividing line in the village of Khurvaleti, Gori region, in the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. A barbed wire passes through his home and lands, installed by the Russian military in 2013.
The house ended up on territory controlled by the Ossetian side and Russian border guards, but grandfather Data and his wife refused to leave it. Since then, he has been virtually the only ethnic Georgian to give interviews through barbed wire to journalists from different countries, foreign high-ranking officials and even presidents.
Not long before his death, 88-year-old grandfather Date fell seriously ill and was unable to get out of bed.
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Borderisation and Papa Data
In 2013, a process began in the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, which became known by its English name – borderisation. The Russian military began to erect barriers along the line of demarcation of the sides, which in South Ossetia is called the state border.
The process was started by the Ossetian side, the Russian border service and the state security committee in 2009, a few months after the Georgian-Russian war over South Ossetia in August 2008. Russia then recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
The Russian military, with the participation of the Ossetians, erects barbed wire fences, metal or wooden barriers, digs ditches and fire-fighting furrows, erecting signs with the words “state border of South Ossetia” and putting up observation infrastructure. Some of the fences pass right through the courtyards of homes in Georgian villages in the conflict zone, depriving local residents of housing and access to gardens, pastures, and cemeteries. Tbilisi calls this process “creeping annexation or occupation.” The work has intensified since 2013.
The barbed wire passed through Vanishvili’s house in the village of Khurvaleti when Date’s grandfather was 80 years old. If he had moved to the territory controlled by Tbilisi, he would have become a refugee, having lost his home where he lived all his life. He and his wife chose to stay in their home. And they spent eight years this way, communicating with the outside world through the wire.
All these years, they were helped by neighbors, whose houses remained in the part of the village controlled by the Georgian side. At night they brought them their pensions, medicine – everything they needed.
And Data Vanishvili looked after the graves of their relatives buried in the cemetery, which remained on the territory controlled by the Ossetian side.
Over time, Papa Data became a kind of symbol of the victims of the 2008 Georgian-Russian war. This story has been told by many media around the world, including the BBC, National Geographic, and Amnesty International, an international non-governmental organization.
Leaders of other countries and diplomats who came to the conflict zone to get acquainted with the situation often stopped by in Khurvaleti to talk with Data Vanishvili through the barbed wire.
Data Vanishvili had Georgian citizenship and even took part in the presidential elections in Georgia in 2018.
A ballot box was specially brought to his house for him. To get the ballot down, he had to stick his hand through the barbed wire, and he cut his hand.