Time to fight, time to forgive
The time has come to assess the results and consequences of the exchange of South Ossetian and Georgian prisoners which took place on the territory of Abkhazia a few days ago.
On the request of the South Ossetian side, Abkhazia released eight Georgian citizens, who had been serving terms of imprisonment. In addition to this, four residents of South Ossetia were freed after they had spent eleven years in Georgian penitentiary facilities. Three of them had been accused of terrorism and sentenced to life in prison; the fourth had been sentenced to twenty eight years in prison on other charges.
It should be noted that a step, though small, has been taken toward the normalization of Tbilisi-Tskhinval relations.
It is worth mentioning that the Georgian court brought the verdict, not taking into consideration the fact that a permanent war has been being waged between South Ossetia and Georgia since 1989. Soldiers and saboteurs are the ones who are involved in the war, but there are no terrorists in the war. The status of war prisoner status is completely different than that of a terrorist.
The South Ossetian side considered the accusation to be false and believed that South Ossetia’s residents had not been involved in the terrorist attack in Gori in 2005. As for the Georgian side, it saw the opposite to be true.
Taking the difference of the assessments into account, the word “ terrorist was incorrectly defined because both sides recognized the conflict (war). Thus, the prisoners should have had been war prisoners and not terrorists.
These men had already been in prison for three years when the August 2008 war broke out. It was not difficult to exchange them for numerous Georgian war prisoners after the five-day war, when Russia was controlling a considerable amount of Georgian territories, but this did not take place. It was obvious that then-President of South Ossetia, Kokoity, had different intentions regarding the prisoners.
These prisoner gained freedom they rightly deserved only after power had changed in both in South Ossetia and in Georgia. Georgian and South Ossetian NGOs, Lira Tskhovrebova, Chairperson of the South Ossetian Association “Women for Democracy and Human Rights and Paata Zakareishvili, State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality of Georgia, played a large role in this.
Curiously enough, according to the men released, the prison’s criminal community did not allow any discrimination based on nationality. Moreover, in some cases Ossetians expressed solidarity with Georgians and jointly participated in a hunger strike in the jail. Even in August 2008, when Russia recognized South Ossetia, which Ossetians sincerely welcomed, and even Georgian prisoners naturally did not share those feelings, they still did not manifest any aggression against Ossetians.
Does this mean that we should live according to the criminals’ laws? Do we have to turn our countries into a prison? Or maybe we should realize that we are all humans and we should tolerant and respect our neighbors’ interests.
Batr Pukhaev, former MP, currently a prisoner, provided the South Ossetian society with one more important lesson. Having sacrificed his health and freedom for the sake of the triumph of the law, he refused to be among those exchanged and is seeking a fair trial. Pukhayev’s story is tragic as he has been charged with high treason in his homeland.
Exasperation and atrocity are the most terrible consequences of the war. Ex-President, Gamsakhurdia, who brought a civil war and tremendous suffering to his country, has been buried honorably in Georgia. Chechen militants have been amnestied in Russia. However, no one, whose crimes have been linked to war, has been amnestied in South Ossetia.
The next steps in the interaction with Georgia will be made keeping in mind what happened here at the turn of the century.
- 4 South Ossetian prisoners were released by the Georgian side on March 11, 2016. The Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides, in turn, handed over 13 Georgian detainees to Tbilisi. The exchange between the Georgian, Abkhaz and South Ossetian parties was held on the bridge over the Inguri River. This was possible due to tripartite agreements, which the parties termed as ‘an important humanitarian act’ and the result of ‘pragmatic cooperation.’
- The four exchanged South Ossetian prisoners were sentenced to life in prison in Georgia on the charges of involvement in the terrorist attack in the city of Gori on February 1, 2005. Three police officers were killed and over twenty people were wounded as a result of the terrorist attack. The 13 exchanged Georgians were arrested in Abkhazia and South Ossetia for illegally crossing the border.
- “Coming to a mutual understanding about the release of detainees opens up good prospects for further relations,’ reads a joint statement by the EU, OSCE and the UN envoys. http://www.osce.org/cio/226871
The opinions, expressed in the article, convey the author’s terminology and visions and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position.