|Nineteen years later, April 9 still resonates|
|April 11, 2008|
April 11, 2008
Nineteen years later, Georgia remembers those who died on Rustaveli Avenue in front of the Parliament on a bloody April night in 1989.
Discussing the tragedy during the round table at RIA Novosti press centre in Tbilisi, participants of the demonstrations brutally dispersed by the Soviet army said that the tragedy should and could have been avoided.
“This feeling of pain and guilt is always with me,” said artist Nikusha Shengelaia, who was among the demonstrators that night. “I was young and there was a desire for struggle inside of me and now I understand that it was a mistake. Emotions should not suppress reason.”
However, the pain goes along with the pride. The bloodshed sentenced the Soviet empire and reverberated in many other republics. April 9 became an annual public holiday, the Day of National Unity in Georgia.
Trouble started brewing on April 4, when large scale anti-Soviet demonstrations in Tbilisi broke out over the so called Lykhny problem. Earlier, Abkhazia called for secession from Georgia; the demonstrators protested against the appeal of the Abkhaz leaders.
“It was not a demonstration against Abkhazia, but we demanded that the authorities respond to the processes that started there,” said Tamar Chkheidze, a member of the board of Ilia Chavchavadze society.
The demands of the protesters soon turned into an anti-Soviet movement demanding the independence of Georgia from the Soviet Union. The demonstrations, led by such national movement leaders as Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Merab Kostava, Irakli Tsereteli, Giorgi Chanturia and Irakli Batiashvili, were held in different parts of the city. Losing control, the Soviet authorities decided to disperse the demonstrations. Troops were mobilized in Tbilisi.
Patriarch Ilia II addressed the demonstrators before the attack, saying that they are in danger and calling upon them to move to Kashveti church. Instead of listening to the Patriarch, people though followed the call of their leaders and refused to disband. The leaders of the demonstrations were warned about the decision of the Soviet authorities, said Chkheidze, but called upon the people to continue the protest.
“After the Patriarch appealed to demonstrators there was silence as nobody even breathed,” remembered Nana Kakabadze, the head of the organization Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights.
“It was during those minutes of silence that Georgia’s fortune was decided,” said Goga Khaindrava, who is today an active member of the National Council of the united opposition.
People were dancing and singing songs just a few minutes before troops armed with batons and metal shovels attacked them.
At 4 a.m. on April 9, Soviet tanks and troops that have already surrounded the demonstration area started dispersing the crowd. People panicked. As it was reported later, the Soviet army left the demonstrators only one path to escape. Toxic gas and injuries from violent beating caused the death of twenty one people; thousands were injured.
The next day, the Soviet government blamed the demonstrators for endangering public safety; however, an investigation led and launched by Anatoly Sobchak and images of dead bodies with facial injuries became damning evidence against the Soviet authorities in Georgia.
“I remembered that at dawn there was a mess in the square; garbage, papers, someone’s shoes. All posters were torn off and only one poster remained – a poster of Virgin Mary,” said one of the anti-Soviet demonstrators Giorgi Lazrishvili, 48.
The Soviet domination of Georgia ended two years later, when the country declared its independence. But nineteen years after those events, it still is not perfectly clear what took place in Tbilisi that night.
“We do not have quality analysis of April 9 to this day,” said Goga Khaindrava. “But those who remembered that day should feel the responsibility not to let such day repeat in Georgia again.”
Georgia went through civil war, conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, hardship and darkness since then. Merab Kostava, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Giorgi Chanturia, the national leaders of those days, are dead. Irakli Batiashvili was detained by the Rose Revolutionary government and has been just released due to the appeal of the Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II. Irakli Tsereteli called upon protesters to overthrow Saakashvili’s government during November unrests, just as he did 19 years ago.
Others draw parallels with today’s events, saying that April 9 is a painful experience.
“We are criticized often for lack of radicalism,” said Khaindrava. “But this video of April 9 is a response to those asking why we didn’t call upon thousands of people to overthrow the government.”
Kakabadze also brought up November 7 when she talked about April 9.
“In 1989, in the wake of the tragedy, we were proud, but we had very hard feelings after November 7,” she said. “Back then, there were Soviet, Russian soldiers; this time we were attacked and brutally beaten by our own people.”
But while the leaders of the opposition draw parallels between 1989 and 2007, Giorgi Khurodze, a 56 year old Tbilisi resident, disagrees with it.
“I can’t make parallels. That was different: the nation was united and we fought for independence. We should remember that day, but now it’s time to end the era of street rallies, unite and build a real democratic state,” he said.
Nana Beridze said that there are parallels between April 9 and November unrest last year and the recent appeals of some opposition leaders for people to revolt if the authorities rig the parliamentary elections show that there is a threat that there might be other bloody dates in our history.
“Time showed that neither the opposition nor the authorities learnt from April 9,” said Beridze, who was an active participant of the movement for Georgia’s independence at the end of 1980s and who once believed that the end of the USSR would quickly bring Georgia happiness and prosperity.
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