Ucha Nanuashvili

The Sorry Campaign: Revising Georgian-Abkhazian relationships – Challenges and lessons for the future

The Georgian Human Rights Center (HRIDC) launched the Sorry Campaign in March of 2007 with the aim of changing the dynamics and direction of the relationships established between Georgians and Abkhazians during the last fifteen years.

It is not easy to apologize, neither to accept an apology. The Georgian Human Rights Center (HRIDC) launched the Sorry campaign in March of 2007 with the aim of changing the dynamics and direction of the relationships established between Georgians and Abkhazians during the last fifteen years. This campaign was not in any way connected to politics; it was a movement against war, as we consider that there is no alternative to peaceful dialogue and mutual settlement of the conflict.

The Campaign envisaged the reestablishment of trust between the Georgian and the Abkhazian people and to break through the informational vacuum. We wanted to encourage people to think about the horrors of war and the mistakes we had made. The Human Rights Centre is popularizing Abkhazian language and culture, tries to destroy image of enemies among Georgians. The Center has organized events about the tragic events  of Muhajirs genocide on 21st May.

It was a two-way street and it was designed for both sides. The Georgians should realize that neither one side nor the other is totally responsible for what happened. The Abkhazians are not the guilty ones and the Abkhazians should also know that every Georgian does not think of taking out revenge over what happened.

Many people have asked us cynically “what did you gain from apologizing to Abkhaz people? Nothing!”

The Sorry Campaign was initiated by the group of Georgians to compel us to confess our mistakes and learn from these mistakes. It was right on the part of the Georgians to take the first step. We are greater in numbers and Abkhazia was part of Georgia and not vice versa. We had a bigger degree of responsibility and it will not do us any harm if we start living up to our mistakes. We wanted to say that we have more responsibility for what is happening in the country. And it made no sense whether somebody would apologize in reply now or never. It was an individual act. The point is that we have done our duty and will not keep those words in our heart and they can be free from the burden resulted from the war.

Radical steps are always painful for the society. We might be declared traitors, but the society gets the chance of reconciliation through these sincere, open and peaceful initiatives. Everybody looks back into the past, even those who resisted the Sorry Campaign.

During the campaign we received threats. Several people called us traitors and spies. President Saakashvili in his statement in November of 2007 said: “why should we apologize to them? Shall we apologize to them because they cut our heads off and evicted us from there? Shall we apologize because they destroyed Georgian churches? For our children who got frozen on the mountainous pass and thrown out from the plane? Shall we still apologize for that? Who are those people and which international organization funded them to write such nonsense?”

Our appeal was immediately spread on the internet. It became a topic for consideration on many forum sites, both by Georgian and Abkhaz people. Some of them did not like it; others became extremely irritated. Many people understood the campaign as if we were apologizing to criminals, military offenders or to Abkhazian de-facto authorities. That is not the case. We wanted to communicate with just ordinary people. Today, Georgians are considered only as enemies for Abkhaz people who will return to their homeland and kill every member in their families. Until Abkhaz people believe that there can be another way, they will do everything to keep the bridge over the Enguri River blocked for the Georgians. To tell the truth, their fear is to some extent real. Based on the reactions that followed the campaign, many Georgians still dream with the day of rushing into Abkhazia with guns. We are against this; we do not want to fall into the abyss of war. Such a hole we have already experienced and have not been able to escape its consequences for fifteen years. And counting.

Five years have passed since the campaign started. The society has started to discuss the topic and there are people who are not ashamed to say sorry. Ordinary citizens discuss the reasons why one nation should apologize to another one. Three years ago the word ‘sorry’ was tabooed. Speaking about this topic was neither popular nor safe. The campaign has succeeded because many people speak about it now. And now everybody thinks about it. In fact, it was a provocation in positive. This provocation worked. The word and concept of sorry exposed many things; it showed how the Georgian society has a real peaceful attitude towards Abkhaz people and how big is the military spirit in the country; how far the government and the society are from peace.

One of the main problems is that the Georgian society still lacks the opportunity to speak with Abkhaz people directly and vice versa. The citizens receive extremely filtered (dis)information. Very often mass media of both sides releases false information and they create the image of the enemy of the opposite side. It continues endlessly.

There are not unsettled conflicts and there are always ways out of the complicated situation and alternatives. The question is how well does Georgian society realize it? Our society still relies on emotions and cannot see the way to resolve the conflict peacefully. It does not have a clear understanding of war reasons and results; they see everything through a narrow and unilateral position and cannot confess its mistakes and problems. We see the guilt in everybody but not in ourselves: the government blames Russia and the opposition, the opposition blames the government, people blame everybody: Russia, USA, Europe, Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples…

The most part of Georgian media still blocks not only the campaign but the word “Sorry”. Only several small-edition newspapers, radio and online sources spread information about it. Everybody speaks about conflict resolution, but unfortunately people have forgotten a simple reality: nothing can be done without love and forgiveness. After physical violence and war end, conflicts still continue in the hearts and minds of people. Hate and anger control human lives for a long time. These emotions paralyze people and make them hostages of hate. When a person is busy with anger and hate, s/he cannot clearly evaluate the situation and look forward to the future. The “Sorry” Campaign might be a first step to break the negative circle. Exposing human sides of the opposite side can make people overcome obstacles.

Does anybody remember in Tbilisi who are Abkhaz people and how many people know at least one Abkhaz word. Word “Hatamzaait” (Sorry) is the only Abkhazian word that is familiar to many Georgian people.

We know that such a campaign can only have a result in 10 or 20 years. The point is that everybody can do something and we focus on the responsibility of each person, on public responsibility. Honest relationships shall be built between the two nations, relying on truth, sincerity, love and forgiveness. It shall be done by people. The Georgian and Abkhazian peoples demand only peace and open dialogue between the sides. The Campaign learns lessons from our past mistakes. It assumes our responsibilities in the conflict. Both nations lost in the conflict. Having realized this, people might come together. This step is always taken by one side and it will definitely have a follow-up; it shall become a kind of catalyst for social changes. Sorry – this is the way towards each other’s hearts.

Ucha Nanuashvili
Executive Director, Human Rights Center (HRIDC), GEORGIA

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