29 May 2023
Traces of War in Georgian-Abkhazian Mixed Families
*names are changed for security reasons
“It was just when the war was about to start; we could feel it at weddings and funerals, people slowly started to sit apart so as not to fight, to not say anything unnecessary. They began to communicate with each other very carefully. Relations were still maintained, but there was a great deal of mistrust among people who had previously been neighbors, friends, and relatives. It was already the pre-war period. Not only relatives, even my Abkhaz acquaintances would ask me, ‘Do your Georgian family members offend you?’” said Maia, 65, an ethnic Abkhaz woman who now lives in Tbilisi.
Before the Georgian-Abkhaz war, mixed families were not a unique topic. These were just marriages in a multinational society, one in which everyone sat and celebrated at the wedding table—together. The war in Abkhazia in 1992-1993 changed everything, and the term “mixed families” started to sound louder.
Women of mixed families had to endure the war and its aftermath, overcoming difficulties stemming from the burden of a divided identity. After the war, some mixed families were severed, while some remained intact and continued to live together; yet traces of the war have not disappeared in these families. Today, Abkhazian women who followed their Georgian husbands from Abkhazia live in Georgian society, and Georgian women who stayed with their Abkhaz husbands live in Abkhazia.
Maia remembers how even those families that remained intact throughout and after the war, endured strong pressures from society. “More so in Abkhazia,” she says. “Unlike us, they [Georgians] would welcome Abkhazians that came here with their husbands, thinking that they share their narrative and agree with them. It was not like that in Abkhazia. In Abkhazia, husbands were told ‘why did you marry a Georgian, leave her’. They could not accept a Georgian in their society after the war.”
“That’s the tragedy of mixed families in conflict – society doesn’t want to think about what they have to go through, the tragedy that goes on inside these families when conflict tears them apart. Because society divides everything into black and white colors, there are no middle tones, but the mixed families are exactly these middle tones.”
“Before the war, to be honest, we didn’t focus on it – whether I was a representative of a mixed family or not. There was no such concept in my family and, I think, not even around me. Then somehow the issue of Georgian-Abkhaz families arose. My mother was an Abkhaz and my father was an Abkhaz too, but the region where I lived was the Ochamchire/a, and also Georgians lived around us,” says Diana, 62.
When Diana married her Georgian husband, they organized a big wedding with 700 guests: both Georgians and Abkhazians. During the wedding one of her relatives approached her and asked if the groom was Georgian or Abkhazian. “I told him he is Georgian and the guy answered ‘it was very sad.’ I don’t know why he said that, but I remember it”
“I didn’t have any discomfort in the family because I was Abkhazian and he was Georgian, there was no discussion on this topic. We had Abkhazians and Georgians in our friendship circle.”
But everything changed once the war started. Diana experienced what it was to be an Abkhaz and what it was to be a Georgian. “At the time of Mkhedrioni’s entry (a Georgian armed group that fought during the war in Abkhazia), I was an Abkhaz. I remember so bitterly the night when they came in, I was with my mother and with my son, it was raining, there was no light, I was thinking what to do if someone came to me now. I didn’t sleep at all that night. The next day I went out on the street. A stranger was standing there. He asked me to show him where the Abkhazians lived. I knew Georgian well and I told him that there are no Abkhazians living nearby, and he left,” Diana remembers.
After the incident Georgian neighbors told her that although they were there to protect her, someone might break into her house some day and they wouldn’t be able to do anything – it would be safer for Diana to leave. “And then, when the Abkhazians came, I was the wife of a Georgian. It was a tragedy.”
Her neighbors began to look at her with mistrust. “You know how bitter it is? I told my mother, ‘mother, let’s go from here, they look at us differently,’these were the events of Tamish/i (the armed actions that took place near the village of Tamish/i in Abkhazia during the war) then, some rumors arose and I felt somewhat uncomfortable with my Georgian neighbors. I felt some mistrust from these people and it was unacceptable to me.” Diana says.
“We locked the doors of the house and left. I remember walking and crying. Besides, it was Saint Mary’s Day (a feast celebrated by Orthodox Christians. Orthodox families also celebrate this holiday in Abkhazia). My father had just passed away and I had bought everything to set the table. Seeing that I could not do it, I asked the neighbors to light a candle for my father. This is how we left Abkhazia.”
Diana and her husband did not have many conflicts, but she could still feel tension. Her husband was called to fight, but didn’t go. “Probably out of respect for me.” she says.
“I think this conflict also played a role in our family falling apart after the war. I didn’t go back. I had a Georgian son and it was impossible for me to return to Abkhazia. But there were probably some weak points in the relationship, I can’t blame the war entirely.”
New in Tbilisi, divorced, and with no proper knowledge of the Georgian language, it was difficult for Diana to find a job and put her life together. “I am grateful to the people who supported me.“
Liana, 73, shares, “I could not stay [in Abkhazia]; first of all because the children were small, then my husband would not stay. Maybe if we had stayed, nothing would have happened, but there were others there besides my relatives and no one knew how others would treat us, so we all left.”
Liana remembers the situation as “being torn between two fires.” It was difficult for her to situate herself as she had relatives on both sides. “My soul was broken; I left many people close to me there, and [some of] my closest people also came here.”
When Liana and her family arrived in Tbilisi, her and her husband’s friends found them and offered help. “Though I am an Abkhaz, I have never felt that anyone has a bad attitude towards me during these 30 years. On the contrary, they treat me with great respect and love.”
Six months later, the first time she went to Abkhazia after the war, Liana went directly to the village and within half an hour all her relatives came to visit her. “They all asked how my husband and children were. When I visit my relatives, I don’t remember anyone talking to me about this problem. They don’t talk about it in my family, but I don’t know how it is anywhere else.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Liana hasn’t been able to visit her relatives in Abkhazia, for three years now.
“I miss all my relatives, I don’t have a house there anymore, but I go to my relatives. Sometimes before the pandemic, my husband would say to me, ‘I see, I feel, that you want to go there.’ When summer came or someone died, I went immediately, and after visiting it was easier for me.”
“They call me or write to me sometimes, ‘what is going on with you?’ I notice that they are afraid and think that the war will start again. They are afraid that Georgia will open a second front now, and they think it will happen. I tell them that there is no such thing and will never be, don’t be afraid. That’s it, they keep asking me what’s going on with you.” says Liana.
Before the war, at the end of the 80s, the political situation in Abkhazia became tense, and soon it became noticeable at the human level. Before the armed actions, there were still hopes for human connections, but society was already beginning to divide, and this was affecting kinship and family relationships as well. The choices that the war brought were difficult for Abkhazian women from mixed families. Many of them left their hometown, village, relatives and closest people. However, human connections still exist, and despite the difficulties, there are people who still manage to maintain them.