[INTERVIEW] Georgia massacre challenges Koreans on peace and freedom

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[INTERVIEW] Georgia massacre challenges Koreans on peace and freedom


Georgians lay down flowers to mourn victims of the Tbilisi massacre by the Soviet army on April 9, 1989. / Embassy of Georgia

By Yi Whan-woo


On the 30th anniversary of the Tbilisi Massacre, the Georgian Embassy in Korea plans to run a series of activities here — including lectures to raise public awareness — about the bloody oppression by the Soviet army in the Georgian capital.

Similar activities will take place in other parts of the world.

But the campaign in Korea will be especially meaningful because Georgians and Koreans suffered occupations throughout their respective histories and can unite when it comes to peace and freedom, according to Georgian Ambassador to Korea Otar Berdzenishvili.

"Our history pages are very alike and we have a lot in common," he told The Korea Times at the embassy on April 9.

This was day when the Soviet army oppressed protesters who called for Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union and took to the streets in Tbilisi in 1989.

The protest was sparked by anti-Georgia rallies in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and in Tskhinvali and South Ossetia. The Georgian protesters claimed Russia was behind such rallies.


Soviet soldiers and tanks are mobilized in Tbilisi on the morning of April 9, 1989. / Embassy of Georgia

And the Soviet army not only mobilized soldiers and tanks but also, according to studies, most probably used poisonous gas containing chloropicrin to quell the Georgians.


The attack left 21 people, mostly women including a 16-year-old girl, dead and hundreds poisoned.

Also known as the April 9 tragedy, its 30th anniversary coincides with the 100th anniversary of Korea's March 1 Independence Movement against the 1910-45 Japanese occupation.

"This is why, besides our geographical distance, we're trying to show the Korean people how things are similar in other parts of the world and how peace- and freedom-loving people should be united and show our voices together," Berdzenishvili said. "This is what the story is about and we should be together when it comes to freedom and peace."

The 1989 massacre marked the beginning of Georgia's struggle for independence, and ironically, the collapse of the USSR in the long term.

"The Soviet regime never owned up to the Tbilisi Massacre. It rather triggered collapse of the USSR," the ambassador said.

He pointed out that the tragedy motivated Georgians to vote in a referendum for independence from the Soviet Union on March 31, 1991.

With a 90.5 percent turnout, 99 percent voted in favor of independence including today's occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Also on April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed Georgian sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union based on the results of the nationwide referendum.

In the same year, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a nationwide protest movement leader, became Georgia's first democratically elected president.

"For Russia, it's very difficult to swallow even today because a big empire has been demolished," Berdzenishvili said.

He also said the Tbilisi Massacre remained in Georgia's history as "one of the most tragic and heroic dates" as well as a moment when the whole country united to fight for Georgia's independence.

"Georgia will always remember the young people and others who tried to stop Russian tanks with their bare hands, only to be killed by Soviet troops," he said. "The date is indelibly etched into the minds of Georgians as the day of national unity."

Meanwhile, the envoy said restoring independence to Georgia created "a new context for Russia's imperial politics to emerge," arguing that the 1989 tragedy was followed by further aggression and civil wars.

"These events subsequently became the precondition for the new wave of hybrid threats emanating from Russia seeking to impede Georgia's military, economic and social stability," he said.





Georgians lay down flowers to mourn victims of the Tbilisi massacre by the Soviet army on April 9, 1989. / Embassy of Georgia

By Yi Whan-woo


On the 30th anniversary of the Tbilisi Massacre, the Georgian Embassy in Korea plans to run a series of activities here — including lectures to raise public awareness — about the bloody oppression by the Soviet army in the Georgian capital.

Similar activities will take place in other parts of the world.

But the campaign in Korea will be especially meaningful because Georgians and Koreans suffered occupations throughout their respective histories and can unite when it comes to peace and freedom, according to Georgian Ambassador to Korea Otar Berdzenishvili.

"Our history pages are very alike and we have a lot in common," he told The Korea Times at the embassy on April 9.

This was day when the Soviet army oppressed protesters who called for Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union and took to the streets in Tbilisi in 1989.

The protest was sparked by anti-Georgia rallies in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and in Tskhinvali and South Ossetia. The Georgian protesters claimed Russia was behind such rallies.


Soviet soldiers and tanks are mobilized in Tbilisi on the morning of April 9, 1989. / Embassy of Georgia

And the Soviet army not only mobilized soldiers and tanks but also, according to studies, most probably used poisonous gas containing chloropicrin to quell the Georgians.


The attack left 21 people, mostly women including a 16-year-old girl, dead and hundreds poisoned.

Also known as the April 9 tragedy, its 30th anniversary coincides with the 100th anniversary of Korea's March 1 Independence Movement against the 1910-45 Japanese occupation.

"This is why, besides our geographical distance, we're trying to show the Korean people how things are similar in other parts of the world and how peace- and freedom-loving people should be united and show our voices together," Berdzenishvili said. "This is what the story is about and we should be together when it comes to freedom and peace."

The 1989 massacre marked the beginning of Georgia's struggle for independence, and ironically, the collapse of the USSR in the long term.

"The Soviet regime never owned up to the Tbilisi Massacre. It rather triggered collapse of the USSR," the ambassador said.

He pointed out that the tragedy motivated Georgians to vote in a referendum for independence from the Soviet Union on March 31, 1991.

With a 90.5 percent turnout, 99 percent voted in favor of independence including today's occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Also on April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed Georgian sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union based on the results of the nationwide referendum.

In the same year, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a nationwide protest movement leader, became Georgia's first democratically elected president.

"For Russia, it's very difficult to swallow even today because a big empire has been demolished," Berdzenishvili said.

He also said the Tbilisi Massacre remained in Georgia's history as "one of the most tragic and heroic dates" as well as a moment when the whole country united to fight for Georgia's independence.

"Georgia will always remember the young people and others who tried to stop Russian tanks with their bare hands, only to be killed by Soviet troops," he said. "The date is indelibly etched into the minds of Georgians as the day of national unity."

Meanwhile, the envoy said restoring independence to Georgia created "a new context for Russia's imperial politics to emerge," arguing that the 1989 tragedy was followed by further aggression and civil wars.

"These events subsequently became the precondition for the new wave of hybrid threats emanating from Russia seeking to impede Georgia's military, economic and social stability," he said.




Yi Whan-woo yistory@koreatimes.co.kr


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