GEORGIA: Women's Peace Initiative in Gori

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Equal Power - Lasting Peace
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding
Human Rights

In the beginning of August, a memorial evening was held in Gori, a city in eastern Georgia, to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 August war that broke out between Georgia on one side, and Russia and the breakaway state of South Ossetia on the other side. This armed confrontation is a continuation of a 20 year old ethnic conflict that erupted in the South Caucasus region after the Soviet Union's collapse, and has been considered a “frozen conflict” ever since the ceasefire in 1992. As in previous years, internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as family members of fallen soldiers gathered together, appealing to their political leaders for the restoration of peace in the region.

According to the organizer of the event, Manana Mebuke, leader of the movement Women for Peace and Safety, a similar event also took place in Tskhinvali, arranged by the Association of Women of South Ossetia for Democracy and Human Rights.
Members of the “Women for Peace and Safety” movement commemorated all war victims, regardless of their ethnicity. They marched through the streets of Gori, holding candles and flowers. Arriving at the fallen soldier memorial, they observed a moment of silence and laid down flowers.

This event is only one out of several campaigns that “Women for Peace and Safety” arrange simultaneously with their partners in Ossetia. As a sign of peace they light candles in the windows of their homes on the International Day of Peace on September 21 and demonstrate on the International Women's Day on March 8.

Citizen diplomacy

One of the women present at the commemoration was Nazzi Beruashvili who has been a forced migrant for four years now, living in an IDP settlement in Karaleti, in Georgia. She often asks herself what she could have done to prevent the war. In 2008 Nazzi joined the peace movement, and today she is negotiating for peace with South Ossetian women. According to her, reconciliation will surely happen one day:

The aim of Women for Peace and Safety has always been the establishment of peace, trust, mutual friendship and understanding. All of us – the Ossetians and Georgians – should strive for peace and a happy future on Earth.
At the heart of the Women for Peace and Safety stands the “Union Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors”, that has been working with citizen diplomacy for two decades now, the starting point being a conference entitled “Peaceful Caucasus – Peaceful World”. The conference was the first meeting ever for war veterans fighting each other during the first armed confrontation, as well as for women affected by the conflict. For the first time they had an opportunity to share their experiences and together identify ways to achieve peace.

Some years later, the main focus of the peace organization shifted to working with women – those who bear the main burden of the conflict. Men went to war, while the children and elderly remained at home, and families were lacking the most basic necessities – bread, electricity and heating. Many women became widows, and the husbands of others came back from the war with disablities.

In the 2000's the “Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors” union organized numerous meetings and conferences, both with Abkhaz and Ossetian organizations.

Women's peacebuilding school

In August 2008, with the outbreak of a new war in South Ossetia, all the peacekeeping efforts of the organization were destroyed. Not only did the war lead to a new wave of violence and hatred, but it also imposed insurmountable physical boundaries. The activists at the union, however, never gave up; rather they continued meeting women IDP's who had left their homes in South Ossetia, and talking to them about the importance of dialogue.

Mimosa Mamatsashvili, one of the members of the union, describes these seminars:

- We usually start with the basics: human rights, women's rights, what a conflict is – how it develops and spreads, and its consequences. We talk about conflict resolution and look at various international treaties, resolutions, and other mediation tools. We talk about tolerance and discuss the basics of communication.
Women attending the seminars often start off in an aggressive mood: everyone of them has their own story of loss, how they were forced to flee, leaving everything behind and settle in small rooms in abandoned guest houses and school buildings. Without work and without means for living, women managed to pull through with their families. Many of them suffered from the conflict twice – once in the beginning of the 90's and then again in 2008. Mimosa Mamatsashvili, who herself left her home and her life in Tskhinvali, continues:

- Women start changing their attitudes right before our eyes – the original aggression is transformed into understanding. We have an exercise called “the dialogue”, where we divide the participants into three groups; one “Georgian”, one “Ossetian” and one “observers” group. The different groups then have to enter into dialogues with members from the other groups. And the participants start selecting their words, in order not to offend the others, speaking in a way that would not ignite a conflict, but rather focusing on what they have in common. At the end of the course the participants often remark: “Yes, it turns out that we can still agree.”

In total, 1000 women have attended the training courses organized by the union, a significant contribution in building up trust among the conflicting nations.

- One thousand women, means one thousand families, and each family consists of at least four members. And they in turn pass on the longing for peace to their children – says Mimosa Mamatsashvili.