25 Years later, abkhazia remains haunted by the missing data recovery sd card

In the centre of sukhum/i, capital of breakaway abkhazia, a giant stylised sword plunges into a grassy mound. Flanked by 14 flagpoles flying the territory’s vibrant red, green and white standard, this unusual sculpture is the cen­tre­piece of a memorial — the park of glory — com­mem­o­rat­ing those lost during the abkhazian-georgian war in 1992–1993.

Four years ago, an inter­na­tion­al team of sci­en­tists exhumed 66 bodies from the park of glory. These were just some of ‘the missing’, the more than 2,000 abk­hazians and georgians still unac­count­ed for 25 years after the internecine conflict began.

Guli kichba has a weathered face that betrays the stresses of her occu­pa­tion.Mothers abkhazia chair­woman of mothers of abkhazia for peace and social justice, a non-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tion based in sukhum/i, kichba works to support the families of the missing.


‘nobody drops from the clouds’, she says philo­soph­i­cal­ly in her office. ‘appar­ent­ly each of us has a mission. Working with the families of the deceased and the missing is a very difficult burden.’

Mothers of abkhazia offers moral and psy­cho­log­i­cal assis­tance to relatives of the missing. ‘these families come to us — they have nowhere else to go to talk about their pain’, kichba says. The organ­i­sa­tion works alongside a gov­ern­men­tal com­mis­sion on the missing — they have together created a database of the missing, and affected families are eligible for pensions and other benefits.Mothers abkhazia

While much of kichba’s work is practical, mothers of abkhazia appre­ci­ate the impor­tance of symbolism. In the late 1990s, the organ­i­sa­tion realised how deeply the ongoing mourning was impacting abkhazian society. They began fundrais­ing for the con­struc­tion of the park of glory memorial to provide a focal point for com­mem­o­ra­tion, and during one charity event, kichba had a rev­e­la­tion.

‘the mother of a war victim came up to me wrapped in a black headscarf and asked me to put her money into the donation box, because it was too hard for her to do it herself,’ she recalls. ‘suddenly, I remem­bered the words of dmitry gulia, a famous abkhazian poet.Mothers abkhazia “the hero is not mourned with tears.” so I took off her headscarf. It started a domino effect: everyone was crying and taking off each other’s head­scarves.’

‘of course, the mourning did not stop suddenly on that day. But we had made the first move. We worked on this issue for many years, going around to villages, removing black head­scarves from women and replacing them with colourful ones.’ recovering the dead

Helena stare looks unfazed. Staring out at potholed roads and war-damaged buildings from a café below the inter­na­tion­al committee of the red cross (ICRC)’s head­quar­ters in central sukhum/i, the recently-arrived latvian wears a non­cha­lant expres­sion.Park glory stare is the ICRC’s new head of mission in abkhazia, after a decorated career that has taken her across africa and the caribbean. ‘I spent a year in the remote jungle of liberia’, she laughs. ‘sukhum/i is paradise for me.’

The ICRC was the first inter­na­tion­al organ­i­sa­tion on the ground in abkhazia as war raged. 25 years later, it is still here. While the nature of its work has changed, with a reduced focus on providing medical care and food as the territory sta­bilised, the ICRC’s impor­tance has not dimin­ished.

In recent years, the ICRC’s primary objective in abkhazia, georgia, and nearby south ossetia has been locating those missing from the conflicts that have ravaged this region.Mothers abkhazia these efforts take both political and practical forms — the ICRC acts as a neutral inter­me­di­ary between stake­hold­ers on both sides of the disputed border, while also managing teams dedicated to locating and iden­ti­fy­ing human remains.

For several months each year, the ICRC excavates potential gravesites. Led by a forensic spe­cial­ist, the ICRC in its neutral capacity deploys a team of experts to carry out the recovery, analysis, and man­age­ment of human remains from the conflict. After bodies are exhumed, an exhaus­tive and complex process of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion begins with the assis­tance of various sci­en­tif­ic dis­ci­plines and the appli­ca­tion of inter­na­tion­al standards.Mothers abkhazia if the remains are iden­ti­fied, they are returned to family members — an immensely sensitive process that the organ­i­sa­tion under­takes with assis­tance from local stake­hold­ers.

The emotional impact of these returns is evident in stare’s voice. ‘the general per­cep­tion is that once the conflict is over, every­thing is okay,’ she reflects. ‘that could not be further from the truth.’ on average, between 30–40 remains are iden­ti­fied and returned to families each year.

The impact of the missing is not limited to abkhazia. Across the border, many georgian families still mourn their absent sons and daughters. Indeed, the vast majority of missing indi­vid­u­als are georgian, rather than abkhazian (or south ossetian).Each year while ICRC forensic inves­ti­ga­tions have uncovered some remains within ‘ georgia proper ’, most of the organisation’s exca­va­tion work occurs in abkhazia.

The ICRC’s role in managing cross-border dialogue and repa­tri­a­tions is crucial, and made possible by its neu­tral­i­ty and the respect in which it is held by both sides of the conflict. ‘the ICRC has been providing invalu­able assis­tance since the first days of the war,’ kichba explains approv­ing­ly. ‘in the occupied part, where we did not have access, the ICRC was con­duct­ing active work.’

In the immediate post-war period, there was even con­sid­er­able coop­er­a­tion between civil society stake­hold­ers on both sides of the border.Park glory ‘we agreed we had to trust each other,’ explained vladimir dobor­jginidze of molodini, georgia’s mothers of abkhazia equiv­a­lent, to the clarion in 2015. ‘we were not enemies, just parents, equals in our grief.’

While today most cross-border engage­ment takes place via the ICRC, a degree of mutual under­stand­ing remains. At the missing persons museum in tbilisi, a large banner lists the missing abk­hazians and georgians. Molodini’s nineli andriadze has pre­vi­ous­ly explained this rare display of sol­i­dar­i­ty: ‘their parents are waiting as well’.

While the ICRC may have been in abkhazia for a quarter of a century, fresh conflicts across the globe place budgetary pressures on its oper­a­tions.Abk­hazians georgians ‘we can’t stay here forever,’ stare admits. The ICRC has begun local capacity building to ensure that the search for the missing will go on, if and when the organ­i­sa­tion departs sukhum/i. Students are being trained in forensic anthro­pol­o­gy and other skills. Despite the concerted efforts under­tak­en by the ICRC and the gov­ern­ments and community groups on both sides of the border, the number of missing people remains ago­nis­ing­ly high.

‘our people keep wondering when this process will be finished,’ says kichba. The mothers of abkhazia chair­woman blames the georgian author­i­ties, who — she says — have not handed over maps showing burial locations.Park glory even with more infor­ma­tion, it is probable that a number of missing indi­vid­u­als will remain unlocated or uniden­ti­fied in another 25 years’ time.

Kichba knows the pain only too well. ‘it is wrong to equate families of missing persons to the families of the deceased’, she suggests. ‘having a missing family member is double the grief. Many mothers and fathers died because they could not properly mourn for their children. Including my husband.’

‘every night before bed’, she continues tearfully, ‘he approached our son’s picture and said, “forgive me, baby, that I still cannot find you”. Four years ago, our son was found among the bodies buried in the park of glory.’

mothers abkhazia

With addi­tion­al reporting from asta zhiba. All place names and ter­mi­nol­o­gy used in this article are the words of the author alone, and may not nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect the views of OC media’s editorial board. For ease of reading, we choose not to use qual­i­fiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecog­nised’, or ‘partially recog­nised’ when dis­cussing insti­tu­tions or political positions within abkhazia, nagorno-karabakh, and south ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

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