Sunday, April 10, 2011

On the Anniversary of Tbilisi, 1989

Tbilisi commemorates April 9 tragedy [ 09 Apr 2011 17:53 ]

Tbilisi. Nizami Mammadzdeh – APA. Today, Georgia commemorates the anniversary of the tragedy took place on April 9, 1989. According to APA Georgian bureau, local citizens assembled outside the parliament and commemorated victims of the tragedy. Chairman of Georgia’s Parliament David Bakradze also attended the action.

Today, an assembly was held in Azerbaijanis’ Cultural Centre by the participation of youths, intellectuals and public representatives. Chairman of Centre Fazil Hasanov spoke about his memories on accidents occurred 22 years ago.

Member of the Georgian and European History Teachers Association Nargiz Nabiyeva noted that the fates of South Caucasus’ countries were alike: “The testament of Peter I are being fulfilled in this region, especially in Georgia and Azerbaijan. 9 April and 20 January accidents prove it”.

Former Soviet Army cracked down on peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi on April 9, 1989. The soldiers used unknown gas against the demonstrators, which killed 21 peaceful civilians.

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As a young college student, I was in the midst of a two-week trip to the USSR in the spring of 1989, only months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The main photo on this page is of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, and was taken on this short tour of this massive nation.

As it happened, I was in Tbilisi only days before the Red Army decided it was important to flex it's massive military muscle - again - by crushing largely peaceful, unarmed civilians, both figuratively and literally. I was only in Georgia a short time (three or four days), but the people were extraordinarily gracious and welcoming. Our small group shared meals and libations with many people who set a table fit for a king, not simple American college kids.

One particularly effusive gentleman was very excited to meet real, live Americans, and couldn't wait to show off the photo of Ronald Reagan he kept in his wallet. Yes, in his wallet. Next to the photos of his own children. Did I mention it was a photo of Ronald Reagan? I couldn't have been more surprised if he had a photo of Robin Yount (shortstop & outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers) tucked away in there.

As the 25 of us were leaving Tbilisi in our bright orange Intourist bus for the train station heading off to Sochi in southern Russia (home of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics), we happened upon a rather large gathering of people marching down the middle of the street on which we were traveling. Not knowing exactly what was going on, and as the bus slowed to a stop in the middle of the street, our professor inquired with the driver about this unusual sight. He had no idea (so he said), and the next thing we knew our bus had been swallowed by the crowd.

Here is a short series of photos I took of the people as they proceeded down the street towards us:

Shortly after our bus came to a stop as the crowd approached.

We discovered as the crowd reached our bus that they were really protesters risking their lives by speaking out and by displaying a Georgian flag.

The crowd smiling and giving us the 'thumbs up' sign once they discovered we were Americans.

Within days of our departure, the Red Army marched into Tbilisi and shelled the city and its citizens, as the wire service noted above, killing 21 people. As then, I recall this anniversary with great sadness, and hope none of the wonderful people I met were victims.

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