Georgia: Closure after 30 years as family receives remains of missing loved one, give a burial

For 30 years, Iakob Buadze’s life revolved around one goal – to find his brother, Merab, who had disappeared after joining the armed conflict in Abkhazia in the spring of 1993. A resident of Samtredia, Georgia, the 59-year-old represents the many people who spend decades waiting for news about their missing loved ones and for a resolution to their ambiguous loss. 

Iakob shares that his brother Merab was 30 years old when he left them to fight in the armed conflict. “Merab and I were only two years apart in age and the youngest two among five siblings, so we had a special bond. Our father died when we were very young and our mother bore the burden of bringing us up. After finishing school, Merab was drafted into the army. Later he graduated from the Kutaisi Trade Technicum and got a job in Samtredia,” says Iakob. 

His own life was on a similar path, but Iakob fell from the ninth floor while serving in the army and suffered severe injuries. It took six months for him to get back on his feet. However, the injury left a permanent impact, causing him to limp and have restricted movement in one arm.

Merab Buadze

“On 26 May 1993, Merab told us that he had decided to go fight in the armed conflict in Abkhazia. We argued a lot. I told him to think about his young wife and two-year-old child and not leave him an orphan because we knew how hard it was to grow up without a father. I could not join him in war and I was anxious about him going alone,” says Iakob. However, Merab had made up his mind and went ahead as he had planned. Soon, he went missing without a trace during the Tamishi battle. “Since that day, my life became an endless suffering and all my attempts to somehow find out what had happened to my brother went in vain,” says Iakob.

In 2017, Iakob learned about the programme implemented by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to help clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people. He clearly recalls his first meeting with the ICRC representatives. 

“When they came to collect data about my brother, I became extremely nervous. It gave me hope that Merab would definitely be found. I trusted the ICRC, as many people like me had got answers about their missing loved ones through them,” says Iakob. 

Looking for the missing relative

At the end of October 2023, Iakob was informed that his brother had been identified and soon the human remains would be handed over to the family. “I was at a charity canteen in Samtredia where I usually get food as a socially vulnerable person when I got the call. I cried and screamed so much that I couldn’t even properly hear what they were saying. Although I had been waiting for so many years, when the truth was finally revealed it was very hard for me to accept. I remember sharing the news with every single person that I met on my way home,” Iakob says.

Merab’s remains were returned to the family in November 2023. After a public farewell ceremony held at Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi, Merab was buried with military honour at Dighomi Brotherhood Cemetery, together with the remains of other identified people

Families of the missing

Iakob says he is at peace knowing that his brother’s grave is always well-kept and tidy. There are three important dates in a year when he will visit his brother’s grave in Tbilisi no matter what – Merab’s birthday, 26 May to mark the day Merab broke news about joining the armed conflict and Easter. 

Currently employed at a cemetery in Samtredia, Iakob has one dream now: to establish a small square named after Merab near their childhood home. “It will immortalize Merab’s name,” he says.