Georgia: Burying son "dream come true" for mother
For 20 years, Mzevinar Popkhadze has known that her son Giorgi died in the Georgian/Abkhazian war of 1992-1993. All she could hope for was that one day she would have a grave she could visit. This year, that dream came true. Thanks to Abkhazian/Georgian cooperation and ICRC support, Giorgi has finally come home.
Engineering student Giorgi Popkhadze was 23 when war broke out in his home town of Sukhumi in 1992. Like his fellow-students, neighbours and friends, Giorgi stayed in Sukhumi throughout the 1992-1993 conflict, as all the young men felt obliged to protect their families and their city. In August 1993, when it became dangerous to stay in Sukhumi, Giorgi asked his mother and underage sister to leave. Very reluctantly, Giorgi's mother Mzevinar and her daughter allowed themselves to be evacuated to Poti, some 150 km south of Sukhumi along the Black Sea coast.
"Every day, my daughter and I used to go to the port, to meet the ships bringing people who had fled from Sukhumi. I hoped to see Giorgi among them. But days passed and I had no news about my boy. One day, I suddenly saw one of my neighbours who had just arrived in the port. She hugged me tightly with tears in her eyes and said 'My condolences, Mzevinar!' That was how I learned that my Giorgi was no longer alive. He had been killed on the last day of the war, not far from our house."
For almost 20 years, Mzevinar tried to visit her son's grave. She heard that neighbours had buried the bodies of brutally killed young men in the garden of their house. Days of hope and expectation, endless efforts to "get him back" as Mzevinar put it, turned into two decades of ambiguity and disappointment.
"All that time, the thing I wanted most was to have my son's grave here, so I could grieve for him properly," explained Mzevinar. "Can you imagine what it's like when your dearest dream is to have your son's grave near you?"
Coordination mechanism brings hope
The "Bipartite Coordination Mechanism for Clarifying the Fate of Persons Missing in Relation to the Armed Conflict of 1992-1993 and After" brings together Abkhazians and Georgians and was set up in 2010, under the aegis of the ICRC. The first exhumations and identifications of human remains took place in Sukhumi 20 years after the conflict. One set of remains was identified as being Giorgi. The ICRC facilitated his transfer through checkpoints and administrative boundaries to his family, who could finally bury him in accordance with their religious traditions and customs.
Many people attended the funeral, including Mzevinar's new neighbours, who had never met Giorgi. The local priest held a special service and Giorgi was buried in the family plot.
"For a mother who knew nothing about her son for over 20 years there can be no greater happiness," said Mzevinar. "I will continue to pray for the ICRC, because they made my dream come true. I have a grave for my Giorgi and I can go there every day."