Hegumen Georgy Bestayev, rector of the Alanian (Ossetian) podvorie (representation parish) in Moscow, gave an interview to Interfax-Religion correspondent Yelena Zhosul the day before the Russian recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, immediately after his return from Tskhinvali.
Hegumen Georgy Bestayev
Late at night on 7 August, I learned about the Georgian invasion of my homeland of South Ossetia from the TV news. But, what could I do now?! I started to pray. I asked Almighty God to grant us peace; I asked Him to protect the people in Tskhinvali from the barbarous shelling. The next morning, I went to the Ossetian cultural centre because the members of Ossetian community in Moscow were gathering there. Later in the morning on 8 August, I visited the Patriarchate and received permission and a blessing to go to South Ossetia.
I was in Tskhinvali, in outlying districts, and in the villages; I met with ordinary people, with soldiers of the Russian army, and with militiamen. I had mixed feelings when I saw those militiamen. Babies I once carried in my arms were now militiamen, defenders of Ossetia, real patriots. However, it is such a pity that these boys, instead of studying to become doctors, teachers, farmers, and builders, had to pick up weapons to defend their houses from the Georgian invasion.
I was pleasantly surprised by the patriotism of the people all over Ossetia. In Vladikavkaz, I went to a military shop to buy camouflage gear. 16-year-old boys and old men, all stood on line to buy military equipment, the sales assistants didn’t have enough time to bring it all out. It seemed to me that my cassock inspired people and they all wished me well. When I came in and people learned that I was an Ossetian too, everybody cheered up; the very presence of a priest seemed to be helpful.
It wasn’t easy to get to Tskhinvali and I had to go with a military column. I got to my native village. [Georgian] military positions that terrorised us for 20 years were captured and the Ossetian villages were now free. It was pleasant to drive along the road and know that no one will torture us anymore. From the other side, it was frightful to see three flaming Georgian villages located between our village and the town.
Georgian troops occupied these villages for 20 years?
Hegumen Georgy Bestayev
Yes. During all that time, they behaved insolently, they brutalised us as they liked. Just imagine… they blocked the road and didn’t let anyone go. They blew up the water pipe that crossed the village that provided people with water. They stopped passing cars and beat up children. They always tried to punch in the kidneys; some of their victims died from the beatings.
Last year, I drove home and they didn’t let me in. “You have a Russian passport!” You try to pass them by and they signal you to stop. If you brought more than a kilo (2.2 pounds) of wheat or a packet of salt to your native village, they took away everything. Why did they do this? Did they lack anything? Georgians oppressed Ossetians, even in Soviet times. Georgians were usually appointed to government posts, to the best positions. However, I must emphasise that the ordinary people lived in friendship and mutual understanding with one another. Certainly, the fact that Georgians are an Orthodox people helped us, and we have lived in proximity for centuries. I studied at a Georgian school until the sixth grade, it was a mixed school and we didn’t have any quarrels. Thirty per cent of marriages here are between Georgians and Ossetians. What did the Georgian leadership lack? Just live an ordinary life, live with the fear of God, and everything will be all right. Yet, they stabbed us in the back. Why?
It was the second attempt of Georgians in the recent past to evict or annihilate Ossetians. If you recall what Gamsakhurdia’s carrion-eating vultures did in 1989-1991, it was simply a nightmare. Criminals and bandits were given military uniforms, and the Mafia made-man Jaba Ioseliani was their commander. They committed atrocities, they set everything on fire, they killed and raped. Then, in 1989 there was a case when Georgian soldiers stopped a bus with refugees and fired point-black at everyone, including women and children. There was so much blood that the loaves of bread this bus was carrying floated in pools of blood.
Today, everything is the same. This time, they thought everything would come off swimmingly with aid from America. I talked to Georgians in their military post last year, I warned them, “Guys, if you act like this, you won’t go far. You should put your trust in the Lord God; you shouldn’t put your trust in America”. They laughed at me in response…
This time, the Georgian invaders acted more brutally. For example, when they passed along a quiet civilian street, they threw grenades through the window into a basement full of cowering innocent civilians. Children ran to meet them, and they fired at the kids. I was told how Georgian soldiers broke into a flat, raped the daughter of the family, who was a young beautiful girl, in front of her mother. Then, they beheaded the mother in her presence, and, finally, they killed the girl.
I saw such brutalities in American films about Vietnam where US soldiers cold-bloodedly killed women and children. I heard that the Georgian contingent in Iraq, about 2,000 soldiers, is especially trained to kill in cold blood. As we know, hundreds of American instructors in Georgia trained Georgian troops and Georgian Special Forces. It’s evident that the Americans trained them to kill mostly women, old men, and children.
It’s difficult to forgive the atrocities committed by the Georgian invaders. Thus, Ossetians have made a political decision. We will never live with the Georgians in one state again.
You mentioned that Georgian soldiers committed outrages against Ossetians for twenty years. What about ordinary Georgians, what relations did you have with them?
Hegumen Georgy Bestayev
Ordinary Georgians have always lived in peace with us. It is very painful for us to realise that our neighbours in the Georgian villages supported Gamsakhurdia, and now they arose to side with Saakashvili. He incited them against Russia. I think that 85 per cent of the local Georgians were incited against the Russians.
What did you see in Tskhinvali? How did ordinary people behave, what was their reaction?
Hegumen Georgy Bestayev
Our people are used to hardship from the time of Gamsakhurdia forward. Since then, our people have endured much. Children, who were born then, today, have to carry on the war. Tskhinvali was almost cleared [of Georgian forces] when I came, but, shooting was still heard. As people told me, 17-year-old militiamen fought fearlessly, they jumped on Georgian tanks, opened the hatches, and captured the crews. Everyone who could, took up arms, all the fit men aged from 16 to 60 stood up to fight this war against the Georgians. It was a life and death struggle for our people.
Certainly, people were still in a state of shock after all that was done by the Georgian invaders, but, when they saw me, they brightened up as if they were inspired. Wherever I dropped in, a crowd always surrounded me at once, and people asked, “How shall we go on? What shall we do?” I urged them to pray to the Lord God, as prayer is more powerful than an atomic bomb. You go out wearing your cross, without camouflage, without weapons, you talk to people, you comfort them, you tell them that everything would be all right, and it brings them relief, they become different people.
I often met with Russian soldiers; I gave them crosses and bands with the 91st Psalm (“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High”). I gave out more than 2,000 such bands. The soldiers said, “This prayer helps us more than our commander’s orders and tank armour, because God is with us”. When you give a holy thing to our Russian soldiers before a battle, they feel closer to God. Many, many soldiers asked for this prayer band. Even if they were not baptised, even if they didn’t believe much, they took it, and told me in two days, “Father, how powerful it is! How much it helps!”
27 August 2008
It is time to cut through the CNN and White House lies. It is simple, truly. Mikhail Saakashvili gave his solemn word that his forces were standing down. Instead, they struck that very evening. That means that his word is devoid of any meaning, that he shall say what he wills to gain momentary political advantage. This sounds like some in Washington, does it not? If someone agrees to stand down, and then attacks that very night, that is called treachery. Anyone who approves of Saakashvili, therefore, approves the use of treachery.
The war started with an intense rocket barrage on the civilian neighbourhoods of Tskhinvali. I do not think that most Americans understand what a Grad barrage is. If they did, Saakashvili’s brutality would sicken and disgust them. Let me repeat, within 20 seconds, at least 720 to 1,440 (or, maybe more) heavy artillery rockets slammed into the homes of the sleeping people of Tskhinvali. As Tskhinvali is only a city of some 30,000, even this initial bombardment would cause much damage just on its own, not counting the follow-up fire from tube artillery. Eyewitness reports from independent Russian journalists confirm that the barrage went on for at least seven hours. There are only so many targets in such a small city.
The Georgians used 15.2-centimetre howitzers (50 kilo (110 pound) shells) and 12.2-centimetre Grad MRLs (20 kilo (44 pound) warheads) to fire into the city. This is not to count fire from mortars and 12.5-centimetre guns (23 kilo (51 pound) HE shells) mounted on the 84 T-72 main battle tanks in the battle zone. If we assume a fire rate of 12 rounds/hour per 15.2-centimetre howitzer (a standard sustained rate would be 20 rounds/hour, but, let’s be cautious, let’s not tire out the gun bunnies), and there were 2 artillery battalions (18 howitzers each, 36 in all) supporting the 2 Georgian brigades, one can see that a seven-hour barrage could lay at least 3,024 50-kilo shells in this rather small city (this amount of ordnance could be carried in 72 standard 3-ton trucks (2 per howitzer), well within the Georgian capability). The Grads carry a reload set of rockets on each vehicle, so we must add 1,440 to 2,880 20-kilo warheads from this source to the above total. So, one can see that 4,464 to 5,904 artillery rounds slammed into Tskhinvali within seven hours. That is sufficient to wreck such a small location from top to bottom. Reflect on the fact that Saakashvili deliberately ordered all of the above. This was no fluke. This was not a miscalculation. This occurred with the full knowledge of Rice and Bush, if not their outright approval. If you support Saakashvili you support the bombardment of a small city using disproportionate force, as the above figures indicate. It shows Bush and Rice to be liars… there is no other word for it.
In short, Fr Georgy is being kind. He saw the destruction with his own eyes and does not damn the Georgians to Hell for their brutishness and callous disregard for human life. He is better than I am, I guess. I can forgive, as a Christian ought, but, the hellishness unleashed by Saakashvili is beneath all contempt. I would forgive him… then, cooly slip the noose about his neck and spring the trap (after a proper court sentence, of course). May God have mercy on his soul, and may he face justice for his enormities. It is only just.