Ekho Kavkaza, by Vitaly Sharia (30 August) —Today, Abkhazia, like the rest of the world, observed the International Day of the Disappeared. Memorial ceremonies took place in Sukhum. Boris Kazanba, Deputy Head of the ICRC mission in Abkhazia, estimates that since the early 90s, roughly two thousand individuals from both sides remain unaccounted for. This international organisation continues its efforts to ascertain their fate.
Globally, today marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, also known as the Day of the Disappeared. Established to highlight the plight of those detained and whose whereabouts remain unknown, the day also emphasises the importance of searching for the disappeared. The initiative to recognize this day originated in 1983 from the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared.
In Abkhazia, every August 30th is exclusively celebrated as the Day of the Disappeared. The overwhelming majority on the Abkhazian list are people who disappeared during the Patriotic War of the People of Abkhazia [Georgian-Abkhazian War] in 1992-1993.
Immediately after the armed conflict, by order of the first president of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba, a Commission on the Affairs of the Disappeared was established, which collected information and also conducted negotiations with the Georgian side regarding the burial of those who died during the war.
The implementation of the program for the identification of the remains of fighters buried in Sukhum in the Park of Glory began in 2010. According to agreements between the government of Abkhazia and the International Committee of the Red Cross, from July to August 2013, international experts conducted the exhumation of 43 bodies buried at this location. Presumably, these were the remains of those killed during the March offensive operation to liberate Sukhum, as well as those shot down in helicopters on the Akhbyuk hill (in July 1993) and at the Marukh Pass (in June 1993). The remains were also from the village of Kaman. DNA samples of the exhumed and their relatives were then sent to a laboratory in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. As a result of the joint work of the government of Abkhazia and the ICRC, 37 fighters were identified and reburied.
The world's oldest humanitarian organisation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, within its mandate, deals with determining the fate of those missing in armed conflicts or as a result of abductions, as well as providing assistance to their families. Deputy Head of the ICRC mission in Abkhazia, Boris Kazanba, told "Ekho Kavkaza" that work in this direction continues:
"We have about two thousand listed as missing in the war. More than two hundred families have already received answers about the fate of their loved ones who were considered missing. That is, the remains were identified and handed over to the families for a dignified burial. Currently, we are saying that in Abkhazia, this number is forty-four families."
– Were the other bodies handed over to the Georgian side?
The rest, accordingly, were handed over to families in Georgia.
– But a very large number still remains unfound?
Well, the work continues. This work did not subside for us even during the pandemic period. We are conducting it in conjunction with the authorities and local organisations. Now it's the summer season, which is essentially an extension. That is, we do not stop in this work and hope for final results."
– Who is currently heading the ICRC in Abkhazia?
The mission of the International Committee is led by Rodrigo de Rezande.
– Is he from Latin America?
From Spain, but originally from Brazil.
Rodrigo de Rezande was introduced to the Abkhazian community in October of the previous year at the cultural-business platform "Guma", marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the ICRC mission in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict zone.
+ Sukhum's State Museum Honours the Disappeared of Georgian-Abkhazian War with Poignant Photo Exhibition
Boris Kazanba only provided figures, but it's clear that behind these numbers are specific people, the pain and memory of whom remain alive to this day.
About twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day with the Lagvalava family in the village of Lower Eshera. The parents of a son, who went missing during the March offensive of the Abkhazian army on Sukhum, spoke a lot about him and asked me to print an article in the newspaper - in case any of the readers might know about his fate. No one responded... Years later, his body was identified among those buried in the Park of Glory immediately after the war. The last hope that he had somehow survived was lost by the family, but since then, relatives could visit his grave and knew where his remains lay.
The fate of the famous Abkhazian poet Taif Adzhba has still not been determined. On October 9, 1992, a group of armed Georgian guards took him and several other men from an apartment building in the New district of Sukhum. They were taken in an unknown direction. From that time until today, nothing is known about the fate of Taif Adzhba. The poet's diary, which he began to keep from the first days of the war, was subsequently published under the title "Survive Until Dawn." He often repeated these words on the pages of his diary. According to unconfirmed data, Taif Adzhba was shot after prolonged torture. In 2014, ICRC specialists conducted search operations, but in the specified location in the village of Akapa of the Sukhum district, where Taif Adzhba was presumably buried, his remains were not found.
The fate of the young Abkhazian historian Vitaliy Butba, last seen during the March offensive, remains unknown.
In recent years, Abkhazian media have recounted many heart-wrenching stories about those who went missing. For instance, Boris Inapshba, a native of the village of Chlou in the Ochamchira district, died during the aforementioned March offensive of 1993. Boris's body, writes journalist Asta Ardzinba, remained on the left bank of the Gumista River, not controlled by the Abkhazian army. After Abkhazia's victory in the war – in October 1993 – it was difficult to identify the soldiers buried in a mass grave. However, Boris Inapshba's parents still took the body, believing it to be their deceased son, and buried it in the ancestral cemetery in Chlou. The soldier's widow, Mziya Beya, did not resist the will of the elders, but she admitted that she was plagued by doubts. That's why, when an international program began in Abkhazia, initiating the exhumation and identification of unidentified soldiers buried in the Park of Military Glory in Sukhum, she approached the Commission for the Missing under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic. The hardest part was persuading her husband's relatives to participate in the program and submit DNA samples. As it turned out later, not in vain. Boris Inapshba's genuine remains were identified among those buried in the park. On June 21, 2015, the family had the opportunity to rebury his remains on the ancestral estate. "Now my soul is at peace because my son knows where his father is buried, and the grandchildren will also know where to come and lay flowers," Mziya said then.
Today, the Vladislav Ardzinba State Museum of Military Glory opened a photo exhibition dedicated to the memory of those who went missing in the Patriotic War of the Abkhazian people. It was organised by the movement "Mothers of Abkhazia for Peace and Social Justice" with the support of the ICRC Mission in Abkhazia. The movement's chairperson, Guli Kichba, spoke at the opening. Her son – Hero of Abkhazia, Arzamet Tarba, was also long considered missing.
The exhibition features photographs from the book "Those Fate Didn't Spare...", published in 2022. Under each photo are excerpts from the memories of relatives and loved ones who went missing during the war. These photos were first presented to the public in 2022, then they were handed over to the museum. The initiative to publish the book belonged to the movement "Mothers of Abkhazia for Peace and Social Justice". The project was funded by the ICRC Mission.
And at eight o'clock in the evening, in front of the Abkhaz State Drama Theatre building, an event in memory of those who went missing during the Patriotic War of the people of Abkhazia is set to begin.
This report was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.