30 YEARS AFTER APRIL 9, 1989 GEORGIA’S PEACEFUL FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
30 years ago, on April 9, 1989 the Soviet army brutally dispersed a large pro-independence rally on Rustaveli Avenue, in the heart of Georgian capital. Twenty-one people were killed, including women and youth. Hundreds of citizens were poisoned. The tragedy is referred as Tbilisi Massacre.
“twenty-one people were killed
hundreds of citizens
Georgia’s independence movement became active in 1988. On April 4, students from various universities declared a hunger strike, calling for national disobedience, secession of Georgia from the USSR, full sovereignty, and the abolition of autonomous formations within Georgia. The movement for independence and democracy, powered by the aspiration to return to Western civilization brought together thousands of protesters.
Protesters eventually gathered in front of the government building on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi. They organized a peaceful demonstration and hunger strikes. Thousands of citizens came from the capital Tbilisi and from the rest of Georgia, including from the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia regions.
In the evening of April 8, a Soviet general ordered mobilization of USSR forces within the territory of Georgia and beyond its borders. The events of April 9 were the culmination of weeks of demonstrations for Georgia’s independence.
Within minutes before the tragedy on April 9, the leaders of the Georgian Orthodox Church passionately addressed the crowd holding candles and flags in front of the government building. They warned of possible violence and asked those gathered to leave peacefully. But the demonstrators remained in place. When local Soviet authorities lost control over the situation and were unable to contain the protests, their leadership mobilized troops to restore the “order.”
At 4AM, on April 9, history changed abruptly for Soviet and Georgian politics. Georgian soldiers and military personnel refused to intervene and supported the protesters. Soviet tanks then appeared on the streets of Tbilisi, where special task units of the Soviet Army proceeded to massacre protestors who were rallying to demand the territorial integrity and independence of Georgia.
Armed with entrenchment shovels and blunt weapons, Soviet soldiers brutally began routing the protestors. Soviet soldiers attempted to isolate the entire space, making it impossible for citizens to escape. The clergy lent a hand to the protesters. One of the main churches located in front of the government building opened its gates to give people refuge.
Soviet troops brutally dispersed the pro-independence rally, killing twenty-one people, mostly women and youth, in a wild frenzy. The youngest victims of the tragedy were 16 years old. Hundreds of citizens were poisoned by the toxic agents Soviet troops employed against the demonstrators. From clinical and toxicological evidence, experts later concluded that the tearing agents and a prohibited toxic agent, chloropicrin, were used. This tragic event marked the beginning of Georgia’s difficult journey to independence.
April 9 inspired many young people to join the national liberation movements and contribute to the independence of Georgia. On March 31, 1991, Georgians motivated by the April 9 events voted in a referendum for independence from the Soviet Union. With a 90.5 percent turnout, 99 percent voted in favor of Georgia’s independence.
On April 9, 1991 on the second anniversary of the tragedy, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed Georgian sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union based on the results of a nationwide referendum. In the same year, one of the leaders of the national protest movement Zviad Gamsakhurdia became the first democratically elected president of Georgia.
The Act of Restoration of the State Independence of Georgia states: “The Republic of Georgia, striving for a dignified position in the world community of nations, recognizes and ensures equally all the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, including national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups, envisaged by international law, as required by the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international pacts and conventions.”
The country declared itself a legal successor of the earlier Democratic Republic of Georgia.
April 9 had a significant impact not only on Georgia, but on the whole Soviet Union. People living under communist governments began to question the regime and its values. Many were inspired by the Georgian example to fight for their own independence.
The night of April 9 remains in the history of Georgia as both one of the most tragic and heroic dates, a moment when the whole country united to fight for Georgia’s independence. Georgia will always remember the heroes who tried to stop Soviet tanks with their bare hands, only to be killed by Soviet troops. The date is indelibly etched into the minds of Georgians as the day of National Unity.
Today the Government of Georgia remains committed to peaceful conflict resolution policy that relies on the tasks of de-occupation of Georgian territories by Russia, on the one hand, and on reconciliation and engagement between the war-torn communities, on the other. Georgia remains in full compliance with the Ceasefire Agreement and is constructively engaged in the Geneva International Discussions – the essential peace negotiations format designed to address security and humanitarian challenges stemming from the unresolved conflict between Russia and Georgia. In parallel, the Government of Georgia spares no effort to share the benefits of country’s development and European integration to the people living across the occupation line. For this purpose, the Government has launched a new peace initiative “A Step to the Better Future” – which seeks to improve the humanitarian, social, and economic conditions of the residents of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali occupied regions of Georgia and to encourage contacts, movement, and interaction based on mutual interests across the dividing lines.
Georgia’s integration in European and Euro-Atlantic communities and structures, together with protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity, remain top priorities for the Georgian foreign policy.
30 years after April 9, 1989 Georgia’s peaceful fight for freedom continues. Georgia’s culture and history, its freedom, its unity, and its democratic state founded on the European values are the key elements strengthening the political processes that will drive Georgia forwards becoming even more united, inclusive and future-oriented member of the European family.