29 August 2008, 15:00
Russian soldiers said a prayer protected them better than tank armor
Rector of the Alanian representation in Moscow Hegumen Georgy (Bestayev) gave an interview to Interfax-Religion correspondent Yelena Zhosul the day before South Ossetia and Abkhazia were recognized independent and just after he returned from Tskhivali.
- I learned about armed aggression of Georgian leaders against my people in South Ossetia late at night on August 7 from TV news. What could I do then?! I started praying. I asked the Almighty Lord to grant us peace, I asked to protect people in Tskhinval from barbarian shelling. We went to the Ossetian cultural center in the morning, members of Moscow Ossetian community were gathering there. I also visited the Patriarchate in the morning on August 8 and got a blessing to go to South Ossetia.
I was in Tskhinval, in districts, in villages, I met with ordinary people, with soldiers of the Russian army, with militia. I had a double feeling when I saw those militiamen. Babies I once carried in my arms have become militiamen, protectors of Ossetians, real patriots. However, it is such a pity that these boys instead of studying to become doctors, teachers, agronomists and builders have to defend their houses from Georgian aggression.
Patriotism of people all along Ossetia surprised me. We called on a military shop in Vladikavkaz to buy camouflage. 16-year boys and old men, all were standing in the line to buy military equipment, sales assistants didn’t have enough time to bring it. My frock seemed to inspire people and all wished me well. When I came in and people learned I am an Ossetian, everyone cheered up, the very presence of a priest seemed to be helpful.
It wasn’t easy to get to Tskhinval and I had to go with a military column. I got to my native village. Military posts that terrorized us for 20 years were withdrawn and Ossetian villages were free. How fine it was to drive along this road and understand 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 were quartered in these villages for 20 years?
- Yes. All these time they behaved boldly, they brutalized us, as they liked. Just imagine they blocked the road and didn’t let anyone go. They shelled the water pipe that crossed the village and provided people with water. They stopped passing cars and assaulted people. They always tried to hit in the kidneys, some people were beaten within an inch of their lives.
Last year I drove home and they didn’t let me in: “You have a Russian passport!” I passed by and they were signaling to stop me. If you bring more than a kilo of wheat or a pack of salt to the native village, they took away everything. Why did they do it? Did they lack anything? Georgians oppressed Ossetians even in the Soviet times. Georgians were usually appointed to nomenclature posts, to the best positions. However, I have to stress that ordinary people lived in friendship and mutual understanding. Certainly, Georgians are Orthodox people, it helped us, and we have lived together 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 mixed. What did Georgian leaders lack? Live a normal life, live with God and everything will be all right. And they stabbed us in the back. What for?
It was the second attempt of Georgians to evict or annihilate Ossetians. If we recall what Gamsakhurdia’s carrion crows made in 1989-1991, it was a nightmare. Criminals and bandits were given military uniform, and the made man Jaba Ioseliani headed them. They were beastlike, they set everything on fire, they killed and raped. Then in 1989 there was a case when Georgian militants stopped a bus with refugees and fired point-black at everyone including women and children. There was so much blood that loaves of bread this bus was delivering floated in pools of blood.
Today everything is the same. They thought this time everything would go off swimmingly with America’s help. I talked to Georgians on their military post last year, I warned them: guys, if you act like this, you won’t go far. You look at America, while you should look at the Lord. They laughed in return...
This time Georgian aggressors were even crueler. For example, they passed the basement full of people and shelled it. Children ran to meet and they fired at children. They told how Georgian militants broke into the flat, raped a daughter, who was a young beautiful girl, in front of her mother then took off the mother's head in her presence and killed the girl.
I saw such brutalities in American films where U.S. soldiers cold-bloodedly kill women and children. I heard that Georgian contingent in Iraq, about two thousand people, is specially trained to kill in cold blood. As we know, hundreds of American instructors trained Georgian troops and Georgian special forces on the territory of Georgia. It's evident that Americans trained them to kill mostly women, old men and children.
It's hard to forgive such brutalities of Georgian aggressors. Thus, Ossetians have made their political conclusion: we will never live with Georgians in one state.
- You mentioned that Georgian militants had been insulted Ossetians for twenty years. What about ordinary Georgians - what relations did you have with them?
- Ordinary people have always lived in peace with us. It is very painful to realize that our neighbors in Georgian villages supported Gamsakhurdia, and now they side with Saakashvili. He incited them against Russia. I think that 85 per cent of local Georgians were set against Russians.
- What did you see in Tskhinvali? How ordinary people behaved, what was their reaction?
- Our people got used to hardships from the times of Gamsakhurdia. Since then our people have endured much. Children, who were born then, today have to carry on war. Tskhinval was almost free, when I came, but shooting was still heard. As people told me, 17-year militiamen were fighting fearlessly – they jumped on Georgian tanks, opened the hatch and captured the crew. Everyone who could take arms aged from 16 to 60 raised to this war against Georgians. It was people’s life and death struggle.
Certainly, people were shocked after everything done by Georgian aggressors, but when they saw me, they brightened 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, as the prayer is more powerful than an atomic bomb. You go with cross, without camouflage, without weapon, you talk to people, comfort them, tell them that everything would be alright and it brings them relief, they become different people.
I often met with Russian soldiers, I gave them crosses, bands with the 91st Psalm (“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High.”) I spread more than two thousands of such bands. Soldiers confessed: “This prayer helps us more than all commander’s orders and tank armor, because God is with us.” When you give a shrine to our Russian soldiers before the battle, they feel closer to God. Many soldiers asked for this prayer. Even if they were not baptized, 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!”