27 years ago, Georgian city of Sukhumi fell in the aftermath of military confrontation. Georgian units were fighting against Abkhazian army backed by mercenaries from North Caucasus, Kazaks and non-sanctioned Russian units in Gudauta (district). The confrontation began on August 14, 1992. Although soon it evolved into the full-scale war which lasted during 13 months and 13 days.
Archimandrite Andrey currently serves as the Dean of St. Elijah Monastery in Odessa. In 1993, in a month after Sukhumi fell, Archimandrite Andrey was one of the last persons who left the occupied territory and was protecting his native town and the congregation of local cathedral church till the end.
In the interview with Front News International Archimandrite Andrey told about ,,tension’’ between Georgians and Abkhazian population which originated in USSR period. Besides that, the interlocutor shared some unique stories with Front News International about the daily life of Abkhazian people in the period of 1992-93, also told private stories about decisive role of Church in unification between two nations.
Front News International: Father, we are glad to greet you. Please tell us, why the Abkhazian conflict started in all and where its origin lies?
Archimandrite Andrey: On September 8, 1981 Metropolitan David Chkadua was appointed head of Eparchy of Bichvinta and Tskhum-Abkhazia. We have been in Sukhumi when I was only 12. However, I was already feeling intense environment around me. There was some misunderstanding between Georgian side and local ethnical Abkhazians. By the end of 80s, Abkhazian turbulence began. Abkhazian side demanded to secede from the USSR. In 1991, in the aftermath of dissolution of USSR, Georgia gained independence. Abkhazian citizens, backed by then living local Armenian population, started to insist on gaining sovereignty by themselves. Georgian government who was trying to mitigate the conflict, created all conditions for working of media – TV, radio and press. There were Abkhazian language school and university. In spite of that, Abkhazians kept demanding independence.
FNI: Was the Church trying to promote tackling this conflict anyhow?
A. A.: Besides that, the Church also didn’t stand outside. With the blessing of Catholic Patriarch of Georgia Ilya II, metropolitan David Chkadua tried to unify two nations, saying: ,,We are one big family, there is no reason for us to split up. Any family consists of either Georgian, or Abkhazian’’. Metropolitan David called on everyone to go to church and pray for peace in Abkhazian region. During his term, a lot of temples and Sunday’s schools were restored or opened. Religious studies were taught in Georgian and Abkhazian universities. The Church newspaper was published which was being released monthly. Through the newspaper ,,Republic of Abkhazia’’ educational articles were being published and that was why many people came to be baptized including either Georgians or Abkhazians.
In 1991, Patriarch Ilya II arrived in Sukhumi in order to сonsolidate the piece. He was welcomed by local citizens. People were saying: ,,Our Patriarch is coming’’. While his visiting, Patriarch consecrated Kaman monastery which was restored from ruins. Its restoration was aided by local patron of Abkhazian origin Yuri Anua.
Sukhumi was being bombed intensively that caused lots of victims, ruining homes, lack of bread. People were seeking refuge inside bomb shelters and basements. It was very difficult because people only prayed for peace due to the situation. They prayed that there would be no war, no conflict.
FNI: You often remind Metropolitan David who did a lot for unifying the two ethnics, according to you. What kind of person was he?
A.A.: In 1985, with the blessing of Metropolitan David Chkadua the icon of the Virgin Mary that is named now as Sukhumi. From the very first days we decided to go all over the whole city with the icon in order to protect it from bombing and massacre.
Every day at 12 o’clock with blessing of Patriarch Ilya II people were praying for peace in the church collectively. They were a lot, some of them were standing even in the street waiting for 12 o’clock. There were adults, kids, Abkhazians, Georgians… All of them wanted only that there was no war.
It was very often to hold liturgy in the background of bombing but people didn’t usually run away. Their belief was so strong that they kept praying in spite of everything. The creed was read in three languages: Georgian, Abkhazian and Old Church Slavonic.
FNI: Metropolitan David Chkadua is known to pass away in the midst of war yet. His successor was Bishop Daniel. Did new bishop keep that peaceful position that was characteristic sign of Metropolitan David?
A. A.: On October 7, 1992, Metropolitan David Chkadua passed away owing to his weak heart. After him, Bishop Daniel Datuashvili was appointed to the head of eparchy. He arrived in Sukhumi in the first week in order to manage and support people. He was preaching, calling for peace, love between each other, appreciation and lack of hatred. Usually most families were mixed: One had Abkhazian daughter-in-law, another had Georgian son-in-law, someone’s daughter-in-law was in the marriage with Georgian or Abkhazian… That’s why Bishop Daniel did everything he can for keeping a peace. But when full-scale war broke out, Daniel was going constantly to the frontline, meeting with soldiers, helping and spiritually encouraging them. He was encouraging them so that they wouldn’t fear to protect integrity, unity and independence of their Motherland Georgia.
FNI: What do you remember from the first days of Sukhumi occupation?
A. A.: In August, 1992 Georgian-Abkhazian war broke out and lasted 13 months afterwards. On September 27, 1993 Sukhumi fell. Abkhazians took actual control on the whole territory of republic. The considerable part of the population was forced to leave native places and enter Georgian de-facto territory through the Chuberi-Sakeni Pass. About 100 thousand civilians became refugees being obliged to quit their homeland.
FNI: Please tell us something little about you. How was beginning of your serving in church?
A. A.: When I turned 18, I was ordained as a deacon in Cathedral Church of Sukhumi in honor of the Icon of the Virgin Mary. As a deacon, I headed Sunday school of this Church where children were studying. There were Abkhazians, Georgians and representatives of other nationalities who were professing Orthodox faith and living then in the territory of Abkhazia. About 200 children were going to school in all. We were teaching, going on a trip, visiting Holy places in Abkhazia. Also we were having church paper which was being published once in a month.
Besides that, I was teaching religious studies in the №1 and №5 schools of Sukhumi. We tried to engage in outreach work. At the age of 19, I have already received blessing from Metropolitan David to teach religious studies in the Technical University. Then we have created religious center where all of the youth took part not only in church life, but also helped people with their basic needs.
FNI: How did you manage to quit Sukhumi and end up in the territory of Ukraine?
A. A.: On September 27, 1993, with the blessing of our Bishop Daniel we quit the town and went through Chuberi-Sakeni Pass which was used by all refugees. We moved through the forest during day and night. On the second day, in the morning we have ended up in the village of Sakeni (Georgian side). We started to help refugees and local civilians. People were losing hope after leaving their homes. They thought that nobody needs them without home. Local residents were treating refugees very well then, hosting with pleasure. Patriarchy was helping refugees with blessing of Patriarch Ilya II. It was helping them with product and everything which was needed for persons being too excited and confused. These people still didn’t know what kind of future will be expected after all of that.
With blessing of Ilya II I was appointed in Martvili Monastery. Later, I have been moved to Foka Monastery at my own will. I pursued asceticism during 3 years and in 1997, I arrived in Ukraine at my parents’ will. They have already lived in Ukraine then – in Odessa. After arriving I joined St. Elijah Monastery where I have been living till now.
Front News International