As the Church defended the peace in South Ossetia

8 Aug 2008 – exactly ten years ago in the Caucasus began the five-day war. In Georgia it was called invasion, and in Russia considered a peacekeeping operation to protect South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The conflict is not able to share the Transcaucasian Orthodox: since the beginning of hostilities, the Church tried to reconcile the warring parties. “Pravmir” recalls how it was.

South Ossetia. Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali. Photo ITAR-TASS/ Sergei Uzakov

  • War in Ossetia: Georgia erases the country from the face of the earth, the Russian army enters
  • How to help the refugees from South Ossetia
  • For peace in South Ossetia
  • In South Ossetia remember the victims of the five-day war

The 90s and 2000s years

Pockets of ethnic tensions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia appeared shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the early 90-ies of the two Autonomous republics declared independence from the new Georgian state. Georgia did not recognize the separation of the two regions, which led to armed conflict, culminating in the actual separation of the unrecognized States from the mother country. Since the mid 90-ies of peace in the region provided peacekeeping forces of the CIS, mainly consisting of Russian troops.

The situation worsened after coming to power in Georgia in 2004, President Mikhail Saakashvili has announced its intention to restore Central government control over the two Autonomous regions. By 2008, the tension reached its highest point: both sides accused each other of provocations and attempts to break the agreement of the 90-ies.

8 Aug 2008

Early on the morning of August 8, parts of the 58th Russian army entered the territory of South Ossetia. They were designed to protect the peacekeeping contingent in the Republic and residents of the capital Tskhinvali and surrounding villages. According to the Russian version, the Georgian troops had shelled the Ossetian villages and the capital of the Republic of heavy weapons. According to the Georgian operation in the region was a response to attacks by Ossetian militias in Georgian villages and unauthorized entry across the border by Russian troops. On the morning of 8 August, fighting broke out with tanks and aircraft.

Orthodox hierarchs immediately took the initiative of a ceasefire.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II called for the fighting to stop immediately. He recalled that “among those who raises a hand to each other, are Orthodox Christians. Moreover, faced each other Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love.”

– Pay to those who are blinded by hatred, and your hot call: stop! Do not let them shed even more blood, do not allow to signicantly expand the current conflict! Show wisdom and courage: sit down at the negotiating table, which would respect the traditions, views and aspirations of the Georgian and Ossetian peoples. Russian Church is ready to unite efforts with the Georgian Church to promote peace. Our God, Who “is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33), but we will be in it the Assistant – exhorted the Patriarch.

The Catholicos-Patriarch of all Georgia Ilia II urged “the Georgian authorities and Ossetian side, all who value human life and peaceful development of the country, to do everything to stop the armed confrontation, and the problems were settled peacefully”.

– It should be noted that the Georgian leadership for a peaceful solution to the conflict and is ready to conduct a peaceful policy. I hope that the Ossetian side will not escalate the situation. Georgian and Ossetian peoples are linked by centuries of friendship, kinship and, most importantly, we share the Christian faith, and we must live peacefully without blood, – said in the appeal of the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

9 Aug 2008

From South Ossetia to the North in the Russian Republic of Alania – a flood of refugees. One of the points of reception and assistance located in the female Epiphany monastery of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz diocese, near the city of Alagir. He sheltered families are forced to leave their homeland because of the fighting, mostly women and children. Readiness to give shelter to refugees, said all parishes and monasteries of the Stavropol diocese, and its head, Archbishop of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz Feofan urged to collect humanitarian aid for residents of war-affected areas.

In the early days of the conflict were collected more than 20 tons of humanitarian cargo.

10-12 August 2008

Patriarch Alexy II and Patriarch Ilia urged his congregation to pray for peace and called on the international community to help stop the bloodshed.

I want to ask the large countries such as Russia, America and European countries, so they did everything to this conflict resolved peacefully. We did not fight with anyone ― we try to protect our ancestral land. We thought they (Ossetians), and we believe our brothers, and we encourage them to stay as brothers, ― said the Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II in a sermon August 10, 2008.

In Russia and Ukraine held prayers for the speedy restoration of peace.

– Unfortunately, our great holiday marred by the events that reach us from South Ossetia, which killed two thousand civilians, where tens of thousands of local people became refugees, losing their homes, and many of their loved ones. We prayed fervently for them that are burdened with suffering and anxiety for their lives, for their existence, for their future, and those who died, we remember today in the prayers to the Lord to grant them the dwellings of the righteous, – said the Metropolitan of Krutitsy and Kolomna Juvenaly during the celebration of the day of remembrance of the Mother of God “Smolensk”, named “Hodegetria” (a guide).

To the cessation of conflict August 11, 2008 called on Pope Benedict XVI. He recalled the common Christian heritage between Russia and Georgia, and called on influential countries to take initiatives to find a peaceful solution.

August 2008

The advance of Russian troops deep into Georgian territory lasted until August 12. In the center of the country they occupied the city of Gori on the road to Tbilisi, in the East coastal city of Poti. By 16 August the conflicting parties approved the plan of conflict resolution, developed with the participation of diplomats of Russia, France, USA, Georgia and the two unrecognised republics.

All this time continued contacts between representatives of the Russian and Georgian Orthodox churches. The Chairman of the Department for external Church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate (now Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia) Kirill helped Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II to visit the Russian army occupied Gori and Georgian to take out the wounded and the dead. The motorcade and security for the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church has provided the Russian military.

At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church declared collecting aid for victims in conflict.

– Completed in the recent past, military actions in South Ossetia have forced thousands of people to flee their homes. According to various reports, more than thirty thousand residents of South Ossetia found temporary shelter in the Russian Federation. The purpose of this fundraiser — implementation efforts of the Department for Church charity project for the purchase and distribution of humanitarian aid among the victims of military actions, participate in elimination of consequences of humanitarian disaster, – was stated in the letter of Patriarch Alexy II on the ruling bishops.

After the war

Only the Russian Orthodox Church has collected nearly 28.5 million rubles to help the victims of the conflict. In the first phase of implementation of the Church’s humanitarian plan 500 families who lost their homes as a result of military action, have benefited from the provision of humanitarian aid (bedding, towels, dishes, kitchen utensils, appliances, household goods, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies). In the second stage 100 Ossetian families became owners of sets of appliances (two-compartment refrigerator, washing machine, microwave, juicer, kettle and iron).

In the third stage, the Russian Orthodox Church helped to equip nine schools of South Ossetia sewing workshops, four computer labs, organized educational and social centres in the devastated country.

A year later, after the war, priest Sergei Zvonarev, acting Secretary for far-abroad countries of the Department for external Church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate at the international scientific conference “Religion in the modern system of international relations: the possibilities of religion in building peace and resolving conflict” stated:

– Mass casualties and destruction in the zone of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict became a serious barrier that divided a people. Today, when our country is experiencing not the best time of their relationship, the dialogue between the Russian and Georgian Orthodox Churches is almost the only bridge linking the people on either side. Joint humanitarian and peacekeeping activities of the two Churches can heal the wounds of military confrontation. Their peacekeeping potential, including the ability to facilitate reaching agreement about establishment of the status quo in the region.

It Orthodox of the Caucasus and their brothers in the faith hope till now.

Photo IA “RES”/ L. parastaeva

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