Woman and War

Before I started working on my book about war, I visited two large refugee camps in Kilis and Nizip at the Turkish-Syrian border. I met with Syrian refugees who fled the war and found shelter in these camps. I listened to them and wrote down their stories … The stories of war were retold by men and women – differently. For men, the main character was war, fighting, burned cities, warriors, but for women it was an ordinary person, a person who stood above the war, a person who defeated death and defeated the war itself.

Almost the same time, Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel prize-winning author, visited Tbilisi. Unwomanly Face of War is her first book in which women talk about war.

“Everything that I knew about war before, I heard from men,” – Svetlana Alexievich told me when I asked her about her book. “Hostilities are described through the feelings and perceptions of men. And, women stay silent. Everyone knows men’s war, but when it is described by a woman, who during the war does all the men’s work, completely different colours are emerging and the war becomes even more appalling and abnormal. In the war described by women we see no heroes, but only ordinary people. Therefore, I think that the vision of woman – the way she sees the world, the way she listens and the way she loves – is more contemporary than the vision of man.”

This is how the main character of my new book was created – a female photo reporter, an IDP from Abkhazia, who is covering the war in Syria. In this foreign conflict she lives through her own war. My point was to look at the war through the eyes of a woman, tell the stories of women and children who did not choose a life in burning Sukhumi or Aleppo, loosing loved ones, struggling to survive and post-war life in exile  … This is war, the main characters of which are women…

I know a lot of women who went through the war and reflected it in their work. Lia Toklikishvili is a journalist. Together with film director Nana Janelidze, she wrote a script for the film about the reporter’s adventure in war. The film Where Is Liza Going is about this woman.

Lia first went to Sukhumi at the end of September 1992, when the Russian military was attacking the Georgian troops in Gagra.

“We were in the newsroom of Seven Days newspaper, when somebody asked: who will go to Abkhazia?” – Lia recalls. ”Gio Sanaia was from Sukhumi, from Abkhazia. He was 18 years old then. It was decided that Gio would go, he knew Sukhumi well and it would not have been difficult for him to gather material and return. So, it was decided.

“We were sitting on the bench in the Gudiashvili Square and were discussing Gio’s trip. I suddenly asked him: ‘Do you want me to come with you?’ I said it as someone really grown-up, full of responsibility. ‘Yes,’ he answered. Then, there was some kind of tension for a while…. It seemed like I took responsibility not only for Gio, but for everyone. This war suddenly made me older. After my first report, when I went through terrible days, barely survived and was flying back to Tbilisi, I promised to God right in the sky that I would never go back there again. But, I returned, and more than once. War has this feature – it can bind you for good. I am not familiar with any military reporter who, after the first report, would not go back for the next report.”

It is simply unthinkable not to share the stories of war with others. It is just impossible. You witness the war in order to speak and write about it, for as long as can talk and write, especially if you lost your friends, lost your past in this war.  

“For me, the most expressive are the faces that you can only see in war. Neglected, depressed, with eyes looking for an opportunity to escape,” Lia said. “You can see a person with such a face only in war – full of fear, despair and hopelessness. I used to write back then that many would survive the war physically, but they would never get their faces back, including me. I was among them who fled Sukhumi on the last plane. I will never forget the faces of the people, whose heads I almost ran over when having gripped soldier’s hand I was trying to survive. It is war. Only war can show you what things you are capable of doing, tell you the truth about yourself. When many years later I shared these feelings with the film director Nana Janelidze, we decided that the hero of our screenplay will have a face of Scream, a painting by Munch.”  

The war may not have a face of woman, but it has woman’s voice, woman’s tears, her cry and protest. This voice is heard in the collection Endlessly published by Pop-Verlag publishing house in Germany, which includes stories about war in Abkhazia and Samachablo written by 15 Georgian female writers.

Shorena Lebanidze is one of the authors and her entire work is devoted to women and war.

Shorena Lebanidze, like Lia, was a reporter covering the Abkhazian conflict.

“I went through my war,” Shorena said. “With a group of refugees, I crossed over the Tskhenistskali River on the bridge which was mined – waving a white piece of cloth as we walked so as not to been shot by soldiers hidden in trenches; I recorded an interview at the headquarters, which immediately after our meeting was shelled to the ground; I flew on an airplane, which exploded in the air on its next flight; I spoke with people who soon died or went missing; I saw the villages with abandoned  houses and bombed-out remains; I saw houses with locked doors and boarded-up shutters, yards with overgrow weed, lifeless and devastated places…

It was very emotional, but when I returned to Tbilisi, my heart was calling me back to Abkhazia. It was like a military germ stuck in my blood and haunting me. Back then, I would never imagined that several dozen articles published over the years and other “draft materials” I was carefully keeping, would turn into rich archive and not into useless waste paper. That, those old folders full of records, facts that got into diaries, articles published in newspapers and magazines, which did not allow me to forget the war, will became the basis of fiction and documentary books .”

When it comes to dignified woman, who in any, even the most desperate situation is fighting to preserve the ideals of humanism; who defeated the war (and not won the war), I always remember Manana Anua – a real character from Shorena Lebanidze’s book. An incredibly brave woman who, at the age of 27, survived the horrors of war and who is remembered for her efforts to establish peace … This is a story of a girl with Georgian mother and Abkhazian father, the chronicles of her 52-day captivity; the story about real massacre, full of terrible feelings, memories of scary and gloomy events. But right in this brutality were manifested the basic human qualities which changed the life of Manana Anua and the people around her, Georgian refugees and Abkhazian soldiers, pushing everyone to great spiritual transformation, preparing them for selfless deeds, convincing them of the absurdity of war and the omnipotence of love. They were all moral heroes. In a specific situation, guided by the personal example of Manana Anua, they were able not only protect, but also strengthen their values. They realised that they were not separated by imposed hatred, but on the contrary, were tied by friendship.

And today, this space exists not only in literature, but in real life as well. The village temple created by a 27-year-old girl is meeting point of Georgian captive girls and Abkhazian soldiers, the place where enemies become friends. I believe that these actions, attitudes and positions give the story that happened at a specific time and in a specific place an eternal meaning and make it global for citizens of any country.

“Everyone is a victim in war,” said another female writer Ekaterina Togonidze, who is starring in Nana Janelidze’s new film. “But women start to look more like victims of those who became victims themselves, in captivity of other people’s game rules, mistakes and cruelty they become double victims.

They are not only trying to protect their children, but sometimes even go to war – not only as nurses, but also as fighters, snipers, tank drivers. However, this was never their choice. Men start wars, and women lose their families, homes, future and lives in it. Woman serves to life with all her essence. She is always on the side of life, on guard of reproduction and survival. Therefore, the tragedy of a woman in war, her sacrifice and heroism is a separate story.”

Georgian writer and philosopher Bachana Bregvadze, in his irenologic letter, called the period of peace “the yawn of history.” And when history happens to yawn through the war, the surviving woman has to restore the world destroyed by the war with her own hands.

This is what Ekaterina’s new novel “You – Home” is about. It begins with these words: “People are divided into two groups: those who have gone through the war and those who have not gone through it. But among them there are others – thin bridges which are stretched between war and peace, the swings of war.”

These are mainly women who turn themselves into bridges, passing flour and sugar over the fence to those people who remain on the other side of the conditional border in the conflict zone, the so-called the families of enemies. They are trying to make their own contribution into peace building by selflessly taking care of men with lost faces, who are trying to escape the reality in drinks and drugs. They do not allow themselves to give up and say that they cannot stand it anymore!

Eka’s novel “You-Home” is about the traumas of war. About the post-war world, where everything seems to be fine – no one is starving, almost no one is scared, life goes on as usual until the day when earthquake shakes the old district of Tbilisi, and a father, an IDP from Abkhazia, runs out of the house leaving his 11-year-old daughter alone. He comes to senses later and returns home for her. The child sees with her own eyes her frightened father who runs away like a coward, without looking back. She is left alone against the danger, having lost the most important thing – the faith in the person who is ready to give his life for her. And what else is absolute love?..”- said Eka, whose book is about forgiveness, returning home, reconciliation, absolute love, which is easier for a woman, the woman can stand above hatred and death and, thus,  defeat the greatest disaster of humanity – war.

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