Visitor Impressions The Corridors of Conflict: Abkhazia 1989-1995

Boris Komakhidze

"Usually, when I go to visit an exhibition dedicated to a topic like this I expect a typical exhibition, where only the facts are presented. But, seeing the description, which stated that the exhibition would speak not only about the Georgian narrative, but also give insights about the Abkhaz narrative, I became interested. When you talk about a conflict, if one side is present in the conflict, the other side is present too. You need to listen and understand the other side in order to solve the problem."

Darejan Tsurtsumia

"'What are you doing to help the war effort?' Not listening to each other because of hatred, lack of understanding, lack of acceptance, or denial of one’s own truth… It’s time to re-evaluate the past and start asking questions so that we find the right questions before we find the answers.”

Jemal Gamakharia

"You know, when you look at all these exhibits assembled together and get acquainted with this ocean of information, you have the opportunity to comprehensively understand what happened. The exhibition doesn’t show a particular side or a particular perspective of this big problem. The whole problem is presented here in all its different aspects, from different angles, and from different perspectives."

Tamta Kakhaberidze

"We don’t know our history. We don’t know the events and the stories that aren’t even really history, they’re more part of the present. A present that is often overlooked. This exhibition displays part of our reality that we always try to hide from. I don’t know, maybe we’re afraid?"

Marika Baghanashvili

"I didn’t expect that personal letters could be so emotional for me. I stood in the same spot for about 90 minutes and read. Even now, as I write this, I see the people who wrote those letters. It was very difficult for me to read those letters but at the same time that was the most interesting part of the exhibition. It’s as though I read the whole story in those letters. I also really liked the audio section. When I listened to the primary sources, I understood more about all the thoughts and events of that period. The most memorable part was the culmination of the exhibition – the board where people have written phrases and wishes, commenting on events. It seemed like a continuation of the letters I saw at the beginning of the exhibition and it seemed to be a response to those letters years later."

Tamar Demurishvili

"This exhibition was very interesting for me. I think we need to deconstruct, analyse and re-evaluate our existing, inherited knowledge about the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, history and past. To be able to properly analyse our history and contribute to the peaceful transformation of the conflict we need to ask questions and obtain a wide variety of information from primary sources and eyewitness accounts of the conflict. In addition to the real diversity of information, the exhibition evokes empathy in the viewer, which is very important to understanding the conflict, critically re-evaluating the past and understanding people with whom opportunities for direct dialogue are limited."

Shalva Kenkadze

"What I liked most about this exhibition, and what was most emotional about it, is the way that the personal or human factor is pushed to the foreground. This exhibition gives us the opportunity to see people’s emotions – their real emotions – and not just the mere facts."

Rati Kharatishvili

"This exhibition provides information through newspapers from the time, interviews, slogans hung in the streets, and other means. Even people who think that they already know enough about the conflict would learn a lot. Photos, posters and audio from the time create the atmosphere of the 1990s. In addition to the 'dry' historical facts, we need to feel the atmosphere then in order to try to see the events from the perspective of that time, along with the information. I was particularly struck by the appeal 'What are you doing to help the war effort?' This detail helped me to imagine the mood in Tbilisi at that time. Politicians’ speeches, posters, and personal letters from people affected by the conflict have made me want to explore our recent history more."

Mariam Tskhovrebashvili

"Viewing the exhibition, the most impressive part for me was the personal letters, because that’s where we hear the voice of the people most clearly. People’s initial emotions are still alive in the letters and reading them I felt sympathetic to the very personal feelings of those specific people. I feel a certain awkwardness in the process of reading, but at the same time it’s an exciting process, as if I’ve opened a small window into the past where I can look through their eyes."

Rusiko Marshania

"I’m very glad that an exhibition like this, which is so rich in archival materials, has finally appeared. I think our society really needs these materials. The second emotion it provokes in me is sadness. When I look at this exhibition, I see how one person’s recklessness, a criminal act, or perhaps a historical process have ruined many people’s lives both in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This exhibition shows us how to think about ways to prevent conflict. How it could have been done at the time (though that’s of course only easy in hindsight) and how can it be done now, so that new technologies do not renew these conflicts in new ways."

Keti Akhobadze

"As well as other materials displayed in the exhibition, I particularly liked the corner where visitors could share their feedback and impressions. This exhibition, dedicated to the topic of Abkhazia, is perceived differently by different people, depending on their experiences. I would never have seen something the same way as someone who left Abkhazia because of the war, so I’m very grateful for this opportunity and insight. It has helped me see how people with different experiences perceived this exhibition. For me, this also became part of this exhibition."

Davit Archvadze

"'What are you doing to help the war effort?' Why was this question asked? Why did I link this question to my personal photo? Questions give you good motivation to look for answers. Each new answer raises a new question and you can ask that question as well. I’ve received some answers at this exhibition, and new questions have appeared and now I’m looking for answers to them too."

Sopho Tskhvariashvili

“You could say that we don’t know our recent history. Often the information we receive and our views on the existing conflicts are very superficial and one-sided, which prevents analysis and hinders our understanding of the bigger picture. I think exhibitions like this make a very significant contribution to the rethinking process. I was impressed that there were so many exhibits and by their chronological exposition. They provide information about the situation in the country before, during and after the armed conflict, and show what was written in the press, reported in media, and happening in the Supreme Council of Abkhazia, as well as the positions held by politicians at that time.”

Lia Dekanadze

“In my opinion, it should start like this: step by step … Talking about all this in different spaces, trying to understand. The process will be very long, but if it doesn’t start with some sparks now, then it will be impossible to start a fire… This information should be spread outside the circle to a wide group, by telling people that events such as this are taking place and that this process has started… I think all this is important for young people, as well as, let’s say, for the representatives of the previous generation."

Nino Samsonidze

“It was very interesting to see the audio recordings of decision makers from the time, who were involved in a number of processes. Here the criticism, analysis, and evaluations of these people seems to show an external perspective, which is very important, despite the fact we have a very sentimental and emotional attitude to this issue. In order to take effective steps in the context of resolving it [the conflict], we need to step outside the box a bit more to observe and analyse the events that took place.”

Giorgi Kakabadze

“The fact that this exhibition was able to provoke evaluation and feedback, and that some shortcomings have emerged and some gaps has been identified, is an important result. You already know what’s missing, which side is left out of the spotlight, what needs to be replenished and what we need to talk about. This exhibition is probably one of the first exhibitions that isn’t an official commemoration planned by the state – on September 27 or August 14. Instead it seeks to bring a civic perspective and promote, from below, understanding and re-evaluation. This should be continued, deepened and more people should be able to see the exhibition materials.”

Elena Natenadze, researcher at the Institute of History at the University of Bern, led a team to gather feedback on the exhibition, through focus group discussions, a short written survey and the interviews with exhibition visitors featured above.