Former Georgian: South Ossetia is like our Golan

Russian and Georgian-Israelis demonstrate complexity of conflict.

georgia stop russia 224 (photo credit: AP)
georgia stop russia 224
(photo credit: AP)
As fighting between Russian and Georgian troops in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia continued to escalate on Sunday, feedback about the conflict from Russian and Georgian-Israelis seemed almost as complicated as the fighting that's raging between their countries. In Neve Yaakov, a northern Jerusalem suburb home to many Georgian immigrants, support for their country remained high. "South Ossetia is like our Golan Heights," said Sara Tzur, who was born in Georgia but came to Israel at a young age. "We're like the Israelis, and the Russians are like the Syrians - they want to take a mountainous, beautiful part of country away from us." Tzur explained that while she has no problem with the Russians living in Israel, she is worried about her family members that remain in Georgia. "Ninety percent of my family is here," she said, "But a few of them are still there in Gori, which is where a lot of fighting has been going on, we've been in touch with them, but it's hard to say what will be." Down the street, Mordechai Achyashmini said the situation was troubling. "I came here in 1974," he said. "And even then, they were fighting over South Ossetia. It comes as no surprise." But Achyashmini also asserted that he had no problem with Russians or Ossetians, and that the problem was a political one, not ethnic. "Even there, there were very few problems between us," he said. "The problem now is that a lot of people are being killed and people on both sides are losing family and friends. That is how long wars get started, and if Russia goes all the way in, they will cause a lot of damage." Another Georgian woman, who preferred to remain unnamed, said she supported her native country but understood the Russian side. "Georgia has to show that it's strong," she said, but Russia also has to make sure that these smaller countries around her know she is still in control. So I say, at what cost? If Georgia tries to take on Russia, they'll surely lose." But inside a Russian bookstore in downtown Jerusalem, Baruch Sorokin had a different opinion. "Ultimately the Russians will lose," he said of his former countrymen. "They say that a man who sits on a tank of gasoline shouldn't smoke, but that's exactly what the Russians are doing, they're sitting on top of Georgia and smoking." Sorokin explained that in trying to exert their control over former Soviet satellite nations such as Georgia, the Russians were going into a fight that had been smoldering on the Georgian side for years. While the South Ossetians are loyal to Moscow, Georgians as a whole resent Soviet rule to this day, and align themselves with the West in order to prevent Russian meddling in their affairs. "Of course the Russians can win militarily," he said. "But they lost control over these regions when the Soviet Union collapsed, so going back and trying to show strength will only cause them distress, in the long-term." Sorokin also gave three reasons for the current military flare-up, citing the Ossetian issue, political ramifications, including Russian animosity towards the West over what they saw as interference in Kosovo in the 1990's, and thirdly, what Sorokin stressed most of all, oil. "There's an oil pipeline that runs through Azerbaijan and the Russians want control over it," he said. "If the Georgians gave them that, the Russians would stop fighting and abandon the Ossetians immediately. That's all they really want," he said smiling, "oil." Nearby, inside the Five Brothers Plus Russian supermarket, other Russian immigrants chimed in. "The Georgians say the Russians started it, the Russians say the Georgians started it, but who really knows?" asked Nina, as she worked at the butcher counter in the back. "All I know is they're fighting terribly there, and I feel bad for them, I love Georgians, they come in here all the time." Another woman, Marina from Belarus, said she remembered the hatred for Georgians she heard growing up. "The Russians hate all of them," she said. "The Georgians the Caucasians, the Ossetians, it doesn't matter, they just want to control everyone." But a second woman behind the butcher counter interrupted her, "You don't know what you're talking about. I'm from Moscow and my son still lives in Moscow, and as bad as they want to make us look, it's the government. The Russian government is doing what they please, the Russian people don't have anything to do with it."