Georgia: Conflict Toll Confusion

Lengthy list of missing in action suggests official death toll may be under-estimated

By Natia Kuprashvili in Tbilisi (CRS 461, 25-Sep-08)

“Unknown soldier” reads the inscription on a long line of graves in Tbilisi’s Mukhatgverdi cemetery. Those who died in Georgia’s five-day war in August are buried here, but some have gravestones not with names but with two-digit numbers, which does not stop mourners from putting bunches of fresh flowers on the tombs. 

“Parents of the dead or missing soldiers, as well as soldiers who survived and just ordinary people come here every day to mourn over the graves,” said Otar Meparishvili who works for the cemetery. “I have never seen so many men crying before.”

The Melia family, who are refugees from the 1992-3 war in Abkhazia, come to the cemetery to weep for their lost son, lieutenant Sergo Melia. Some of his comrades told them he had been killed. Later they saw Sergo’s body in footage shot in Tskhinvali and shown by the Russian channel NTV, but they have not been able to get hold of the body. 

The Melia family and parents of other missing soldiers are waiting impatiently for the results of the DNA tests, so that names can be put to the 53 unidentified bodies in the cemetery. 

Georgian expert Paata Zakareishvili, who worked in commissions for finding people reported as missing both during the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and the war over Nagorny Karabakh, said, “Fifty-three unidentified soldiers is an incredibly large number for a war that lasted just a few days.

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