18 ~ 20 July 1999
Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia
This conference was organized and co-sponsored by the Alliance of Invalids and Veterans of War “Demetre Tavdadebuli” and the National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers in the United States. The hosting organizations for this first and historic conference were the “Demetre Tavdadebuli,” the Georgian Foundation of Sciences Revival ”Intellect,” and the Union of Wives of Invalids and Lost-Warriors. There was a previous conference for Veterans held in Tbilisi in September of 1998 but it was not an international venture in the way that this particular conference was.
II. CONFERENCE MISSION
The Alliance of Invalids and Veterans of War - “Demetre Tavdadebuli” made initial contact with Vietnam Veterans of America at the National Headquarters in Washington, DC. They were looking for a liaison to American Vietnam Veterans for information and guidance that might be helpful for the younger veterans of Georgia, particularly in the area of social readjustment to civilian life and all that it encompasses. They were also looking for assistance in how to organize themselves in such manner that the government officials would take note of the unique factors ailing those who directly fought in wars and how various kinds of trauma might be addressed both in the areas of health care and disability compensation and pensions. The contact was given to me, the National Chaplain of Vietnam Veterans of America to pursue and link up with these veterans through the Internet. This was done and over a period of six to nine months, it was deemed appropriate to call a convene a conference for veterans of Georgia as well as their neighboring nations. The National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers would gather a team of experts from a variety of disciplines to address every area that would be pertinent to Veterans and Victims of War.
III. CONFERENCE DEMOGRAPHICS
The conference registered 142 participants mainly from the Republic of Georgia. The participants represented a wide segment of the community: Veterans; citizen-soldiers; widows; wives; family members of those killed in war; psychologists and psychiatrists; university professors; government officials; members of the military, and; members of the media (both broadcast media and print media).
The participants came from: Georgia; Azerbaijan; Chechnya, and; Uzbekistan.
The presenters from the International community also came from a variety of disciplines: two psychiatrists; two Commissioners of Veterans Services from their respective countries; two veterans from two very different and distinct wars, and; one Roman Catholic Priest who served in the Vietnam war as a soldier.
These were the presenters:
Dr. Jos Weerts, M.D. - Psychiatrist from The Netherlands
Dr. Jőao Monteiro-Ferreira, M.D.-Psychiatrist from Portugal
Mr. John Adole - Commissioner of Veterans Services - Nigeria
Mr. Augusto Salgado - Commissioner of Veterans Services -
Mr. James Doyle - Vietnam Veteran - Secretary to the Vietnam
Veterans Peace Initiative, Inc. - United States
Mr. Marius vanNiekerk - South African Veteran - South
African Veteran Association - residing in Stockholm, Sweden
Father Philip G. Salois, M.S. - Vietnam Veteran - President
and Founder, National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers and National Chaplain to Vietnam Veterans of America - United States
There was a call for papers prior to the Conference. The presenters submitted their written presentations. These, in turn, were translated into the Georgian and Russian languages and published in the three languages (including English) in a bound book which was given to each registered participants at the beginning of the conference. The papers were either read or summarized with the assistance of simultaneous translation by qualified interpreters.
IV. MAJOR CONFERENCE THEMES
The major conference themes were as follows:
1) Country by country historical overview of war and
2) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
3) Veteran advocacy for health and welfare
4) Women and war.
5) Disabled veterans and prosthetics
6) Spirituality and healing from war
7) Veteran Service Organizations
V. REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA
Georgia’s history goes back over 2500 years and has one of the oldest living languages in the world. The first written evidence of the Georgian language dates back to the 7th BCE. In the latter part of the 19th Century, Georgia became part of the Russian Empire. When the Russian Empire disintegrated on 26 May 1918, Georgia was declared an independent nation and acknowledged by world’s leading powers. This was short-lived, however, when, in February-March, 1921, Georgia once again lost its independence and became part of the Soviet Union.
On April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia adopted a declaration to reestablish the independence of the state of Georgia. On July 31, 1992, Georgia became to 179th member of the United Nations. Since, 1993, it has been a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). On April 27, 1999, Georgia was adopted in the Council of Europe as is 41st member.
As in every other nation in the world, Georgia is not exempt from being a home of various tribal and ethnic peoples. Among some of these groups are the Abkhazian, Svani, Lazi, Karti and Ossetian to name a few. The Abkhazians inhabit the northwestern part of the Republic of Georgia. These people are primarily of the Muslim faith whereas the people of Georgia are Orthodox Christian.
December 22, 1991 began the occupational struggle in which Abkhazia began fighting for its self-determination. On December 29, 1991, the Presidium of the Supreme Council of Abkhazian ASSR passed a resolution, according to which Abkhazia established a mono-nationalistic army. The Military Council was formed, where out of nine members six were Abkhaz, two were Armenians and one Russian. On January 25, 1992, this same Presidium of the Supreme Council of Abkhazian ASSR adopted a law “ceasing execution of Soviet laws and legal acts on the territory of the Abkhazian Republic.” According to this law, Abkhazian separatists declared Abkhazia independent from Georgia. On July 23, 1992, Abkhaz separatists “legalized” their independence in the respective document by restoring an Abkhazian constitution of 1925.
Hence the Georgian-Abkhaz War of 1992-93 is seen as another annexation expedition of Russia and its strategic allies, with the aim of total occupation of Georgia and incorporation of Abkhazia into the Russian Empire. The military provocation of 1992-93 which took place in North West Georgia resulted in unaccountable destruction.
As a result of the military provocation of 1992-93, 300,000 residents of Abkhazia were subject to ethnic cleansing and genocide. Much of the ethnic Georgians were deported and exiled from its historic land. The war resulted in total destruction of agriculture and industry. The full-scale program of denationalization of Abkhazia is in place. Russian military and their families, Turkish and middle Asian citizens arrived in Abkhazia for permanent settlements. There is almost no trace of Georgian cultural life in Abkhazia, where the best of the Georgian cultural heritage is destroyed, robbed or damaged.
At present, Abkhazia has installed an illegitimate government headquartered in its capital city of Sochumi on the Black Sea. This conflict is not resolved although the war itself has ended. Small skirmishes still flare up on occasion.
VI. REPUBLIC OF AZERBAIJAN
A small delegation of the Azeri Society of Invalid Soldiers known as the “Karabakh” Society came to the Tbilisi Conference. They outlined their history as a nation and describe their war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
VII. REPUBLIC OF CHECHNYA
A delegation of three veterans of the Russian-Chechen War were represented at the conference and described the historical events leading up to their struggle for independence. Their organization is call “Salaam.” This nation is predominantly Muslim and firmly believe that Allah has promised this land to be theirs and they will fight to the end to fulfill Allah’s wish for Chechen independence and create an Islamic state.
VIII. REPUBLIC OF UZBEKISTAN
There was a small delegation from the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan. Dr Fuad Aliev, M.D. is a medical doctor who has dedicated much of his professional life to the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Uzbeki Veterans who fought in the Afghanistan War under the U.S.S.R flag. Nyckolay Kuzmin, a Uzbek Army veteran of the Afghanistan war is the manager of the clinic MEDVA in Tashkent that receives and treats Uzbekistan’s many war veterans from PTSD. They provided the conference with the plight of post-Soviet veterans and how there is very little medical care and social welfare available for these veterans. They number the Afghanistan War veterans in their country at 60,000.
IX. TOPICS OF GREAT INTEREST
There were several papers presented on the topic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Very little is known about this diagnosis in this region. It is relatively a new concept to an already existing fact of life in this war-torn region. Mental health professionals although know something about the disorder, it is not an area that they received academic or clinical education in. Our purpose was to define it, describe its symptoms and begin to describe the research and treatment modalities. Many examples drawn from the American experience in the Vietnam War were used by way of illustration.
June Willenz, the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Women for the World Veteran Federation submitted a written presentation on Women and War. Manana Mebuke, President of the Georgian Union of Wives of Invalids and Lost-Warriors also presented a paper of the activities of their organization to support the social welfare and well-being of families of those killed in the line of duty during the war. Georgia is an economically poor nation. It is not able to provide monetary benefits to its disabled veterans or survivor benefits. The Union of Wives is an organization that has pooled its resources together through community outreach to feed and clothe those veterans and families members most hard hit by the war. They have received some government grants but primarily the resources come from what little they can contribute and a lot of hard work.
Prosthetic devices is another major area of concern and great need. The amputees from Georgia, Chechnya and Azerbaijan do not have the opportunities we have in America for prosthetic devices and other devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, canes, etc. There is no technology in the Caucasus to manufacture prosthetic devices and no financial resources to purchase them. Our Portuguese delegation, one of whom is an amputee, has offered to look into this matter and search out possible organizations that may wish to contribute these kinds of materials and technology.
X. SUMMARY and FUTURE PROJECTS
This Conference was a strong first attempt at bringing scholarship and expertise to this very troubled Caucasus nation and its neighbors. The mutual exchange of ideas and stories brought about a tremendous awareness to those in attendance particularly from the International Community.
It was decided that there should be a TBILISI 2000 Conference with a different focus. We felt it would be better for the second conference to make it a series of seminars and hands-on workshops on how-to run self-help groups. We would like to help them in the techniques of group process and group therapy. It would be more of a training conference rather than an educational one.
We are also looking at organizing a similar Conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for the five Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrygzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The need in these former Soviet republics is great and yet the political situation in these nations do not always necessarily make it possible to all that we would like to do, particularly in the troubled nations of the Transcaucasus. Time will tell if some of our future projects will materialize.
FATHER PHILIP G. SALOIS, M.S.
National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers,
President and Founder
Vietnam Veterans of America,