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Georgian emigres in L.A. see little hope for quick resolution

Some have spoken to frightened relatives; some can't get through. Most blame Russia for the ongoing violence.

August 12, 2008|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

After several hours of trying to reach relatives in Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Tsissana Djandjoulia finally got through on Monday afternoon.

"Everyone was crying," said Djandjoulia, 49, who moved from Georgia to the U.S. nine years ago. "They don't know what to do. Everyone is in shock."

Djandjoulia and her husband, Nodar Janjuli, who own Karpaty grocery store on Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of L.A.'s community of emigres from former Soviet republics, said they felt sad and helpless. Like many Georgian-Americans they are terrified of what might happen if the conflict between their homeland and Russia continues to escalate.

The fighting erupted last week after Georgian troops apparently attempted to retake the pro-Russian breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Russia, which had troops based in the region, responded by sending additional forces and launching an offensive against Georgia, a U.S. ally.

Georgia's government has since agreed to a cease-fire, but Russia has continued to fight. The Bush administration and other Western nations have condemned Russia's actions.

"Russia is an aggressor," said Janjuli, his voice quivering with rage. "It always wants to resolve everything by using force."

Sergi Nakaidze, deputy consul at the Orange County-based Honorary Consulate of Georgia, said an estimated 2,000 ethnic Georgians living in the Los Angeles area had registered with the consul, which was providing regular online updates about the conflict.

"We never thought things would get this bad," said Nakaidze, adding that he had not been able to reach his parents in the western Georgian town of Guria since Friday.

On Monday, a few of Janjuli's friends gathered in the rear of the store to share their views on the fighting. Many were natives of Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian province that the emigres believe belongs to Georgia despite its solidarity with Russia since the early 1990s.

"It's a psychological attack," said Khvichia Megrelishvili, a 35-year-old driver whose parents, two siblings and other relatives live in Georgia. "People are terrified. They hear the Russian warplanes overhead, and they don't know what to do. Nothing good will come of this. [Russia] wants Georgia to be subordinate to Russia."

Mikhail Mgaladze, a construction worker in Los Angeles for 10 years, said he refused to watch Russian cable news reports because they were portraying Georgia as the villain and reporting that it was causing "genocide" in the region.

"They are spreading total disinformation," Mgaladze said. "It's envy and jealousy of Georgia. But it's the [Russian] government at fault, not the people."

Many emigres from other former Soviet republics that have declared independence since the demise of the Soviet Union expressed solidarity for the Georgian cause.

Talk of the conflict sparked a heated debate among a group of retirees from former Soviet republics as they played dominoes at West Hollywood's Plummer Park on Monday.

"Russia is at fault," shouted Vilya Ira, 73, who emigrated from the former Soviet republic of Moldova. "And if you don't stop them and solve the problem, it is possible [this conflict] could lead to the Third World War."

"I notice you blame Russia," Andre Filin, 40, a native Russian, said as he approached the dominoes table. "Why? It's her territory."

Filin later added that he felt the conflict had more to do with "the personal interests and ambitions of political leaders," than the national interests of the countries involved.

"Russia is a peaceful nation," said Olek Kuznetsov, 63, a refugee from Russia's Far East. "It's different to the Russia it was when it was still the Soviet Union."

"Don't listen to him," said Feliks Lyudmirsky, a 78-year-old native of Ukraine. He asked Kuznetsov: "Where do you get your information from?"

Nakaidze, the Georgian consular official, was pessimistic about an immediate peaceful outcome.

Russia's "actions seem to be targeting the president of Georgia," he said. "They are claiming that they cannot trust him and he can't be negotiated with. Their goal appears to be to have a regime change. . . . There won't be any easy solution to this."


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