Georgia commemorates `Soviet Occupation Day`

The Red Army invasion in 1921 replaced democratic govt with Communist regime.

Updated: Feb 26, 2011, 09:26 AM IST

Tbilisi: Georgia on Friday marked its first "Soviet Occupation Day", a commemoration of the Red Army invasion in 1921 held amid present-day tensions with Russia.

"The red flag was coloured with our people`s blood," said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in a televised speech in the capital Tbilisi, which fell to Soviet forces 90 years ago.

"We should never forget that 80,000 of our people were killed and 400,000 deported (in the Soviet era)," Saakashvili said.

The invasion ended a three-year period of liberty from Moscow`s rule and replaced a fledgling democratic government with a Communist regime that ran Georgia until it gained independence again in 1991.

Georgian politicians are comparing the Red Army invasion to the brief war with Russia in 2008, which saw Moscow`s troops pour into the country to repel Tbilisi`s attempt to take back the rebel region of South Ossetia.

"Russia has always had imperial ambitions, and unfortunately Georgia got into the sphere of these ambitions -- in 1921 when it was annexed by the Red Army and again in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia," senior governing party lawmaker Petre Tsiskarishvili said.

Georgia says history has repeated itself, accusing Russia of occupying parts of its territory again after Moscow permanently stationed troops in South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, controversially recognising both as independent states.

"A significant part of Georgia is still occupied today," Saakashvili said in his televised speech.

Events to mark the inaugural Soviet Occupation Day included the inauguration of a permanent memorial building to the short-lived First Republic and a competition in schools for the best essay about similarities between the two wars.

"What we witnessed in 2008 makes us feel very acutely what our ancestors experienced in 1921," the 16-year-old winner of the essay competition, Tornike Beridze, said.

"Just like 90 years ago, in 2008 the Russian leadership attempted to annihilate Georgian democracy and the Georgian state," he said.

Beridze was announced as the winner at a ceremony at the Museum of the Soviet Occupation in Tbilisi, which documents the Red Army invasion, the bloody purges ordered by Georgian-born Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and the struggle for independence.

The museum drew criticism from Moscow when it opened in 2006, with some Russian politicians describing it as nationalist propaganda.

Nicole Jordania, the granddaughter of Noe Zhordania, leader of the government that fled to France after being ousted by the Soviets, said the invasion was a tragedy because it ended a brave attempt to establish democracy.

"After the invasion, people tried to rebel several times, there was a whole insurrection run by my grandfather from Paris, but people were just slaughtered," she said in advance of Friday`s commemorations.

"I`m very proud and I want the world to know what they did and how they sacrificed their lives for their country," she said.

Jordania said she believed that Russia still represents a danger to Georgia`s independence after the most recent war between the two neighbours.

"The geopolitical situation of Georgia in 1921 is similar to the situation today, unfortunately -- so yes, there is still a threat."

Bureau Report