Grateful Abkhazia Thanks Russia on Its National Day

ReutersA tank rolling through central Sukhumi during a military parade on Tuesday.
SUKHUMI, Georgia — Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia proclaimed President Dmitry Medvedev a hero Tuesday as the region celebrated its first national day since Moscow recognized it as an independent state.

Russian and Abkhaz flags fluttered over the capital Sukhumi to mark the 15th anniversary of the Black Sea region's victory over Georgian forces in a separatist war.

Among the smiling crowds milling around war memorials on Tuesday, a few individuals sadly hunted out the names of sons or husbands killed in the 1992-1993 war that drove Tbilisi's forces from Abkhaz territory.

"We celebrate and we cry all together," said Feniya Leiba-Khagush, 62, as she stroked the engraved name of her only son Robert, who died in the battle to retake Sukhumi.

Her sister, Galina, comforted her as they walked around to show the names of two cousins whose names are also among the 1,667 engraved on the memorial in the town center.

"The pain will never leave us, but we are grateful that we are understood now. Thanks to Medvedev, we are safe. He saved us; he is a true hero of Abkhazia," she said.

Abkhaz had rushed to clean up Sukhumi for the occasion, repairing pavement and resurfacing roads.

The Hotel Abkhazia, once the town's centerpiece but now a gutted shell, has been shrouded in hoardings to hide the worst of the damage.

Abkhaz officials said they would forever remain vigilant in case Tbilisi again tried to take back the territory.

"Georgia remains an aggressive neighbor. … I do not know when it will start down a civilized path, but I am convinced of one thing: It will long employ terrorism as the main instrument in its policies toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia," separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh said at a meeting of war veterans and visiting delegations on the eve of the holiday.