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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tbilisi's Lost Generation

TBILISI - Recently a drunken Georgian came to my party with an automatic pistol. He terrorized the guests - without actually shooting anybody - before being disarmed by two other Georgians.


The police arrived eventually. One should, of course, be happy they came at all in this wild part of the world. All they could say was "What, nobody dead? " and they sent the young man home. They were quite uninterested in the gun.


These days Tbilisi is a city where it's easier to get guns than bread. Like everywhere else in the former Soviet Union, the only price mechanism which seems to work really efficiently is the ex-Soviet armed forces selling off their weapons.


Two weeks after the party I saw my uninvited guest again. He was walking along the street in central Tbilisi in broad daylight, casually carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher over his shoulder. Some people walk their dogs. He was walking his grenade launcher. This guy clearly has a problem, but then increasingly, so do many young Georgian men. Drugs, guns and war are slowly pulling this country apart.


I recently spent three weeks in neighboring Azerbaijan covering the overthrow of the Azeri President. The morning after returning to Tbilisi, I woke up at 5: 00 o'clock to hear long bursts of machine-gun fire in the street. It took me a few moments to work out that I was back in Georgia, not still in Azerbaijan watching a civil war unfold.


Later that day, in need of some Rest-and-Recreation, I visited the main public swimming pool in Tbilisi, only to witness the fatal shooting of yet another young Georgian in the street outside.


It was never like this in Georgia. A generation of young men has been destroyed by guns, drugs and post-Soviet nationalism. Many of them have been fighting in the western region of Abkhazia. My Russian teacher, Nanouli, is beside herself at the moment. Her son, who's 24, wants to join his friends fighting in Abkhazia for the territorial integrity of Georgia.


Nanouli's neighbor's son - a young doctor with a promising future - was killed a few days ago in the third and most serious attempt by the Abkhazian separatists to take the capital of the Black Sea region, Sukhumi. Several hundred people were killed in the fighting - there have been up to 2, 000 fatalities since this post-Soviet conflict began last summer.


The Abkhazians have a valid historic claim on the territory, but these days they make up less than one-in-five of the population of Abkhazia. The Russians in the last century and Stalin in this reduced the Abkhazians to a minority in the land of their ancestors. Thanks to support from the various mountain peoples of the North Caucasus and intelligence and weapons - including fighter bombers - from the Russians, the Abkhazians now control more than one-third of the region. The Russian input is easily explained by Russia's perceived strategic interests in the Black Sea region.


For a long time there was talk of out-of-control Russian generals, but to my mind the chain of command goes back to Moscow.


When Yeltsin called for a cease-fire two months ago, the Abkhazians were compelled to sign and the region was comparatively quiet for several weeks. When the Georgians continued to resist the Russian demand that their troops form the basis of a peacekeeping force in Abkhazia, Moscow loosened the separatist's leash a bit and the conflict flared up again, culminating in this month's bloody assault on Sukhumi.


U. N. diplomats are trying their hardest to settle the conflict, but the Russians are running faster. It seems clear that they have no intention of giving up Abkhazia. If the international community can not get a foothold in the region, the Georgians will simply have to accept a Russian peace in Abkhazia - the alternative is to watch Georgia disintegrate as an entity just two years after achieving independence from Moscow.


It should perhaps be remembered that the last time the Georgians won themselves some independence, in 1918, the Red Army marched in just three years later.


One footnote: The day after that drunken Georgian tried to wipe out my party with a machine pistol, a Georgian woman broke the world record for pistol shooting. It's arguably the only positive achievement connected with guns in recent Georgian history.


Alexis Rowell reports from the Caucasus for the BBC and The Moscow Times.