April 9 tragedy

The April 9 tragedy refers to the events in Tbilisi, Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic on April 9, 1989, when an anti-Soviet demonstration was dispersed by the Soviet army, resulting in 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries. April 9 is now remembered as the Day of National Unity ( _ka. ეროვნული ერთიანობის დღე), an annual public holiday.


The anti-Soviet movement became more active in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1988. Several strikes and meetings were organized by anti-Soviet political organizations in Tbilisi. The conflict between the Soviet government and Georgian nationalists deepened after the so-called Lykhny Assembly on March 18, 1989, when several thousand Abkhaz demanded secession from Georgia and restoration of the Union republic status of 1921–1931. In response, the anti-Soviet groups organized a series of unsanctioned meetings across the republic, claiming that the Soviet government was using Abkhaz separatism in order to oppose the pro-independence movement.

The protests reached their peak on April 4 1989, when tens of thousands of Georgians gathered before the House of Government on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi. The protesters, led by the Independence Committee (Merab Kostava, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Giorgi Chanturia, Irakli Bathiashvili, Irakli Tsereteli and others) organized a peaceful demonstration and hunger strikes, demanding the punishment of Abkhaz secessionists and restoration of Georgian independence. Local soviet authorities lost control over the situation in the capital and were unable to contain the protests. First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party Jumber Patiashvili asked USSR leadership to send troops to restore order and impose curfew. [http://sobchak.org/rus/docs/zakluchenie.htm Report of the Sobchak's commission of inquiry (in Russian)] ]

The demonstrations

In the evening of April 8 1989, Colonel General Igor Rodionov, Commander of the Transcaucasus Military District, ordered his troops to mobilize. Moments before the attack by the Soviet forces, the Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II addressed the demonstrators asking them to leave the Rustaveli avenue and the vicinity of the government building due to the danger which accumulated during the day after the appearance of Soviet tanks near the avenue. The demonstrators refused to disband even after the Patriarch's plea. The local Georgian militsiya (police) units were disarmed just before the operation. On April 9, at 3:45 a.m., Soviet APCs and troops under General Igor Rodionov surrounded the demonstration area. Later, Rodionov claimed in his interview that groups of Georgian militants attacked unarmed soldiers with stones, metal chains and rods. [http://www.warlib.ru/index.php?id=000064 Interview with Igor Rodionov] ] . The Soviet troops received an order from General Rodionov to disband and clear the avenue of demonstrators by any means necessary. [ New Nations Rising: The Fall of the Soviets and the Challenge of Independence, Nadia Diuk, Adrian Karatnycky ]

The Soviet detachment, armed with military batons and spades, advanced on demonstrators moving along the Rustaveli Avenue. During the advance, the soldiers started to attack demonstrators with spades, a favorite weapon of Soviet special forces [ Viktor Suvorov " [http://militera.lib.ru/research/suvorov6/index.html Spetsnaz] ", 1987, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN 0-241-11961-8] , inflicting injuries both minor and serious to anyone who was struck. [ New Nations Rising: The Fall of the Soviets and the Challenge of Independence, Nadia Diuk, Adrian Karatnycky ] One of the victims of the attack was a 16 year old girl who tried to get away from the advancing soldiers, but was chased down and beaten to death near the steps of the government building, receiving blows to the head and chest. She was dragged out of the area by her mother who was also attacked and wounded. This particularly violent attack was recorded on video from the balcony a building located on the other side of the avenue. The video was used during the Sobchaks investigation of the events in the aftermath.

Following stampede resulted in the death of 19 people, among them 17 women, who were crushed and trampled by the fleeing mob. Post-mortem conducted on victims confirmed that the deaths resulted from asphyxiation due to compression of chest in the mob.

CN and CS gas were used against the demonstrators; vomiting, respiratory problems and sudden paralyses of the nervous system were reported. [Nationalist Violence and the State: Political Authority and Contentious Repertoires in the Former USSR, Mark R. Beissinger Comparative Politics, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Jul., 1998), pp. 26-27.]

The disarmed police officers attempted evacuate the panicked group of demonstrators, however a video taken secretly by opposition journalists showed that soldiers did not allow doctors and emergency workers to help injured people, in fact even ambulances were attacked by the advancing soldiers [Defending the Border: Identity, Religion, And Modernity in the Republic of Georgia (Culture and Society After Socialism) , Mathijs Pelkmans pp. 127-39] Captured on film, the image of a young man beating a tank with a stick became a symbol of the Georgian anti-Soviet movement. [Georgia: In the Mountains of Poetry, Peter Nasmyth, p 18 ]

On April 10, the Soviet government issued the statement blaming the demonstrators for causing unrest and danger for the safety of the public. The next day, the Georgian TV showed the bodies of the 19 women violently killed, demonstrating alleged brutality by the Soviet soldiers, as the faces of the deceased women were hard to identify due to the facial injuries and blows to the head. The Soviet government blamed the demonstrators for the death of the 20 people, claiming that they had trampled each other while panicking and retreating from the advancing Soviet soldiers. [Georgia: In the Mountains of Poetry, Peter Nasmyth, p 18 ] However, Parliamentary commission on investigation of events of April 9, 1989 in Tbilisi was launched by Anatoly Sobchak, member of Congress of People's Deputies of Soviet Union. After full investigation and inqueries, the commission condemned the military, which had caused the deaths trying to disperse demonstrators. The commission's report made it more difficult to use military power against demonstrations of civil unrest in the Soviet Union. Sobchak's report presented a detailed account of the violence which was used against the demonstrators and recommended the full prosecution of military personnel responsible for the April 9 event. [Nationalist Violence and the State: Political Authority and Contentious Repertoires in the Former USSR, Mark R. Beissinger Comparative Politics, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Jul., 1998), pp. 26-27.]


On April 10, in protest against the crackdown, Tbilisi and the rest of Georgia went out on strike and a 40-day period of mourning was declared. People brought massive collections of flowers to the place of the killings. A state of emergency was declared, but demonstrations continued.

The government of Soviet Georgia resigned as a result of the event. Moscow claimed the demonstrators attacked first and the soldiers had to repel them. At the first Congress of People's Deputies (May–June 1989) Mikhail Gorbachev disclaimed all responsibility, shifting blame onto the army. The revelations in the liberal Soviet media, as well as the findings of the "pro-Perestroika" Deputy Anatoly Sobchak's commission of enquiry into the Tbilisi events, reported at the second Congress in December 1989, resulted in embarrassment for the Soviet hardliners and army leadership implicated in the event.


The April 9 tragedy radicalised Georgian opposition to Soviet power. A few months later, a session of the Supreme Council of Georgian SSR, held on November 17-18, 1989, officially condemned the occupation and annexation of Democratic Republic of Georgia by Soviet Russia in 1921.

On March 31, 1991, Georgians voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum. With a 90.5% turnout, approximately 99% voted in favor of independence. On April 9, the second anniversary of the tragedy, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed Georgian sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union.

A memorial to the victims of the tragedy was opened at the location of the crackdown on Rustaveli Avenue on November 23, 2004.


See also

*Black January
*Revolutions of 1989
*9 March 1956 massacre in Tbilisi
*1978 Georgian demonstrations
*January Events

External links

* [http://www.letton.ch/lvx_tall6.htm Resolution of the Baltic Assembly on the Events in Georgia on April 9 1989]
* [http://poli.vub.ac.be/publi/ContBorders/eng/ch0103.htm The 9 April 1989 Tragedy and the Abkhazian Question]
* [http://www.rustavi2.com/news/programs_ru.php?rec_start=20&pg=&id_clip=&l=17#more_newss A Rustavi 2 documentary about the 1989 events (includes original footage)]
* [http://sobchak.org/rus/docs/zakluchenie.htm Report of the Sobchak's commission of inquiry (in Russian)]

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