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30 Years after 9 April Tbilisi Massacre

Georgia’s Peaceful Fight for Freedom


30 years ago, in the early hours of 9 April 1989, a tragedy broke out in the center of Tbilisi, which went down in history as the “night of sapper blades”. Soviet troops, armed with sapper shovels and tear gas, brutally dispersed a peaceful rally. As a result, 21 people died, 16 of them were women. 18 participants of the rally died at the scene, three more died in hospital. Hundreds of citizens were poisoned by the toxic agents Soviet troops employed against the demonstrators. Hundreds of activists were injured.


The events of 9 April 1989 were the culmination of weeks of demonstrations led by two former dissidents, Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia for Georgian independence and against separatism in the Georgian Black Sea region of Abkhazia. At their peak, about 10,000 people are estimated to have been present.


The 9 April killings greatly accelerated Georgia's quest for independence. On 9 April 1991 on the second anniversary of the tragedy, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed Georgian sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union based on the results of a nationwide referendum of 31 March 1991.


The 9 April had a significant impact not only on Georgia, but on the whole Soviet Union. In the context of glasnost, the tragic events in Tbilisi were loudly resonated throughout the Union. People living under communist governments began to question the regime and its values. Many were inspired by the Georgian example to fight for their own independence. The events of 9 April also gave rise to the so-called “Tbilisi Syndrome” characterized by the reluctance of military officers and soldiers to take any tactical decisions or even obey orders without a clear trail of responsibility to a higher authority.


The 9 April left a mark on subsequent development of Russian-Georgian relations. These relationships have always been problematic. The former Soviet military and security elite struggled to put up with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of former vassals of the empire. Among them was Vladimir Putin, now equipped with the powers of the president of post-Soviet Russia. In his understanding the 9 April had played a role of a powerful earthquake leading to “the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century” - the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This should explain the roots of the confrontation between Russia and Georgia throughout the entire period after the disappearance of the Soviet Union.


The night of 9 April remains in the history of Georgia as both one of the most tragic and heroic dates, a moment when the whole country united to fight for Georgia’s independence. Georgia will always remember the heroes who tried to stop Russian tanks with their bare hands, only to be killed by Soviet troops.  The date is indelibly etched into the minds of Georgians as the day of National Unity.