“First they forced us to lie down facing ground… furthermore, they made us stand at the wall like captives and pointed guns to us!”
Hostages of Rose Leaders
The Employs of Omega Group recollect 19th of February, 2004
9 AM, 19th of February, 2004…N15 Sarajishvili Street, Vashlijvari district, Tbilisi… The premises are full of riot police officers… gunmen are positioned everywhere, in the yard and on the roofs of the company buildings… if it were previous decades, one would think that Omega Group was assaulted by an armed gang, who are looting the company, but the darkness of the 90-ies are now in the past, the time has changed – it is the time lit up by the roses and the hope for the future. Then what is happening now? Who are these masked men? Why are they shouting and swearing? These are the questions, which Tsitso Pataraia asks one of the gunmen, who ignores the woman of his mother’s age and instead blows a fist in her shoulder. The woman falls down and... Instinctively, she recollects the war in Abkhazia, where she survived from the captivity of the separatists and she recollects Sokhumi, which she fled together with her family by a boat…
-They don’t look like kind men… they probably wanted to take away cigarette, - Mrs. Tsitso thinks and crawls towards the center of the hall. The IDP woman is not scared, because, she has already been in the similar situation and in addition, she is watching how her gentlemen colleagues are resisting to the gunmen - they refuse to turn off the machines and keep on working, but the aggressors are beating them with the buttstocks… Here, they have hit Beso too, Kakauridze. Beso is a mechanic engineer, father of two children. Beso came to the office on time as usual and began to work that day. All of a sudden, he heard a woman’s voice – “we are assaulted”. He was confused, did not get it, but his heart started to beat faster and faster as he saw the horrified face of Marina Chkheidze, but before he could make out all this stuff, the masked gunmen went up to him too…
- Everybody get down … you! – The aggressors were shouting and forcing all, men and women to lie down with their faces to the floor and hands on heads. Beso obeyed to the command, but his pride did not let him lie with his face down and he laid on his side... one of the aggressors hit him… This scene scared Tsitso Pataria, who crawled on the floor and instinctively got inside the garbage bin to survive.
“I don’t know how I got inside that bin, neither do I remember how long I stayed there. After a while, one gunman found me and told me they were not bad guys and they had come to the office to “find out something”. “You will soon learn everything” – he said and helped her out… There was silence in the hall… They took me out and I will never forget the scene I saw there – men, my colleagues, laid down on the ground in that frost not allowed to move. I felt myself so much insulted and I thought “we live in such a bad country” – Mrs. Tsitso is recollecting the Rose Occupation of Omega Group. She was left unemployed for about ten months since the 19th of February, 2004 – the ten months of occupation of Omega Group companies by the riot police. During those ten months, hundreds of people, who had had stable jobs until that day, had to face hunger. This may be an exaggerated expression, but after the end of the “National Occupation” of the company, thousands of people, except few, returned to Omega Group, it means they were not offered other jobs.
“What we had to go through on the 19th of February, 2004, is our personal tragedy”, - says the manager at the Omega Group’s printing facility and the chief of its shift, Iago Misriashvili – “I remember I was at the office for the night shift together with two of my print specialists. It was about 9 AM, we were waiting for the next shift. Suddenly, one of the colleagues rushed into the office with his pale face, saying “we are assaulted”. I told the guys to run and hide away and moved towards the exit, but there I saw the whole yard full of people in black uniforms and I realized that they were not robbers, but the riot police officers. One of the masked gunmen came inside and another followed him soon… they were shouting “down” and swearing at us. They made us lie down on the ground with our faces down and hands on the heads. The office cleaner fainted when she saw us in that state.
Dato Tabatadze instinctively got up saying he would bring her water, but he was hit a machine gun buttstock in his head… Some civilians came in the office after a while. They said they were the detectives of the prosecutor’s office and started to search up for something. They drove us out… the yard was full of people lying on the ground… they took us to the wall like captives and ordered to keep silence and not to look at them… I have seen such scenes in documentaries. The fascists used to treat Gypsies and Jews this way when they were conquering Europe. We faced death then – they were pointing guns to us, humiliating us! I am not a young boy and nobody has ever insulted me this way. I told them afterwards, why they needed to intrude with shouting and swearing. They said smiling that they had been ordered to do so, i.e. they wanted to scare us. Nobody has apologized so far, but if they do, I will probably forgive them. We were pioneers from this point of view then and in the beginning, nobody believed in all that occurrence – probably, the society was not prepared to support us, though afterwards they launched mass terror and racketeering of business… it was the personal tragedy for each of us, which impoverished us not only morally, but financially as well. The factories were closed down for 11 months and it caused many problems to us.
The employ of the Omega Tegi printing facility could not recollect the developments on the 19th of February, 2004, without emotions. He was 20 then and as they say, was taking his first independent steps, but the government, which came to the power in the aegis of people’s rights protection, was now beating youth with buttstocks. “We though the masked men were robbers at first, but when we noticed the national flag on their uniforms, we felt relieved… One of our women colleagues fainted as she saw us on the ground and I got up to bring her water, when suddenly a gunman screamed at me, swore loudly and hit the buttstock and then kicked me in my back. I was 20 then, I was starting my career and the government “welcomed” me with buttstocks, they insulted me and this is what I can never forget. By the way, the riot police officers treated us cynically – I remember we were lying on the ground, one of us said he felt bad and had a terrible cough and the officer replied that they would drag him to the grass and so they did – they moved him to the wet grass. It was cynicism, was not it?!”
Gocha Meshvelishvili, Omega 2 Warehouse Manager: “It was about 08:20 on the 19th of February, when I heard noise from outside. I rushed out of the warehouse and saw the masked people on the roof and my colleagues on the ground. I thought it was a robbery and decided to hide inside the warehouse, but one of the gunmen saw me and pulled me to the ground too, forcing to put my hands on the head. They did not swear at us but beat up anyone who eresisted. They beat me up too. I was asking “who are you, what do you want”, but they did not answer. Finally, when we were very cold, they took us to the wall, where we stood with our hands up and with their guns pointed to us. I don’t remember exactly, but we stood in that pose for about an hour. Then they took us to the café, took away our cellphones. The gunmen were still guarding us. They released us next day, by afternoon and then we learnt that they were not robbers, but the riot police officers, though we could not understand what they wanted. We were insulted – is not it insulting when you are forced to lie down on the ground? They took us to the wall as if we were captives… Indeed, we were the hostages of the government! They even did not let people to go to the rest rooms. I had voted to that “Rose Government” and I had not really thought they would ever treat us that way! It was the day when I regretted to have voted for the “Nationals”!.. We were not allowed to the office after that day – we were closed for 10 months and we lived without salary during that period!”
The Rose Occupation of Omega did not occur without bloodshed, anyway – here are these two sad stories: There was a colored canary bird in the company’s café, whose tweeting used to entertain the staff of the company. The riot police officers gave no food or water to the bird and it died after two days of hunger and thirst. A cow called Tapla (Honey) living in the nearby cow house died too. Though the milk cow had a lot of hay in the cattle-shed, she used to browse outside together with the herd. The gunmen arrested the cow too, who ate up all the hay held for the winter. The officers did not refuse to take her milk though, when the hay was over, the cow no longer howled and one day, she died.
There had been a small vineyard in the garden of iris, lilies and roses, cultivated by the company workers, but the aggressors, who cares of human hearts, thoughts and hopes, razed the flower garden and the vineyard along with the machines, equipment and operational programs, to the ground too…
Fourteenth year has begun since the “Rose Devastation” of the Omega Group – eventually the equipment was restored as well as the operational programs, human thoughts and hope… but thousands of employs of Omega Group still feel themselves insulted. The canary bird and the milk cow Tapla can be taken as the symbols of this insult and in general, the symbol of the 19th of February, 2004. By the way, the Nationals treated business like “milk cows”, though they could not break the founder of Omega Group Zaza Okuashvili anyway, so they took a revenge on the canary bird and Tapla cow! In this case, the canary bird, like Tapla, is the symbol of Iberia TV Company and other firms of the Omega Group, which the Rose Leaders tried to intercept and partly, they succeeded – Omega Motors LTD, Ilioni LTD, OGT LTD and Omega 2 LTD were paralyzed for about a year, while the Iberia TV broadcasting license was forcefully seized and handed over to a desirable person for them in one day, but nine years later, the justice was done – in 2013, the broadcasting license of Iberia TV was returned to its legal owner with a modified (specialized/entertainment) category and a year ago, Iberia TV reemerged with its resumed broadcast and despite the short period of time, it has shown quite impressive ratings – Iberia TV is a reliable and unbiased source of information for the spectators! By the way, today, on the 20th of February, yet another hearing on the criminal case of Iberia TV license seizure and transfer of ownership will be held at the Tbilisi City Court. The investigation on the case was completed last year and the former prosecutor general, Zurab Adeishvili and his deputy, Giorgi Latsabidze have been prosecuted.
As for other companies of Omega Group – Omega Motors LTD, Ilioni LTD, OGT LTD and Omega 2 LTD, as we said above, they resumed operation a year after the “National Occupation”, i.e. in the beginning of 2005 and since then they have employed more people than before and became large tax payers. Furthermore, International Research Organization GORBI recognized the founder of Omega Group, Mr. Zaza Okuashvili as the Best Investor of the year in 2016. As for the “Rose Leaders”, to say figuratively, they could be hardly seen like flies.
To cut it short, we must not forget the 19th of February, 2004, in order to prevent other governments from being tempted by the violence of people at least, though, to quote Beso Kakauridze, these people were punished because they worked.
Versia Newspaper. 20.02.2017