From 9 April the photo exhibition “National Unity Day – Georgia’s Peaceful Fight for Freedom”, created by the Embassy of Georgia, will be exhibited at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The exhibition is dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the tragedy which took place on 9 April 1989, in Tbilisi, when the Soviet army brutally dispelled the independence demonstration on Rustaveli Avenue in the heart of the Georgian capital. Twenty-one people were killed including women and teenagers. Hundreds of people were also injured or poisoned. The tragedy is often called the Tbilisi Massacre. The exhibition was opened by the ambassador of Georgia to Latvia, Tea Maisuradze. The exhibition will be open for viewing until 18 April.
Georgia's independence movement became active in 1988, with demonstrations and hunger strikes starting in 1989. On 4 April, students from different higher education institutions declared a hunger strike calling for Georgia’s separation from the USSR, national resistance, complete sovereignty and the abolition of autonomous formations in Georgia. The independence and democracy movement, driven by the desire to return to Western civilization, brought together thousands of protestors from across the country, resulting in a peaceful demonstration outside the government building on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi.
In the evening of 8 April, the Soviet general announced the mobilisation of USSR forces within and outside of the territory of Georgia.
On 9 April, at 4am, Soviet tanks appeared on the streets of Tbilisi. Soviet Special Forces, armed with shovels and truncheons, brutally began to disperse protesters, killing 21 people, mostly women and young people.
The youngest victims of the tragedy were only 16 years old. Hundreds of citizens were poisoned by toxic substances. In the chaos and panic caused by the dispersal of demonstrators, many civilians were crushed or killed.
After these tragic events in Tbilisi, a curfew was set, tanks remained in the city centre and troops patrolled the streets.
The murders on 9 April energised Georgia’s independence efforts and put an end to Soviet domination.
On 31 March 1991, Georgians, motivated by the events of 9 April, voted for independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum. The referendum asked one question: “Do you support the restoration of the independence of Georgia in accordance with the Act of Declaration of Independence of Georgia of May 26, 1918?” The turnout for the election was 90.5%, with 99% of the votes being cast for Georgian independence.
On 9 April 1991, on the 2nd anniversary of the tragedy in Tbilisi, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia declared Georgia's sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union, based on the results of the referendum.
The tragedy on 9 April had a significant effect not just in Georgia, but across the entire Soviet Union. Many were inspired by Georgia's example of fighting for independence.
The night of 9 April will always be remembered as one of the most tragic but heroic dates in Georgia’s history, when the whole country united to fight for independence. Georgia will always remember the heroes who tried to stop Russian tanks with their bare hands. This date is permanently engraved in Georgian minds as their Day of National Unity.