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Students witness conflict in homelands

Posted on 11.06.2013

The strife and unrest in the modern world have affected some of the students of the University of Indianapolis in personal ways. From growing up under dictatorships to defending their homelands against invasion, these students have experienced conflicts virtually in their own backyard.
En Muang, a sophomore chemistry major, came to the United States in 2010. She left her home in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Although now ruled by a president and described as a republic, the country En and her family escaped was a brutal military junta.
“I grew up in a small village. It is hard to survive [there] with a big family,” En said. “The income is not enough. The school is not very good.”
En said that she is glad to see Myanmar becoming more democratic under its new leadership. A more egalitarian constitution was developed in 2008. As a Chin, En said that her ethnic group was treated harshly in previous circumstances.
“I lived in Chin state … The Chin people are a minority, and we face a lot of discrimination from the government,” En said. “I went to school, and there were a lot of Burmese people. I was the only Chin. If I get a good grade in class, they would sometimes take off points. If I were Burmese, they would not do that. I learned to work with it. I just accepted it.”
According to En, in 2007 a group of political opponents, students and thousands of Buddhist monks began rallying throughout the country against the corruption and brutality of the government. En was a witness to one of the inciting events.
“A soldier was given the order to shoot one of the monks. The soldier did not want to, but he had to,” En said. “The monks did not know [the government would] shoot.”
Even before the riots, the military made a habit of forcing civilians into carrying supplies for them without pay. If a civilian refused, that person could be shot. According to En, the soldiers were also known to rape the local women.
“When the soldiers were coming, the women would hide,” En said.
One day in 2007, En’s father was pressed into service to carry supplies for an army unit.  Fearing for his life, he ran away while the soldiers slept and hid in the jungle. Eventually he escaped and fled to Thailand.
Meanwhile, in En’s village, a plan was made for the rest of the family to escape. They squeezed into a small car and drove on the jungle roads into neighboring Malaysia. From there they came to the United States and were reunited with En’s father.
Despite the nation’s transition to democracy, En says she will only visit Myanmar.
“I do not trust them,” En said.” They have lied before.”
In August 2008, the Russian armed forces invaded Georgia. The Russian military was officially on a mission to restore order and quell fighting between Georgia and the breakaway state of South Ossetia.
Before the war, the Georgian and Russian people saw each other as friends. Years of living as one under the Soviet Union led to close ties, according to senior international relations major Levani Iosava, who is from Georgia.
Iosava was a 24-year-old reservist in the Georgian Army when the conflict began.
“The [Russian] operations started on Aug. 5. The Georgian military began responses on Aug. 7,” Iosava said. “We were defending Georgian settled villages. There were mixed [Georgian and Ossetian] villages. Our military was defending Georgian ones.”
Iosava was called up after Georgia began fighting back on Aug. 7.  After getting off of his shift at work, he heard about the Russian invasion and went immediately to the rally point for the local reservists where he received his assignment.
“I was sent to Gori,” Iosava said. “We were sent to keep areas clean [evacuate civilians] and safe, and report on any movements.”
Iosava described some of his experiences fighting with the Georgian reserves in the conflict.
“I saw Russian troops after they were bombed by Georgian artillery. It was night. At first, we saw the rockets flying somewhere. We did not know who was firing them. It was approximately seven in the morning that we received the [okay] to clean [search] the area for Russian forces. We … noticed smoke … So we waited,” Iosava said. “We were able to see what was going on. ”
Iosava’s unit came upon the wreckage and discovered Russian soldiers fearing for their lives. They were taken prisoner by the Georgians. Eventually, special forces were called in to extract and interrogate them, said Iosava.
Despite resistance, the Georgian military was forced to accept defeat after five days of fighting. Iosava said that many homes and an entire region were lost to conflict with Russia.
“We lost about 100 Georgian villages—all of the houses destroyed–and we lost the South Ossetian region,” Iosava said.
While Georgia retains its sovereignty, the effects of the war are still felt. Diplomatic relations between the two countries only exist through Switzerland. Iosava said that Switzerland is considered to be the middle man.
Iosava and his roommate and fellow Georgian, sophomore business administration major Abesalom Khachapuridze, believe that Russia should have allowed Georgia to handle the South Ossetia situation on its own.
“The Russian government was wrong to choose sides,” Khachapuridze said.
Neither citizen holds any animosity towards the Russian people, but both are upset with the Russian government. However, Khachapuridze foresees trouble for Russia.
“[Actions] like this are not so good for Russia. They are destroying their reputation and hurting relations,” Khachapuridze said. “Putin is a dictator and a bully.”
Junior psychology and supply chain business major Nir Posner is a native of Tel Aviv, Israel. Posner said that Tel Aviv, and Israel as a whole, is a peaceful place, despite the way the press portrays it.
Posner was going through basic training for service with the Israeli Defense Force in 2006 when Israel was fighting in Lebanon.
Though the fighting ended in Lebanon before he was done with boot camp, Posner was deployed during Operation Cast Lead in 2008–09. Operation Cast Lead launched strikes in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip in retaliation against one of the largest anti-Israeli groups, Hamas.
“They were firing Qassam rockets,” Posner said. “Those rockets have a range of about 20 kilometers.”
The Israeli National Security Agency believes the operation was successful, as strikes on Hamas targets reduced the number of Qassam rockets being fired, according to  Harvard’s National Security Journal. The United Nations declared a humanitarian crisis based on the damage to civilian infrastructure.
Despite generations of anger and countless conflicts, Posner said that lasting peace between the two groups is something that can be achieved.
“It is possible,” Posner said. “But it is going to take a lot of effort from both sides.”
Khachapuridze sees parallels between the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the rift between his Georgia and Russia. And like Posner, Khachapuridze also has hope for a peaceful future.
“The people need to move on and learn to forgive,” Khachapuridze said. “Otherwise, it is all for nothing.”


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