April 2001/May 2001
Millennium of Peace: The Tbilisi II International
By Father Philip G. Salois, M.S.
The Second International Conference on PTSD for Veterans and Victims of
War was held November 8-11, 2000, in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. The
purpose was to further the work of the July 1999 Tbilisi I Conference. The
focus of the conference was to educate, exchange ideas, and establish strong
relationships with the international community for mutual support and aid.
There were approximately 125 conference participants at Tbilisi II. Most
were Georgian veterans and victims of the war in Afghanistan and the civil
war with the breakaway province of Abkhasia. There are between 15 and 20
veterans organizations in Tbilisi; each sent a delegation to the conference.
Small delegations came from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Chechnya, Krasnodar
(Russian Federation), Romania, and the United States.
The Chechen veterans have become refugees because of the war. They now
make their home in Baku, Azerbaijan, and have started a veterans
organization that coordinates communication with Chechens who have had to
leave their homeland because of the war.
A delegation from Tuzla, Bosnia, was to participate but was unable to
obtain the necessary visas in time. However, they did submit research papers
Every presenter submitted papers beforehand, which were translated into
three languages: Russian, English, and Georgian. The lectures were conducted
in Russian and Georgian with simultaneous translation provided.
The topics covered were: 1) the plight of disabled veterans; 2) the lack
of compensation and pensions for war veterans and invalids; 3) the lack of
adequate medical care and availability of prescription drugs for disabled
veterans; 4) the lack of psychological treatment for war veterans and lack
of credibility of PTSD as a diagnosable psychological disorder; 5) the care
and support of war widows and orphans; 6) the rights and benefits due to
citizen-soldiers (non-military) who fight in civil wars; 7) the role of
government in providing adequate funding to care for the needs of veterans;
and 8) the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons, their
ability to find employment and adequate housing, and their desire to return
to their homeland.
During the first two days of the conference, we heard formal
presentations. Each presentation went into detail about the desperate need
of people to find a better quality of life for their families and children.
There is extreme poverty in the CIS nations. This became evident when the
electricity was abruptly shut off by the government during the conference.
It remained off for days because of the lack of adequate power sources. Much
of the conference was conducted by candlelight, kerosene lamps, and heaters.
On the third day of the conference, a meeting was held that provided
interaction between conference presenters and representatives of the
Georgian veteran organizations. We listened intently to their problems and
needs. In response, we offered suggestions on how to press their government
officials to respond to their needs. We also offered models that have
achieved success in other nations, including Azerbaijan, where veterans were
able to get their government to respond after a peaceful public rally and
hunger strike in front of the Parliament buildings.
Also on the third day, we invited the print and broadcast media to a
press conference. We described the purpose and mission of the conference and
the anticipated outcomes. The press conference went on for over two hours.
On the fourth day, a delegation of thirty internally displaced persons (IDPs)
from Abkhasia shared some of their struggles and hopes. These IDPs were
Georgian citizens who lived in Abkhasia prior to the civil war and were
forced out of their homeland after Abkhasia broke off relations with
Georgia. Their many problems include unemployment and inadequate housing.
VISIT TO BAKU, AZERBAIJAN
At the end of the conference, I accepted an invitation from the Azeri
veterans to visit their country. My Georgian hosts accompanied me. I was
particularly interested in visiting the Karabakh Society for the Veterans of
Nagorno-Karabakh. The war Azerbaijan was involved in with Armenia was fought
over the disputed land of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region that is
currently under Armenian control. Hundred of lives were lost in that war,
which, unfortunately, is not over.
The ride from Tbilisi to Baku was an all-day endeavor. I only had enough
time to spend one full day in Baku before returning to Tbilisi for my return
flight home. I was given the Cook’s tour of the Karabakh Society and the
work that they are involved in for veterans. I had the opportunity to meet
many disabled veterans.
I was also given a tour of the veterans cemetery, a solemn place of
repose for those who died in the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia. It is on
a hill overlooking Baku and the Caspian Sea. There is an eternal flame
burning under a large, arch-like monument at one end of the cemetery. There
is an impressive mosque immediately next to the cemetery, which I was
privileged to visit and offer prayers.
Later in the day, I was brought to the government offices and spoke with
some journalists and officials interested in veterans benefits. I also had
the opportunity to speak at length with the president of the Karabakh
Society. We pledged greater cooperation in our work for the advancement of
veterans’ quality of life. The Azeri veterans have offered to host the
next International Conference this year in Baku. The Georgian coordinating
committee has offered to help the Azeris with planning and implementation.
This conference and the trip to Baku were powerful experiences. Still,
there is much work to be done. The American experience in Vietnam has much
to offer our younger veterans of more recent wars and conflicts who suffer
from very similar consequences that transcend language, culture, and
I close with words from Pope John Paul II’s 2001 World Day of Peace
message, "Dialogue Between Cultures for a Civilization of Love and
In the past, cultural differences have often been a source of
misunderstanding between peoples and the cause of conflicts and wars. Even
now, sad to say, in different parts of the world, we are witnessing with
growing alarm the aggressive claims of some cultures against others. In the
long run, this situation can end in disastrous tensions and conflicts. At
the very least, it can make more difficult the situation of those ethnic and
cultural minorities living in a majority cultural context which is different
from their own and prone to hostile and racist ways of thinking and acting.
Individuals come to maturity through receptive openness to others and
through generous self-giving to them; so, too, do cultures. Created by
people and at the service of people, they have to be perfected through
dialogue and communion, on the basis of original and fundamental unity of
the human family, as it came from the hands of God who ‘made from one
stock every nation of mankind.’ (Acts of the Apostles 17:26)
At the beginning of the Third Millennium, it is urgent that the path of
dialogue be proposed once again to a world marked by excessive conflict and
violence, a world, at times, discouraged and incapable of seeing signs of
hope and peace.
John Paul II’s message gives me the energy and impetus that the
international outreach by the National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran
Ministers is in sync with the important mission of promoting peace among
nations and reconciliation with former enemies.
Father Phil Salois is VVA’s national chaplain and the president of the
National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers.