Socialist Worker

Ossetia - a history of division and war

Issue No. 2114

The Caucasus region is populated by a patchwork of different nationalities and ethnic groups that have been caught for centuries in wars between rival empires.

Ossetia is just one of those nationalities. The Ossetian region straddles the Caucasus mountains, with North Ossetia falling into Russian territory and South Ossetia within Georgia’s borders.

For a long period the Ossetian language and culture were suppressed. But the Russian Revolution of 1917 transformed the region.

South Ossetia and Georgia pushed for independence, forming separate Soviet republics. By 1922 South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another ethnically distinct region, had became autonomous districts of Georgia.

The isolation and defeat of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin’s dictatorship led to the Caucasus region being marked by repression.

Nevertheless, relations between the different ethnic groups in the Caucasus region remained friendly. Intermarriage and integration between Georgians, Ossetians and Abkhazians was the norm.

Tensions surfaced again with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Georgia’s government abolished the autonomy of South Ossetia in December 1990. It declared independence from Russia a few months later.

In response South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia, which responded by sending in troops and paramilitary police.

The Ossetians eventually pushed the Georgians back and Russia sent thousands of troops into the region. Russia’s government backed the South Ossetian separatist forces against Georgia.

The independence claims of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were not recognised by any member fo the United Nations. The new republics soon fell back on Russian patronage to survive.

The borders of both regions became a patchwork of areas ruled by separatist movements or Georgian troops, with tensions spilling over into frequent clashes.

In recent years South Ossetia has voted overwhelmingly for independence from Georgia.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have good historic cases for independence.

But their national movements have been caught up in the wider regional battle between the US and Russia – neither of whom have any interest in the ordinary people in the region.


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