Brief overview. By Ruslan Kuchity, June 2005
Ossetians, the descendents of Scythes, Sarmatians and Alans, occupy the northern and southern slopes of the central part of the Main Caucasian Mountain Ridge. Administratively they form the Republic of North Ossetia – Alania (8 thousand sq.km. with Vladikavkaz as a capital), within the Russian Federation and the Republic of South Ossetia (3.4 thousand sq.km. with Tskhivaly as a capital), a former autonomy within the Georgian Soviet Republic.
South Ossetia obtained independence from Georgia in 1992 and in 2008 it was recognized by Russia as an independent country.
In spite of a geographic and administrative division, both parts of Ossetia form a single cultural nation, one and indivisible, sharing the same language and same culture. It was in 1922 when the Kremlin made the decision, without first consulting the Ossetians, to put North Ossetia under Russian jurisdiction and South Ossetia under the Georgian jurisdiction. But since both were still within the same State, the former USSR, there were not too many problems for Ossetians. The only thing that bothered Ossetians was the persistent attempts of the Georgian government to declare themselves, their culture and language the dominant ones. But times have changed - Russia and Georgia became separate States, dividing the Ossetians people, as well as many families and relatives, by imposed State borders. Taking into account the undersized Ossetian population, this has proven to be extremely catastrophic to our people.
Map of the Caucasus region. Ossetians live within the borders shown in red. The green line shows the administrative border between the two parts of Ossetia
The total population of Ossetians in the world today is roughly 640-690 thousand people. According to unofficial data:
1. 420-440 thousand of them live in North Ossetia
2. 65-70 thousand – in South Ossetia
3. 60-80 thousand – in other Russian regions and cities
4. 50-60 thousand – in Georgia
5. 20-30 thousand – in the republics of former USSR
6. 11-12 thousand – in Turkey and Syria
7. 12-15 thousand – in European and American countries
Ossetia’s neighbors are the Republic of Ingushetia to the East, Chechnia to the Northeast, Kabardino-Balkar Republic to the Northwest, Russian Stavropol region to the North and Georgia to the South.
Ossetian scenery is very rich and diverse characterized by hot plains, blossoming fields, everlasting snow caps on the most notorious mountains in Europe, ancient caves and impetuous rivers.
Since ancient times Ossetians have attracted the attention of many well-known historians and researchers including Herodotus, Miller, Shegren, Claprot, Verdnardsky, Dumesil, Sulimirsky, Bachrach, Littleton, Cardini, Abaev, Rostovtsev and Kuznetsov.
The history of Ossetians, from Alans, Sarmathians and Scythes up until modern days has been described in many scientific books, including “History of Ossetia” by M.Bliev and R.Totrov. The article “Alans. Who Are they?” by the member of the Russian Scientific Academy, M.Isaev, (written as a foreword to Russian edition of “A History of the Alans in the West”, by Bernard S. Bachrach ) is submitted to this chapter of the project “Ossetians”. The book itself describes the history of western Alans, who spread all over Europe and left their “footprints” everywhere starting from the British Islands to Northern Italy, France and Hungary.
During the last 8-10 centuries the Ossetian nation has gone through dramatic changes, from rapid prosperity, strengthening power and a huge influence over the Caucasian region to almost total distinction as a result of the Tartar and Tamerlan’s invasions in the 13th and 14th centuries. This total catastrophe ruined the Alanian State system, crashed the base of the economy and hindered the development of the Ossetian nation for centuries.
The last remains of the one time mighty Alans (according to some sources – just 10-12 thousand people) were locked up for almost five centuries within the highland Caucasian mountain gorges. During this time all of the international ties of Ossetians were limited with contacts with neighboring nations. It is for this reason that little was mentioned about them in historical sources during that time. But, as Russians say, bad things are always accompanied by good things. According to several modern historians Ossetians have succeeded in preserving their unique language, culture, traditions and religion due in large part to this lengthy isolation.
The centuries passed and Alans, now as Ossetians (based on Georgian “Ossi”) rebuilt themselves from ashes and their population increased.
By the first half of the XVII century Ossetians, living in the confined, harsh conditions of the high lands, decided to address the Russian government on the subject of joining this empire with the possibility of Ossetian people moving from the gorges and settling on the plains. The first Ossetian diplomatic delegation, elected from different communities, brought the Petition to Empress Elizaveta Petrovna in St.Peterburg in 1750. But tied up with the international pacts, the Russian side did not rush to make a decision.
After Turkey was defeated in the Russian-Turkish War (1768-1774), and geopolitical conditions changed, with the growing Russian influence in the Caucasus region, the government could afford to act more decisively than before.
In 1774 a well-known Kuchuk-Kaynardzhy agreement was signed, and shortly after that Ossetia became a Russian province. However this administrative agreement was relatively formal and Ossetians continued to feel independent for a long period of time with intermittent revolts against the Russian administration like the one in Digorsky Gorge in 1781 flaring up in Ossetian mountain communities.
Nevertheless, joining Russia allowed Ossetians to further vital national interests. It helped to advance the decisions on resettlement from the highlanders to plains, foreign security guarantees and the establishment of Ossetian-Russian market relations.
For the next 100-150 years, hundreds of Ossetians became highly educated teachers, enlighteners, writers, military commanders, and respected government and public figures. Most of them received their education in St.Peterburg, Moscow and other large Russian cities. By the beginning of the last century, there were dozens of Ossetian military generals and thousands of officers honored with some of Russia's highest awards. They served faithfully, with Alanian honor, protecting their homeland everywhere from the Far East to the Balkans.
The turbulent political events of the 20th century inflicted a new blow to our nation, like other nations of the former USSR. The February and October Revolutions of 1917 and the subsequent Civil War split the Ossetian community into hostile groups. They undermined the base of internal social relationships, moral principles and ancient traditions. Sometimes even close relatives and family members found themselves on opposite sides of political barricades. Many progressive people were killed, others left the country forever. But the biggest loss our people endured was during the repressions of the 1930’s when almost everyone who constituted the face of their nation was executed or sent to Siberia.
During the World War II Ossetians gained great glory and respect by utilizing qualities inherited from their ancestors. Ossetians always considered the military service and Homeland protection a great honor. They did not forget that the Alans preferred to die with honor than to live with shame. Ossetian children usually start dreaming about becoming military officers from early childhood. The fact, that this project includes information about 78 Ossetian generals confirms this statement.
From a total population of 340 thousand people at the beginning of the World War II :
- 89 900 people went to the front to protect their Homeland.
- 46 thousand of them were killed in battles
- 34 Ossetians were honored with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest Soviet honor. Compared to the population size, it is the highest number between the nations of the former USSR.
- More than 50 Ossetians became generals and admirals.
- 2 Ossetian families lost seven sons each in the battles of WW II.
- 2 families – six sons each.
- 16 families lost five sons each
- 52 families lost four sons each.
The Ossetians - Outstanding high rank commanders, with men such as Army General Issa Pliev, Army General Georgy Khetagurov, the “father” of Soviet special forces, Colonel-general Khadzhimurat Mamsurov, Major-general Ibragim Dzusov and many others were making significant contribution to the overthrown of the Nazi regime, freeing our country and all of Eastern Europe of fascist invaders.
The post-war period of Ossetian history can be characterized by the rapid growth of the industry, agriculture, and entertainment facilities. Ossetians reached great achievements in fine arts and sports. The natural resources of Ossetia favored the establishment of such large industrial enterprises as Sadonsky and Kvaysinsky lead and zinc mining complexes, “Electrozinc” and “Pobedit” huge industrial plants, “Emalprovod” and “Vibromachine” in Tskhinvaly, Alagirsky Resistant Manufacturing, the Beslan Maize Industrial Complex (at one point in time being the biggest in Europe), “Kazbek” Furniture Manufacturing, several big plants of electronic industry, etc.
Vladikavkaz, the capital of the Republic of North Ossetia – Alania, is one of the key cities in the Caucasian region, the industrial, transportation, tourism and cultural center. There are over 100 nationalities living in peace and harmony. They are all proud of the prestigious North Ossetian State University, Gorsky State Agrarian University, North Caucasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, North Ossetian Medical Academy, two Higher Military Schools and many colleges.
The cultural life in Ossetia is rich in various events. There are several famous state theatres, philharmonics, outstanding folk dance ensembles (“ALAN” and “SIMD”), the unique equestrian theatre “NARTY” and many more well-known musical, drama and choreographic groups functioning in both parts of Ossetia.
The Ossetian culture and fine arts gave the world and Russian society such great and famous people as Valery Gergiev (one of the best musical conductors of the present), Veronica Dudarova (the first in the world lady-conductor), Svetlana Adyrkhaeva (Bolshoy Theatre ballet-dancer), the founder of the Soviet equestrian circus Alibek Kantemirov and his sons (Kantemirovs’ dynasty), the theatre and movie stars Vladimir Tkhapsaev and Nikolay Salamov, as well as variety performers Felix Tsarikaty and Akim Salbiev.
Ossetians bring glory and fame to their Homeland at sport competitions of the highest level. The free style, Greco-roman style, sumo and judo wrestlers, karate and tae kwon do fighters, calisthenics gymnasts, arm wrestlers and other Ossetian sportsmen compete not only for Russia, but for several other countries as well.
We are very proud of 12 Olympic champions, dozens of World champions, plenty of Europe, former USSR and Russian national champions. At the last 2004 Olympics in Athens, Ossetians have got 4 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals. This achievement is really unique for the nation of less than 700 thousand people and will likely be unbeaten anywhere in the near future.
The Ossetian youth of today wants to fight and compete in sport arenas, not in bloody battles. They want to live in peace with love towards everyone around them. They want to build their future through studying and hard work.
The achievements of Ossetians in different fields of science and economics are truly outstanding. People like George Tokaty - one of the key scientists in development of the NASA space programs, Vaso Abaev – an eminent linguist and historian, Yuri Kuchiev – captain-commander of the nuclear icebreaker “Arctica”, which sensationally reached the North Pole in 1978, Taymuraz Bolloev – one of the best known Russian businessmen and former CEO of the largest Russian brewery corporation “Baltica” and others have made and continue to make important contributions to the industry and the world of science.
Nowadays Ossetia is a fast developing Russian region. Ossetians want to establish business and cultural connections all over the world in order to reach more achievements. They are open minded to communicate and they look forward to the future with great hope.
Edited by C. Morgan, B.A. in Archaeology.
The Books And Other Sources On The Issue Of Scythian - Alanian - Ossetian History
1. Ê ïðîáëåìå ãåíåçèñà îñåòèíñêîãî íàðòñêîãî ýïîñà. Ãóðèåâ Ò.À (in Russian)
2. Ñêèôû. Ãðàêîâ Â.Ì. (in Russian)
3. Îñåòèíû. Á.À. Êàëîåâ (in Russian)
4. A grammatical sketch of Ossetic./ by V.I. Abaev. Edited by Herbert H. Paper, Translated by Steven P. Hill
5. A History of the Alans in the West, from their first appearance in the sources of classical antiquity through the early middle ages, University of Minnesota Press, 1973 ISBN 0816606781, by Bernard S. Bachrach
6. The Sarmatians./ by T. Sulimirsky
7. The world of the Scythians./ by Renate Rolle
8. Iranians and Greeks in South Russia./ by M. Rostovtsev
9. The Scythians./ by Tamara Talbot Rice
10.From Scythia to Camelot./ by C.Scott Littleton&Linda A.Malcor
11.Alle Radici Della Cavalleria Medievale. Franco Cardini (in Italian)
12.Searching For The Scythians/ by Mike Edwards/ National Geographic, September 1996
13.Alans in Gaul./ by Bernard S. Bachrach
14. Sources on the Alans. A critical compilation./ by Agusti Alamany
15. The Sarmatians 600 BC - AD 450. / by R. Brzezinski & M. Mielczarek
16. The Scythians 700 -300 BC / by Dr. E.V. Cernenko
17. Iaroslav Lebedynsky, Les Sarmates, Amazones et Lanciers cuirassés entre Oural et Danube, VIIe siècle av. JC - VIe siècle apr. JC, Paris 2002.
18. Vladimir Kouznetsov, Iaroslav Lebedynsky, Les Alains, Cavaliers des steppes, seigneurs du Caucase Ie-XVe siècle apr. J.-C., Paris 2005.
19. Iaroslav Lebedynsky, Sarmates et Alains face à Rome, Ie - Ve siècles, Illustoria, Clermont-Ferrand, 2010.