The Ossetians (Ossetic: ирæттæ, irættæ) are an Iranic ethnic group indigenous to Ossetia, a region that spans the Caucasus Mountains. The Ossetians mostly populate North Ossetia-Alania in Russia, and South Ossetia a large part of which is now de facto independent. They speak Ossetic, an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch, although nearly all also speak Russian as a second language. The Ossetians are mostly Christian, with a Muslim minority (see: Digor).
The Russian geographic name "Ossetia" and the corresponding ethnic designation "Ossetians" comes from a Georgian root.
The Russians originally called the Ossetians Jas, possibly related to their contact with Jazones.
In Late Antiquity, records became much more diffuse and the Iazyges generally ceased to be mentioned as a tribe. In the Middle Ages an Iranian people appeared in Eastern-Europe, the Jazones. The Jazones, or Jász, an Ossetic people who migrated to Hungary, are first mentioned in Hungarian records in the year 1318, and their name, spelled in Greek means "Jasons" (Ιάσωνες). The Jász in Hungary maintained their language until the 18th century. While they have become linguistically Hungarian, descendants in the Jász area of Hungary still maintain some original culture and have folk consciousness of their origins.
In the late 14th century, the Russians adopted the Georgian name of the Ossetians and their nation. In the Georgian language, Alania and the Alans are known as "Oseti" (ოსეთი) and "Osebi" (ოსები) respectively. From the Russian language the names Ossetia and Ossetians came to other languages.
Nowadays the Ossetians themselves refer to their nation as irættæ. But in past most Ossetians called themselves "iron"(related to Indo-European آریاārya, aryien - noble).
The Ossetians descend from the Alans, a Sarmatian tribe. About A.D. 200, the Alans were the only branch of the Sarmatians to keep their culture in the face of a Gothic invasion, and the Alans remaining built up a great kingdom between the Don and the Volga, according to Coon, "The Races of Europe." Between A.D. 350 and 374, the Huns destroyed the Alan kingdom, and a few survive to this day in the Caucasus as the Ossetes. They became Christians in the 916 A.D. under Byzantine influence. A small number adopted Islam, and most of these are Sunni Muslims.
In the 8th century a consolidated Alan kingdom, referred to in sources of the period as Alania, emerged in the northern Caucasus Mountains, roughly in the location of the latter-day Circassia and the modern North Ossetia-Alania. At its height, Alania was a centralized monarchy with a a strong military force and benefited from the Silk Road.
Forced out of their medieval homeland (south of the River Don in present-day Russia) during Mongol rule, Alans migrated towards and over the Caucasus mountains, where they formed three distinct territorial entities:
Х Digor in the west came under the influence of the neighbouring Kabard people who introduced Islam. Today the two main Digor districts in North Ossetia are Digora district or Digorskiy rayon (with Digora as its centre) and Irafskiy rayon or Iraf district (with Chikola as its centre). Digora district is Christian while some parts of Iraf district are Muslim. The dialect spoken in Digor part of North Osetia is Digor, the most archaic form of Ossetian language.
Х Kudar in the south, in the Georgian central region of Shida Kartli. After the Russian annexation of Georgia in 1801, this part formed the Ossetian okrug within Tiflis governorate from 1846 to 1859 and in 1922 received an autonomy within the Georgian SSR as South Ossetia.
Х Iron and Digor in the north became what is now North Ossetia-Alania, under Russian rule from 1767. Iron dialect is the literary and written language of the Ossetian language.
In recent history, the Ossetians participated in Ossetian-Ingush conflict (1991-1992) and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts (1918-1920, early 1990s) and in the 2008 South Ossetia war between Georgia and South Ossetia.
Main article: Ossetic language
The Ossetic language belongs to the Indo-European language family. It belongs to the Iranian branch of that language family. Ossetic is divided into two main dialect groups: Ironian (os. - »рон) in North and South Ossetia and Digorian (os. - ƒыгурон) of North Ossetia. There are some subdialects in those two: like Tualian, Alagirian, Ksanian, etc. Ironian dialect is the most widely spoken.
Ossetic is classified as Northeastern Iranian, the only other surviving member of the subgroup being Yaghnobi, spoken more than 2,000 km to the east in Tajikistan. Both are remnants of the Scytho-Sarmatian dialect group which was once spoken across Central Asia.
Most of the Ossetians became Christians in the 10th century under Byzantine influence.
As the time went by, Digor in the west came under Kabard and Islamic influence. It was through the Kabardians (an East Circassian tribe) that Islam was introduced into the region in the 17th century.
Kudar in the southernmost region became part of what is now South Ossetia, and Iron, the northernmost group, came under Russian rule after 1767, which strengthened Orthodox Christianity considerably.
Today the majority of Ossetians, from both North and South Ossetia, follow Eastern Orthodoxy, although there is a sizable number of adherents to Islam.
The vast majority of Ossetians live in Russia (according to the Russian Census (2002)):
Х North Ossetia-Alania Ч 445,300
Х Moscow Ч 10,500
Х Kabardino-Balkaria Ч 9,800
Х Stavropol Krai Ч 7,700
Х Krasnodar Krai Ч 4,100
Х Karachay-Cherkessia Ч 3,200
Х Saint Petersburg Ч 2,800
Х Rostov Oblast Ч 2,600
Х Moscow Oblast Ч 2,400
There is a significant number living in north-central Georgia (Trialeti). A large Ossetian diaspora lives in Turkey, and Ossetians have also settled in France, Sweden, Syria, the USA (New York City, Florida and California as examples), Canada (Toronto) and other countries all around the world.
This is how the Ossetian language sounds.
MP3. Kadzaty Stanislav's talk-show "Uatsamonga". North Ossetian Radio Broadcasting. Discussing the problems of Ossetians.