It might seem for a stranger that Zaramag is just a geographical toponim, which became known due to the presence of the Ossetian-Military Highway or due to construction of the Hydro Power Station. But in fact, for Ossetia-Alania and for all Ossetians, Zaramag Basin with Zaramag Cliff rising above the valley are important patterns of the national history.
Stretching at the foot of several valleys, at the crossing point of highways, full of sunlight, Zaramag has been settled since ancient times. By the end of Bronze Age in the II-nd Millennium B.C., as the archaeologists’ findings show, Zaramag had a high density of population and the lands were completely developed, suitable for agricultural activity.
During the Bronze Age Caucasus was located between few civilizations. The well-known proofs of this statement are shown in religious-mythological traditions of ancient Greeks and Jews (Prometheus chained to the rock in Caucasus, Noah arriving to Mount Ararat).
The widely known Koban Culture is considered to be one of the technological and cultural tops of the late Bronze and early Iron Ages. The artefacts found in Koban burials and settlements in Zaramag Valley prove that between the first and the second Millenniums B.C. Zaramag has become one of the political, economical, social and cultural centres of the Caucasus Region.
The transit and political importance of Zaramag Valley significantly increased in VIII-VII centuries B.C. during the Scythian raids into the Asia Minor. Scythian development of the mountain passes, creation of the military forts, political control over the Koban area, economical and military cooperation led to the complete assimilation of Koban people within the Scythian environment.
Sarmatian invasion into the Scyth-Koban territories in III-II Centuries BC just reinforced the strategic and political importance of the Zaramag Region. As a good sample of the Scythian ethnonims’ viability could be the common name “Kudar” for the mountaineers of the Central and South parts of Ossetia (from Scyths called themselves “Skud”, and their country “Skudar”). That is how Ossetians are calling for more that two thousand years the region where Sarmats pushed to their conquered relatives – Scyth-Koban people.
After the 1st century A.D. , the ethnonym “Alans” began to be documented and “Alania”, as a name of the country, spread all over the Scythian-sarmatian population in Caucasus.The rapid spread of the Alans later on could explain the origin and meaning of the word “Alan” (Ossetian “allon”) – a phonetic arrangement of the ancient word “aryana”.
During the Alans, in the beginning of A.D, and later on, during the Great Movement, the importance of Zaramag grew first of all as a military fortress, which helped to control the vital mountain passages, used for conducting the active politics in Central and South Caucasus, as well as for the securing the independence of Alanian Tsars in the complicated collisions within the international Politics- between Huns or Avars, Persian and Byzantine.
Protected with the mountain ridges and fortifications, Zaramag valley, was also an economic warranty for survival during harsh times when Alanian Tsars were forced to leave the planes and move into the mountains. (eg. Tartar and Alanian settlement of the first millennium founded bloody invasions in Tsmi , is one proof of this statement)
The territory of the Alanian Royal clan, called Tsarazonta, from the South was protected with the Zaramag fortress. The families of Tsarazonta owned rich lands and highland meadows. They also controlled Mamison, Rook, Zikar and other mountain passages. Even after the tragic events of 13-14 centuries which destroyed the Alanian state, the descendants of those families still were in power in the Zaramag region.
During the half a century long period of Tatar invasion, Zaramag remains an unconquered fortress of the independent mountainous Alania, a neutral island between two empires: Golden Horda, with all Alanian planes in the North and State of Hulagids, including Iranina and Central Caucasian territories in the South.
The Central Asian Emir Timur, who overpowered Tatars and pushed them out of Caucasus at the same time turned the Alanian territories into desert. The next three centuries, called late Medieval times in history of Alania-Ossetia (XV-XVII A.D.) - became a period of constant struggle for survival and unification of the country which was split into small separate communities.
Zaramag, with its’ millennial history and strategic location once again became the key to the military and political rebirth of the Alanian Nation.
At the first stage, during the struggle between the different societies, Zaramag became a northern capital of the Central Ossetia, which included a large area named – Tualta, stretching from Urs-Tualta in South Ossetia to Tualgom in the North of the main Caucasus mountain ridge. With all this, the prestigious noble background of the community let them get some support from outside Ossetia, including the traditional close ties with the Georgian Royal dynasty of Bagrations, which related to the Ossetian Tsarazons since XIII century A.D.
The fight against Persian Shah Abbases invasion in XVII century was the biggest military victory, which enforced the importance of Zaramag. Ossetians showed great resistance of Zaramag fortress and forced the invaders out of their territory. The public’s memory of this event turned into a proverb: ” Even Shah Abbas stepped back from Zaramag”. Without a doubt this even has resulted in confederative form of unity: with independence of people and, strong military alliances and contracts.
Some interesting impressions from Zaramag valley were received from Russian Diplomats, while making a stop in Zaramag on their way to Georgia and the surroundings of Caucasus in XVI century. In their reports they described Zaramag as a large city with widely spread blocks of multi-level buildings – a real mountain capital.
By the middle of XVIII century when gaining power confederation of Ossetian communities has established diplomatic ties with Russian Empire, not only Zaramag, but whole Tualgom became an epicentre of important political possesses.
Traditional control over the key mountain passes turned into a function of “Ossetian land gatherers” the mediators between the different Ossetian Societies. The representatives of Tual elite, were promoted into the national leaders and so they have gained some international authority. Zaramag, once again plays a significant role. Exiled Georgian Tsars finds a refuge there. Diplomats and merchants stop in Zaramag asking for protection.
Zurab Magkaty, whos family owned the Zaramag fortress and who belonged to an ancient clan Tsarazonta, lead the movement for Ossetia joining together with Russia. He also headed the first Ossetian diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg, which in 1749-1752 later on determined the political future of Ossetia. Zurab and his son, who accompanied him to St. Petersburg, were buried in Zaramag in the land of the Medieval Temple.
These graves, along with the temple and whole Zaramag cliff turned into a symbol of Ossetian integrity and unperishability of its unity with Russia, symbol of the wisdom of ancestors and propriety of their historical decision.
During the Soviet era, those who designed the Trans-Caucasian highway did not concern themselves with the historical and cultural meaning of Zaramag for Ossetians. The same way these values were ignored by the designers and builders of Zaramag Power Station. Later on, border guards and customs offices were also built there as well as military camps. It is clear, the importance of Zaramag for Ossetian history and the construction of modern economical objects are tightened together. Those who make decisions about where to construct highways, customs, military objects, base it on strategic neopolitical and economical needs. There is always only one thing missing – cultural meaning of Zaramag. It is obvious, culture cannot be bought, as it has been accumulating over the centuries. The descendants of the present barbarian decision makers will accumulate it too. But for us, Ossetians, and for Russia it might be too late. We are taking a risk to return to Stone Age, destroying what is separating a modern mankind from it.
We hope that Ossetia along with all of Russia slowly comes out of the historical deadlock of unconsciousness. So, the number of intelligent people in government and economic will increase and they will be able to take into account both: the future and the past.
By Ruslan Bzarov