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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe

 

Ossetians (Indo-Iranian & North Caucasus)
Incorporating Digor & Iron, North Ossetia, South Ossetian Autonomous Region, North Ossetia-Alania, & South Ossetia.

The ancient Alani had flourished in the northern Caucasus between the eighth century AD and the thirteenth, forming their own regionally powerful Eastern European kingdom known as Alania. They put up a stiff resistance to the Mongol invasion from 1222 onwards which saw them driven from their valleys but otherwise undefeated. Unfortunately the capital was destroyed around 1400 and the fight was lost.

The Alani fell under the rule of the Tartars and fought for them and the Greater Golden Horde against Timur of Persia. Timur won the fight in 1395, gaining control of the Caucasus briefly and massacring a great many Alani.

The fragmented survivors were pushed farther into the mountainous territory of Europe's northern Caucasus, occupying a territory which amounted to about twenty percent of former Alania. By about 1500 they occupied the enclave which would remain theirs into the present day, and were already becoming proto-Ossetians.

They formed into two groups, the Digor in the west and Ir or Iron in the east. Today these are the two main dialects of Ossetian speech, with the now-minority Digor dialects being estimated to have divided from proto-Ossetian at the time of the Mongol invasion. The fact that the free Alani were pushed into the hills would have been the cause.

As the Russian empire expanded into the Caucasus in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ossetians did not resist as other peoples in the northern Caucasus did. Instead the Ossetians remained on good relations with Russia and were regarded as loyal citizens, first of the Russian empire and later of the Soviet Union. They sided with the Kremlin when Bolshevik forces occupied Georgia in the early 1920s and, as part of the carve-up which followed, the South Ossetian Autonomous Region was created in Georgia and North Ossetia was formed in Russia.

Today, they exist as North Ossetia-Alania within the Russian Federation and the semi-autonomous South Ossetia, almost an independent state which is supported by Russia to prevent Georgia from being able to govern it. North Ossetia-Alania is bordered to the east by Ingushetia and Chechenya, both of which have experienced violent anti-Russian resistance in recent years, with the violence sometimes spilling across Ossetia's border.

FeatureAs for the name, 'Ossetia' is likely the proper noun form of the verb 'to be', and is cognate with the early Anglo-Saxon name for their gods, the As or Os. This name, As or Os, is itself a contraction of 'Asura' which could be used by any number of Indo-Iranian groups, such as those of Kazakhstan right up to the seventh century AD (as the 'Az' - see the feature link, right, for more information on As and Os). The Alani name, though, did not itself morph directly into 'Ossetia'. The Russian 'Osetiny' comes from the Georgian 'Oseti', their own form of 'Alani' or 'Alania'. The Georgians had long known the Alani by their original root name, 'Os-' or 'Ovs-', and their country as 'Oset-'. It is this form which has evolved into the modern 'Ossetia'.

FeatureIt appears that the Alani were supporters of the widespread Indo-European practise of Rte. The fact that it has survived into modern times among their Ossetian descendants as a religion confirms this. Rte (the Sanskrit form of the name as used by Indo-Aryans) was a practical philosophy for daily life and spiritual life whose followers were devoted to the truth as 'what is'. This philosophy would have given its devotees a powerful advantage over their neighbours because they would have made practical, hard-nosed decisions rather than decisions based on fantasy or belief (see the link, right, for more information). This adherence formed the essence of proto-Indo-European identity.

Uatsdin, a modern movement which in essence follows the same truth of 'what is', comes from the practice of Rte amongst Ossetians. In the exymology of the word, its last part - '-din' - is cognate with the Avestan 'daena', meaning 'insight, revelation'. The first element is trickier though, and some examinations fail to delve deep enough into it. The modern Ossetian organisation of Rte is known as Atsætæ. The meaning given for its basis, 'Ætsæg', is 'right, true', but in fact this consists of a base element and a suffix together. The base is 'Æts-' which appears to be a flipped vowel version of the verb 'to be', of the 'ist' and 'est' variety rather than the Arte and Rte. The suffix '-æg' is the familiar 'like unto' or 'similar to' or 'in the manner of' suffix which is used in modern English in the form of '-ish' and '-ic' (such as in 'English' and 'Scandic').

Dargavs necropolis, Ossetia

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Caucasus Under Soviet Rule, Alex Marshall (Routledge, 2010), from The Politics of a Name: Between Consolidation and Separation in the Northern Caucasus, Victor Shnirelman (Acta Slavica Iaponica, 2006), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and BBC Country Profiles, and Dargavs Village: City of the Dead (Atlas Obscura).)

1768 -1774

The First Russo-Turkish War is part of Catherine's move to secure the conquest of territory on Russia's southern borders. Following the repression of revolts in Poland-Lithuania, Russia becomes involved in chasing rebels across the southern border into Ottoman territory. The Ottomans imprison captured Russian forces, effectively declaring war.

Despite being slow to mobilise, in 1774 Russia wins Kabardia (in the northern Caucasus), part of the Yedisan between the Bug and Dnieper (now covering south-western Ukraine and south-eastern Moldova (southern Transnistria), and the Crimea. Georgia also joins the Russian empire as a client kingdom while the khanate of Crimea is granted nominal independence.

Torelli Stefano's Allegory of Catherine the Great's Victory over the Turks and Tatars
Torelli Stefano's Allegory of Catherine the Great's Victory over the Turks and Tatars was painted in 1772, combining images of concrete historical personages with figures from the artists' free-flying imagination - the painting was commissioned to glorify the victory of the Russian army in the first Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774) and Catherine the Great is portrayed as the goddess Minerva in a triumphal chariot (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1917

The Russian February Revolution begins with riots in Petrograd over food rations and the conduct of the First World War against the German empire, and it ends with the creation of a Bolshevik Russian republic following the October Revolution. Nicholas II abdicates, first in favour of his son, Alexei, and then in favour of his brother, Michael. The act effectively ends a thousand years of royal rule. Mismanaging their own administration of the country and badly handling the war effort, the Bolsheviks start to lose control of some of Russia's imperial dominions, and Russia slides into civil war.

1918 - 1919

During the Russian Civil War, the Ossetians form part of the Transcaucasian republic in 1918-1919, before forming one of several pockets of White Guard/Republican resistance against Bolshevik Moscow until 1920.

1920 - 1991

In 1920 the Soviet authorities decide to deport the Terek Cossacks from the rich farmlands immediately to the north of the northern Caucasus regions. With thousands of farms lying abandoned the mountain dwellers of Ossetia and Ingushetia especially now abandon mountain living for a more prosperous farm life. Even when Terek resettlement is halted in 1921, their hold on the region is never fully restored.

Between January 1921 and July 1924 Ossetia is part of the autonomous Mountain Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Mountain ASSR) which very quickly falls under Soviet control. Already showing signs of rapid disintegration beforehand, the republic's borders are continually changed by the Soviets, with individual parts being removed to form parts of other republics.

Lenin and the October Revolution
Vladimir Lenin was the figurehead of the October Revolution and also its key instigator and controller, but the revolution plunged Russia into three years of bitter civil war

The final parts are reformed in 1924 into the North Ossetian Autonomous Oblast (region) and the Ingush Autonomous Oblast, while the southern portion of Ossetia is carved off to form part of Georgia. North Ossetia is still known by many of its natives as Alania which, essentially, is the same name from the same root but with a slightly different evolution. It becomes an autonomous republic in 1936.

1990 - 1996

South Ossetia loses its status as an autonomous region within Georgia, sparking the eighteen-month South Ossetian Conflict (or East Prigorodny Conflict) South Ossetia declares independence from Georgia in 1991 and is run by a secessionist government thereafter, despite not affecting a full break-away. Thousands of South Ossetians flee to North Ossetia during the unrest. The region's autonomous status is reaffirmed in 1992, while nationalists continue to work towards a unification of Ossetia as a whole. Agreement is reached with Georgia on the deployment of peacekeepers and peace is agreed in 1996. South Ossetia is effectively independent in all but name, despite Georgian insistence that it still belongs to them

1991 - 1996

North Ossetia gains a greater degree of self-rule during the break-up of the Soviet Union, becoming the North Ossetian Autonomous Republic within the Russian Confederation of Independent States. The North Ossetian-Ingushetia War is almost immediately triggered when Ingushetia pursues an historical claim to the Prigorodny district on the right bank of the River Terek. Ingushetian forces are finally expelled in 1992 with Moscow's support. Hundreds are killed during the fighting and thousands of Ingushetians flee their settlements in North Ossetia.

South Ossetian memorial 1991
This memorial in South Ossetia commemorates the 1991 war over Ossetia's future with Russia, or Georgia, or whether Ossetians could be entirely independent of both of them

1994

During the break-up of the Soviet Union, the renaming of the region to Alania had been put forward. In this year, North Ossetia is officially re-titled as the republic of North Ossetia-Alania.

2004

Armed attackers storm a school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia-Alania. In the violent end to the siege a total of three hundred and thirty people are killed, more than half of them being children who had been at the school. The attackers are linked to Chechenya, being labelled alternatively as terrorists or madmen who had been seeking to avenge the many thousands of Chechen dead at Russian hands. A bomb blast in the regional capital of Vladikavkaz in 2010 is also blamed on Chechens.

2006

President Saakashvili of Georgia offers South Ossetia autonomy but not independence or reunification, so a vote is taken which overwhelmingly supports a renewed call for independence. Georgia refuses to recognise the call.

2008

Partially fooled by Russia into commencing an attack on South Ossetia to recover the breakaway territory, Georgia is humiliated as a pre-prepared Russian taskforce crushes its forces and occupies South Ossetia under the pretence of protecting Russian passport holders there. Russia soon recognises South Ossetia (and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian region) as independent states, although it is alone in doing so. The short conflict is later known as the Russo-Georgian War.

Dargavs necropolis
The Dargavs necropolis was once an Ingushetian 'city of the dead', largely built from the sixteenth century onwards to contain plague victims while they expired and then to lay them to rest, although today it lies within North Ossetia (click or tap on image to view full sized)

 
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