The relations between Georgians and Ossetians remained peaceful throughout the Soviet period. . . . With the rising of ethnic tensions in South Ossetia in the late 1980s, the 1918-20 thematic surfaced again, with conflicting narratives and interpretations of the conflict. The South Ossetians consider those events as part of their struggle for self-determination and claim that the Georgian reaction to the uprisings was genocide. . . . Georgians deny the accusations and consider the figures exaggerated. While not denying the brutality of the fighting, they view the conflict as the first attempt by Russia to destabilize Georgia. . . . - WikipediaAccording Russian media reports, some 2,000 people have been killed -- including Russian peacekeepers -- by Georgian military in the South Ossetia capital of Tskhinvali. There are reports that Russian air strikes against the Georgian airport, towns in Georgia, including hits on civilian structures. The Georgian government has declared "a state of war." Putin says 34,000 South Ossetians refugees have flooded into Russia.
At a time like this, it's helpful to step back and survey the history of the area.
Ancient times. "The Ossetians, an Iranian-speaking people, are mainly Sunni Muslims in the north and Eastern Orthodox Christians in the south, where Georgian culture prevails. They are descended from the medieval Alans," a Sarmatian tribe. Ossetians.com notes:
The various forms of [the word "Alan". . . ] are Iranian dialectical forms of Aryan. These and other variants of Aryan (such as Iran), were common self-designations of the Indo-Iranians, the common ancestors of the Indo-Aryans and Iranian peoples to whom the Alans belonged. The Alans were also known over the course of their history by another group of related names including the variations Asi, As, and Os (Hungarian Jász, Russian Jasy, Georgian Osi). It is this name which is the root of the modern Ossetian.370. The Alans were overwhelmed by the Huns.
327. The western Georgian Kingdom of Iberia became one of the first states in the world to convert to Christianity.
460. According to Ossetians.com:
Some of the other Alans remained under the rule of the Huns. These 'eastern' Alans are said to be ancestors of the modern Ossetians of the Caucasus. Those of the eastern division, though dispersed about the steppes until late medieval times, were forced by the Mongols into the Caucasus, where they remain as the Ossetians. Their most famous leader was Aspar, the magister militum of the Byzantine Empire during the 460s [shown on coin]. . . .562. Parts of Georgia incorporated into Byzantine empire.
1008-1010. Bagrat king of a united Georgia.
1071. Turkic Seljuk army destroyed the united Byzantine-Armenian and Georgian forces in the Battle of Manzikert.
1120. The ruler of Alania recognized himself as King David’s vassal and afterwards sent thousands of Alans (allegedly modern day Ossetians) to cross the main Caucasus range into Georgia, where they settled in Kartli [note: possible conflict with what follows under "1237-40" entry].
1125. King David died, leaving Georgia with the status of a strong regional power [map, note presence of Alania].
1184-1213. reign of Queen Tamar. "The peak of Georgia’s might in the whole history of the nation." [map "Kingdom of Georgia" which shows location of "Alania"].
1237-40. Mongols invade Russia, forcing Ossetians to migrate south over the Caucasus mountains to present-day Georgia.
1400s. Kingdom of Georgia turned into an isolated, fractured Christian enclave. Political and economic decline.
1500s. The Persian Empire of the Safavid Dynasty [map] and the Ottoman Empire [map] subjugated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.
1600s. During the 17th cent. the Northern Ossetians were subject to Karbada princelings.
1700s. North Ossetians came under strong Russian influence.
"As the Russian empire expanded into the area in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ossetians did not join other peoples of the North Caucasus in putting up fierce resistance."
1767. North Ossetia, under Russian rule.
1762 to 1798. Georgia turned towards Russia for protection against Ottoman and Persian attacks. Catherine the Great provides some support.
1801-1806. All of Ossetian territory was annexed to Russia, along with Georgia proper.
1917. Following the Russian Revolution, Ossetians set up a National Council of Ossetians which advocated the creation of organs of self-rule in Ossetian-inhabited areas. The Council soon became dominated by the Bolsheviks who called for the incorporation of South Ossetia into Soviet Russia.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, South Ossetia became a part of the Menshevik Georgian Democratic Republic, while the north became a part of the Terek Soviet Republic.
1918. Tskhinvali’s Georgian population was massacred. The uprising was finally suppressed by the Mensheviks, being now equated, in the eyes of the Ossetians, with Georgians. This also opened the way for strong pro-Bolshevik sentiments among the Ossetians.
1918-1920. The Georgia-Ossentia Rebelion. A rebellion in South Ossetia against the Menshevik-dominated Democratic Republic of Georgia. It claimed several thousands of lives. According to Wikipedia: "During its brief tenure, the Menshevik government of Georgia came across significant problems with ethnic Ossetians who largely sympathized with the Bolsheviks and Soviet Russia."
1920. According to Wikipidia:
In 1920, a much larger Ossetian uprising took place, which was supported by the regional committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) . . . Despite assurance of respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity in the Treaty of Moscow of May 7 1920, Soviet Russia demanded Georgia call back its troops from Ossetia. On May 8, the Ossetians declared a Soviet republic in the Roki area on the Russian-Georgian border. A Bolshevik force from Vladikavkaz crossed into Georgia and helped the local rebels to defeat a Georgian force in the Java district. The rebellious areas were effectively incorporated into Soviet Russia. However, Lenin’s desire to keep peace with Georgia at that time and eventual military failures of the rebels forced the Bolsheviks to distance themselves from the Ossetian struggle. The Georgian People’s Guard under Valiko Jugheli crashed the revolt with great violence. The insurgents were defeated in a series of hard-fought battles. Several villages were burned down and some 3,000 to 7,000 were killed during the hostilities. About 20,000 Ossetians were forced to seek refuge in Soviet Russia.1922. Georgia becomes a founder member of the Soviet Union. The South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast (district) is created within Georgia in April 1922. "Stalin - whose father was reputed to be Ossetian – in 1922 divided control over Ossetia between the Georgian and Russian Soviet republics, a move which angered Ossetians and prompted occasional protests over subsequent decades." (BH)
In February 1921, many Ossetians joined the advancing Red Army which brought Georgia’s independence to an end. In April 1922, newly established Soviet Georgian government rewarded the Ossetian service with the establishment of the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast which included not only Ossetian and mixed Georgian-Ossetian, but also purely Georgian villages and had Tskhinvali, where the Ossetians were in minority at that time, as its capital.
1924. North Ossetia-Alania (then called North Ossetia) became an autonomous region in the RSFSR.
1936. North Ossetia was made an autonomous republic.
1944. "Many South Ossetians were resettled in uninhabited areas of North Ossetia from which the Ingush had been expelled by Stalin in 1944, leading to conflicts between Ossetians and Ingush over the right of residence in former Ingush territory."
1980s. In the late 1980s, rising nationalism in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) and country’s movement towards independence were opposed by the Ossetian nationalistic organization, Ademon Nykhas (Popular Front), which demanded greater autonomy for the region and finally, unification with Russia’s North Ossetia.
1989. "When the South Ossetians attempted in 1989 to reunite with ethnic kin in Russian-controlled North Ossetia, the Georgian nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia marched supporters into the region to confront the secessionists."
1989-91. "As the Kremlin's hold over its empire crumbled, the Caucasus witnessed a surge in nationalism. Regions like Chechnya declared independence from Moscow but in South Ossetia, local leaders proclaimed their region part of the Russian Federation rather than the emergent sovereign state of Georgia."
1991. On April 9, 1991, shortly before the collapse of the USSR, Georgia declared independence.
"Sporadic clashes between Georgians and South Ossetians – who had mostly lived together in peace for decades, often inter-marrying – continued until 1991, when Tbilisi sent in troops to crush the separatist movement. More than 2,000 people are believed to have died in the fighting."
1992. North Ossetia-Alania a signatory to the treaty that created the Russian Federation. South Ossetia holds first referendum on independence from Georgia.
Dagomys Agreement signed by Georgia, South and North Ossetia and Russia, establishing the Joint Control Commission. All sides agree that the region would be supervised by the Joint Peacekeeping Forces and renounce the use of force to solve conflict.
"The republic has not been immune to the turmoil in neighboring regions. In 1992, after several days of fighting, tens of thousands of Ingush inhabitants of North Ossetia-Alania's Prigorodny region, once part of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR and to be reincorporated into it under a 1991 Soviet law, fled or were expelled to the newly established republic of Ingushetia."
1993. The first document on the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was signed between Azerbaijan and Turkey on 9 March 1993 in Ankara.
1998. The BTC pipeline project gained momentum following the Ankara Declaration, adopted on 29 October 1998. Signatories included Georgia ; signing was witnessed by US Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson.
2001 - South Ossetia elects wrestling champion Eduard Kokoity as president in unrecognised elections.
2002 – Kokoity asks Moscow to recognise the republic's independence and absorb it into Russia. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline Company (BTC Co.) was founded.
2003. The Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze, is toppled in the rose revolution. "After a coup toppled Mr Gamsakhurdia as president, his successor, Eduard Shevardnadze, agreed a deal with Boris Yeltsin for Russian peacekeepers to monitor a ceasefire. When Mikheil Saakashvili ousted Mr Shevardnadze in the 2003 Rose Revolution, he vowed to bring South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, back under Tbilisi's control." Construction begins on the BTC pipeline.
- Mikhail Saakashvili wins Georgian presidential election and declares his intentions to bring breakaway regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Ajaria back into the fold. Beslan Massacre: "The city of Beslan [in North Ossetia] was the scene of a Chechen-Ingush terrorist seizure of a middle school; the siege ended violently, with the death of more than 300 hostages."
2005 - BTC pipeline completed, making it the second longest pipeline in the world.
2006 - South Ossetia holds controversial second referendum for independence (the first referendum on independence was held in 1992). Ninety-nine percent approved. Because the referendum is boycotted by non-ethnic Ossetians and not overseen by the central government, the results were not sanctioned internationally. Also in 2006, the People's Assembly of the Georgian state of Abkhazia passed a resolution calling for international recognition of Abkhaz independence.
Recent. "Saakashvili accuses Russia of sending cash and weapons to separatists in both regions, to ensure continued Kremlin influence in the oil-rich Caucasus – the BTC pipeline carrying oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey is routed through Georgia – and to undermine Georgia's bid to join NATO. Russia has given passports to the vast majority of South Ossetians and Abkhazians, and pledges to defend its citizens in those provinces. Many South Ossetians say they expect other Caucasian peoples to support their fight against Georgia, and reports are emerging of volunteers heading for the region from Abkhazia and North Ossetia."
2008, early August. Following nearly a week of clashes between Georgian troops and separatist forces in early August 2008, Georgia on 7 August launched an aerial bombardment and ground attack on South Ossetia. By the next day, Georgian forces were reportedly in control of Tskhinvali. Russia said its citizens were under attack and responded by pouring thousands of troops into South Ossetia, and launching bombing raids both over the province and on targets in other parts of Georgia. Within days, Russia had seized control of Tskhinvali." (BBC)
Sources: Except where otherwise noted, Belfast Herald, Columbia Encyclopaedia, Guardian, Wikipedia South Ossetia, Wikipedia Safavid Dynasty, Wikipedia Kingdom of Georgia, Wikipedia Georgian-Ossetian Conflict (1918-1920), BBC Ossetia, Wikipedia Georgia; Maps: Wikipidia and BBC, Armenica, Iranian politics club, Ossetians.com.