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South Ossetia

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Updated: 27.11.2003

Region, north-central Georgia, on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountains. South Ossetia covers 3.900 sq km and has 99.000 inhabitants (1989). The major city is Tskhinvali.

The region is populated largely (about two-thirds) by the Ossetes, a Caucasian people (many Ossetes live in the neighbouring republic of North Ossetia in Russia as well); most of the remainder are Georgians.

The area is deeply intersected by rivers, which are harnessed for hydroelectric power.

About 90 percent of the region lies more than 3,300 feet (1,000 m) above sea level, and only 9 percent of its area is cultivated. Grain, fruit, and vines are grown, partly under irrigation. Sheep are raised on the higher slopes, and the considerable forest wealth is exploited.

Revolutionary activity had began in South Ossetia as early as 1903. S. Kirov directed Bolshevik activities in the region from 1909, and shortly after the outbreak of the February Revolution a soviet was formed at Vladikavkaz.

The South Ossetia became a part of the Georgian Menshevik Republic with the break up of the Russian empire in 1918, while the North formed a part of the Terek Soviet Republic.

Fierce fighting took place in the North Caucasus during the ensuing civil war (1918-21) and in January, 1919 white forces of General Denikin occupied North Ossetia. In late March, 1920, however, Vladikavkaz fell to the Red Army, and on November 17, 1920 northern Ossetia was included in the newly formed Mountain ASSR as the Ossetian District.

On July 7, 1924 Osetia was reorganised as the North Ossetian Autonomous Region and on December 5, 1936, as the North Ossetian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The south Ossetian Oblast was organized within the Georgian republic on April 20,1922.

In 1936, North Ossetia was upgraded to Autonomous Republic, which in fact had no meaning during Stalin's dictatorship. The Ossetians were loyal to the Soviet Union during World War II, when the Germans pressed to reach the oil fields of Baku and Grozny. After the war they were rewarded in that their republic was enlarged at the expense of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR and Stavropol Territory. The Muslim Digor Ossets, however, were deported to Central Asia.

In 1989, in the freedom of glasnost and perestroika and frightened by rising Georgian nationalism, the South Ossetians demanded unification with North Ossetia. In December the next year, the Georgian Parliament declared that South Ossetia was no longer autonomous and authorised suppression of newspapers and bans on demonstrations.

One issue at stake was the language. Georgian was declared as official language. The Ossetians declared Osetian as the official language of South Ossetia. Fighting commenced in January 1991. During the fighting, South Ossetians were drained of a large part of their population.

It is difficult to estimate the number of inhabitants in today's South Ossetia. Most Georgians who lived in the republic left for Georgia proper, and only a few small enclaves in South Ossetia are still inhabited by Georgians.

More than 100.000 Ossets fled from Georgia and South Ossetia to North Ossetia. The fighting ended in July 1992 when a cease-fire, at the initiative of Russian President Yeltsin, was agreed and a peacekeeping force of Ossets, Georgians and Russians was set up. The agreement is being observed by the OSCE in Tbilisi. But since then little progress has been made.

South Ossetia is in a situation of permanent economic crisis and there is a lack of almost everything including jobs, clothes, food heating and electricity. Schools and universities are closed because of lack of heating and books. The situation is worsened by Georgia cutting electricity supplies, which has led to North Ossetia running an electric cable from Russia through the mountain range.

The conflict has resulted in increasing South Ossetia claims for a reunification with North Ossetia and for a stronger affiliation with the North Caucasian ethnic groups and republics. In 1990-91, when the South Ossetia parliament was still dominated by leaders from the Soviet period, the main claim was still to became part of the Russian Federation.

After elections of a new leadership in 1993 and 1994 and because of unsatisfactory support from Moscow the trends have changed towards regional integration. These claims are supported by North Ossetia and by the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus. The Confederation, after the success in the Abkhaz war, threatened Georgia with war if she repeats military action against South Ossetia.

Another problem is that The Ossetians are also involved in a conflict with the Ingush, their neighbors to the east.

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