Russians and Ossetians
25/03/2010 12:59
Vasil Kvirikshvili
"Experts' Club"

In the beginning of the XIX century, when Russia annexed Kartli and Kakheti and later the entire Georgia Ossetians together with Georgians soon felt chill of colonial politics of occupants. Situation of population that even before was oppressed by serf taxes became even graver. Maintaining of Tsarist occupational forces and serving them was becoming more and more unbearable. Lawlessness, corruption, injustice of small or big officials and judges of Russian authorities exceeded all expectations. Russian authority became a burden for people and that was not concealed by Tsarist officials themselves.

Tsarist colonial regime was especially unbearable in the first third of the XIX century when Russia was conducting continuous wars in the southern Caucasus against Turkey and Persia and their local khanates. Tsarism was putting a great financial burden on Georgian serfdom. Especially difficult was conditions of population of the regions that were situated in the neighbouring to the Georgian Military Road. In the Beginning of the XIX century this was the only road that connected Russia with the newly-annexed Kartli and Kakheti. This road was used for carrying troops, goods and mail.

Because of its frequent use by Russian troops the road required constant maintenance. It required repairing and broadening, cleaning from avalanches, as well as food provision for troops that used to pass there. All this was on shoulders of population living along and nearby regions of the Georgian Military Road. These were population of Mtiuleti, Kartli, Khando, Gudamakari, Khevi, Zhamuri, Truso and other gorges. It took just two years for maintenance of the road to become unbearable for people.

When suffering population wrote complaints and requested alleviation of their situation local Russian authorities considered such "actions" as breaking of their oath given to the Russian Tsar and as a rebellion and used to executive repressions. For example, population of a village of Zhamuri complained. In response, punishing expeditions came headed by captain-ispravnik (district police officer in Russia) Of Ananuri Starosvetsky. Population of Zhamuri wrote about this: "Some time ago he (captain-ispravnik came to Zhamuri, captured Ossetians, filled a bowl from where dogs were eating with whey, killed cats and dropped them there, there went excrement of people as well and forced them (Ossetians) to eat that. Eight houses of the same Ossetians were burnt where also 300 poods of barley was wasted".

Russian officials were forcing people to bring bulls, horses for free, to give food, bread, barley, poultry and cattle, hay for horses and others but they were not paid.

In 1904 during rebellion in Kartli Ossetians from a village of Tagauri started to go against Russianness. Russians prohibited them from traveling from Georgia to the Caucasus. They also prohibited Ossetians from Dusheti and Mukhrani to bring food products and goods for Tagauri Ossetians.

These measures angered Tagaurian Ossetians and they started to attack Russian military guards. Rebelled population of Mtiuleti immediately started to get in contact with Tagaurian Ossetians in order to block Dariali gate for Russians.

The most influential landowner in Tagauri was Akhmet Dudarov who lived in a village of Chimi in the Terek Gorge and controlled Dariali road. He had contacts with pasha of Akhaltsikhe, king of Imereti and throne-seeking princes. Rebels managed to get support of this landowner and thus managed to close the Dariali road to prevent Russians from coming.

Rebelled population of Mtiuleti - more than 1 000 people arrived to Kobi. They were joined by 1 000 Ossetians from Truso. They took over a military warehouse of Kobi and took away food and ammunition. Tagaurians managed to block Larsi and other military posts.

After crushing the rebellion Ossetians alongside with Georgians were subjected to severe repressions. It was not an accident that in 1810-1811 rebellion Ossetians were fighting along Prince Leon (Leon Bartonishvili). Ossetians expressed their unshakable support for the representative of Bagrationi dynasty and the Georgian kingdom and confirmed their loyalty towards them.

At the end of September 1810 Colonel Stal was sent to Ossetian villages to punish rebels and to capture Leon. Stal started to attack in two directions - towards Lomsi-Antkhevi and Java gorges. On September 30th bloody battle happened at the Small Liakhvi between armed forces of Stal and 2 000 Ossetians which lasted from 7am till 5 pm. The rebels retracted. Stal captured a village of Maraleti. After that rebels were defeated in other villages as well. During these fights one of the most active participants of the rebellion Durmishkhan Tusishvili was killed. He was in a fortress in a village of Marmazeti and was rendering a fierce opposition to Russians. The fortress was blown up and Tusishvili got killed along with other defenders.

Russians won in Java district as well. They with leadership of Major Potlog defeated 2000 detachment.

Russians severely punished the rebels. Twenty villages were burnt and clan castles were destroyed. Population of these villages sent elders to Russians to stop their reprisal. Stal chose 12 out of those elders and sent them to vice Roy in Tbilisi. As Tormasov wrote " as a sign of the greatest humiliation and obedience they were sentenced to walking in the streets of Tbilisi with swords hanging on their necks". After that Tormasov pardoned them. Later representatives of Georgian nobility were also punished.

Due to obvious reasons Russian authorities foisted on Ossetians living in Georgia with such system of governance that was not paying virtually any attention to customs and traditions that this people had for centuries. Authority was established in such a way that nobody from local population participated in it. It is true that according to laws of that time civil cases should have been decided by the Book of Justice by Vakhtang VI. But neither Book of Justice of Vakhtang VI nor local customs were ever implemented in life for the simplest reason that none of the Russian officials had any idea about it.

Ossetians were negatively disposed towards a new system from the start, where everything depended on a caprice of ispravnik or some other official of the district police. Formalism of the case-management that was characteristic of Russian system of governance was foreign and unacceptable for them. The entire region was captured by popular uprising. In 1811 the Tsarist authorities were forced to send a special note to heads of gorges populated with Ossetians. If these heads put an oath of loyalty to the Russian Emperor on the behalf of Ossetian people Ossetians were promised to be independent from ispravniks and any other civil official. According to the note Ossetians should have been subordinated directly to Commander-in-chief of Transcaucasus and in case of its absence, to a governor of Georgia. Tsarist government was promising Ossetians to maintain all their customs and laws of government as well as freedom of trade and other privileges.

But all this was just promises that have never been realized in life. Actually Tsarist authorities thus wanted to gain appreciation of Ossetians, get into deep of the gorges that were populated by Ossetians, break their opposition and completely subdue them.

In general, if we look at acts of Archeographical Society of the Caucasus and other materials of this period we can conclude that until 1830 there was one particular system of governance on territories populated by Ossetians. It is true that in the beginning a person from Georgian nobility was appointed as mouravi (administrative head) who knew Ossetian language but this institution could not take roots there. And Ossetian villages of gorges mainly continued to live and manage their affairs according to their centuries-old customs and traditions.

In 1830, during a period of Paskevich being a Vice Roy Tsarist Russia managed to fully subdue Ossetians.

Even before that General Strevalyov drew up a project according to which a special mouravi (administrative post in Georgia – manager) was appointed in every gorge populated by Ossetians. The project included appointment of four mouravis. Three out of those four mouravis were appointed to Ossetians living in Gori district. According to the project one main mouravi was in charge of the three others of the Gori district. Based on conclusions of the commission Paskevich divided Ossetians artificially and in administrative terms he put part of them in the Gori district and another part of them were put in department of mountainous peoples that was created in 1817. The latter as an administrative unit consisted of mountainous people living along the Georgian Military Road.

Pristavs (police officer) instead of Mouravi were put in charge of gorges populated with Ossetians and they were given special instructions. Pristavs were appointed for gorges of Java, Koshk-Roki, Margan-Dvaleti and Ksani. And pristav of the Magran-Dvaleti gorge were subordinated to governor of mountainous people while the other three were subordinates of head of the Gori district. Such changes were valid until 1834.

Even the first stage of national -liberation struggle demonstrated well that annexed Georgia would never accept Russia's annexation. In particular, that was showed against the background of rebellions that were taking place in the first half of the XIX century. Therefore Russian empire decided to get supporters among ethnic minorities living in Georgia. The main priority became giving them privilege and division of Georgian lands.

As we mentioned above, mainly Ossetians settled here. They got best lands of Georgian nobility. And these lands, according to Vorontsov project, tens of thousands of dessiatinas from the Great Caucasus Range till Mejvriskhevi , were have to handed over to Ossetians that were living on them for free.

The imperial authorities understood well that taking away territories from Georgians meant removal of historical and political ground Georgians. "Project of settlement of settlers" provided for state and territorial development of Ossetians on the territory of Georgia that aroused great criticism in Georgian society.

Tskhinvali district ends and Java districts starts just above Kemert-Kekhvi near Gupta-Mskhlebi. From 1865 till 1917 it was called Ossetian section of the Gori district of Tbilisi province.

A mine was planted. It was just a matter of time for it to go off...

The article is based on materials of "South Ossetia" in Georgia" by Avtandil Songulashvili


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