When and for whom was a term - "South Ossetia" created?
15/04/2010 13:58
Vasil Kvirikashvili
"Experts' Club"

In thirties of the XIX century under the Russian influence terms "South Ossetia" and "North Ossetia" that were unknown till then entered historical and geographical vocabulary. Establishment of such terms as "Ossetia" "South Ossetia" in Georgian onomastics was helped also by creation of so-called Ossetian okrug in the Tbilisi province for Ossetians of Liakhvi gorge and Dvaleti (1843). One section of this so-called Ossetian okrug (so-called Naris Ubani – territory of historical Dvaleti) was later, in 1858 transferred into Terek Okrug.

Historian Togoshvili when speaking about the term "South Ossetia" presents as though such term existed as early as in the first quarter of the XVIII century. According to him, the court of Vakhtang VI of Kartli had "systematic and direct relations with North Ossetia".

There was no trace "South Ossetia" in history as a geographical or political entity. It is the truth that there is and never was a nation of "South Ossetia". Ossetians are Ossetians no matter live they on the southern slopes of the Caucasus or northern ones. It can be said directly that until the XIX century there is not even one fact registered in either Georgian or Russian sources of mentioning of "South Ossetia".

It is notable that from 1770 to the middle of the XIX century we cannot see a term "South Ossetia" in works of German travelers (Guldenstadt, Reineggs, Klapprott, Aichwald, Vagner, Haxthausen) which are primary sources for us. And, all that despite a fact that they knew about settlements of Ossetians in upper parts of river Liakhvi, Frone and Ksani. The travelers only talked about Kartli.

Guldenstadt mentions North Ossetia but calls it Ossetia and when talking about provinces of Shida Kartli he mentions that they are areas that are populated by Ossetian population. As it was justly stated by one of the leaders of the Georgian National-Democratic Party Grigol Veshapeli "There are only Ossetians in Georgia not Ossetia, we can only talk about Ossetians, not Ossetia, in Georgia ".

A map published by Russian authorities in the second half of the XVIII century depicts Small Kabardo, Ossetia, Ingushetia and part of Chechnya. This map depicts Ossetia as situated on relevant territory. The Great Caucasus Range is specified as "the Georgian border'. It is interesting that according to the map the capital of North Ossetia is called Zaur (Zaureg) and is situated on the territory of Ingushetia.

First serious steps to establish using the term "South Ossetia" were taken by General Lieutenant Karl Von Knorring whio was the High Commissioner and the Commander-in-Chief. He just called mountainous areas of gorges of Big and Small Laikhvis that were populated by Ossetians as Ossetia in his report of March 26th 1802 sent to the Russian Emperor.

Soon this Knorring-fabricated name was picked up by other Russian officials and another report that was sent in the same 1802 name Ossetia was once again used willfully with regards to Ossetian-settled areas of Shida Kartli. In the course of following twenty eight years a practice of shamelessly calling a part of the Georgian territory as "Ossetia" was intensifying. And in the conditions of complete lawlessness on top of the upper parts of the Big and Small Liakhvi gorges, this toponym "Ossetia" started to spread over mountainous parts of the gorges of Ksani, Mejuda, Lekhura and Ptsa. At that, Russian documents dated 1802-1827 often mention Georgian Ossetia, Ossetia of Kartli, Ossetians of Georgia, Ossetians of northern Kartli, Ossetians of Imereti or Imereti's Ossetians.

Starting from 1830 opposite toponymic names of South Ossetia and North Ossetia started to take roots in the official list of names. Namely, an article by unknown author that was published in Tbilisskie Vedomosti newspaper names territory of mountainous areas of the gorges of the Big and Small Liakhvis, as well as Ksani and Mejuda as "South Ossetia".

It seems that the author used this term in his series of articles (N27-88) on his/her own initiative as in 1830 the report that Count Paskevich sent to Military Minister Chernishev says: "I consider it necessary to carry out a small military operation to pacify Ossetian tribe. This expedition was directed against Ossetians of northern Kartli that is situated south of the Caucasus Mountains". Until then there is no proof of use of either "northern" or "southern" terms in either Georgian or Russian and foreign sources with reference to Ossetians.

Even after this term "South Ossetia" appears very rarely along the entire course of the XIX century. Professor Pfaff noted: "Every Transcaucasian Ossetian remembers how they came from the north". While Academician Dubrovin indicated: "Because of lack of land part of Ossetians came and settled on southern slopes of the Great Caucasus Range... Having settled in gorges of the big and Small Liakhvi, Ksani and other rivers Ossetians became serfs of houses of Prince Machabeli and Prince Eristavi. These settlers were population of the so-called South Ossetia".

So in 1802-1830 unprecedented in the world history thing happened. Representatives of a foreign country (Russia) named a large part of a foreign country (Georgia) a name of a foreign country (Ossetia). And there one can clearly detect sly anti-Georgian maneuver formed on the principles of "divide and rule" and that it is not just a lapse of Russian officials who were not overly educated in traditions of historical and ethnographical names. Indeed, it is not so hard to detect hidden motives behind this toponymic sabotage. As it is not very hard to clearly understand pretty transparent ethimology of a name of the Ossetian capital - Vladikavkaz. So terms of "Ossetia" and "South Ossetia" were "thrown in" in central Georgia and it happened 120 years before creation of South Ossetian autonomous district in Georgia.

In November 1917 newly elected National Council of Georgia abolished use of terms that were introduced by the Russian Empire such as Tbilisi province and Kutaisi province. And instead of Batumi Okrug a name of Ajara and instead of Sukhumi Okrug – Abkhazia was established. Zakatala okrug was renamed into Saingilo. Also. Russians-reated "South Ossetia" was given back its earlier name "part of Gori district". Ossetians living in Shida Kartli (Samachablo) were named as Kartli's Ossetians". But successors of the Empire – Bolsheviks again "re-baptized" Georgian land.

The term "South Ossetia" was legalized by CEC (Central Executive Committee) and the Council of the Peoples' Commissars with the decree N2 of April 1922. According to this decree indigenous province of Georgia without any historical and juridical ground was declared "South Ossetian Autonomous District". Starting from the above-mentioned year process of pseudo-approbation of terms and eradication of indigenous Georgian toponymy further intensified. At that Russian and Georgian Bolsheviks also "distinguished" themselves and expanded a territory, which was referred to as "Ossetia" – "South Ossetia" - names inherited from Knorring-Paskevich, almost twice in size. And it was done at the expense of near-mountainous areas of gorges of the Big and Small Liakhvi, Ksani, Mejuda and Frone that were mainly or completely populated by Georgian population. And this created autonomous unit was awarded Tskhinvali as its centre. Archeological finds in Tskhinvali and its vicinity confirm that it was one of the oldest settlements in Georgia of pre-Christianity period.

A name "Tskhinvali" comes from a name of a tree "Rtskhila" (beech). In old Georgia this tree was called Krtskhila so in old Georgian historical sources Tskhinvali is referred to as "Krtskhinvali". It is mentioned in one of the documents dated 1344 as a settlement populated with traders that was due to its location. Tskhinvali as a town was first registered in the Mtskheta Charter dated 1392.

So terms of "North" and "South Ossetia" have been established so artificially that nobody even mentions south and north parts.

In March 3rd 1992 a conference was held in Washington, in the Radio station Voice of America conference hall. It was dedicated to a situation in the former Soviet Union. One of the central issues on the agenda was a situation in the Caucasus and in Georgia among others. Famous American Sovietologist Prof. Wickman spoke about this subject.

In an interview after the conference Prof. Wickman spoke about Ossetian issue. He said that there was no doubt that the issue of South Ossetia was very important for Georgians. He said that it is Georgia. Ossetians crossed over the Georgian border in the period when Mongolians were in the Caucasus; that Georgians gave shelter to Ossetians. As the American expert said for him the most unclear issue among the discussed was South Ossetian problem. According to him a question was coming to mind as to why this problem had arisen if there was not doubt that South Ossetia was Georgia.

As Wickman correctly noticed issues of Georgian territories were not decided by Georgian themselves but they were decided in Moscow.

It is unjustifiable that territories in Shida Kartli (Samachablo, Sapalavando, Saeriistavo of Ksani) that were populated by Ossetians was named South Ossetia. There can be no Ossetia in Georgia as there can be no Georgia in Ossetia, no China in Russia and so on. As some authors mention if one follows such logic then we should name areas of Georgia that are populated by Armenians north Armenia, areas of settlement of Azeris - western Azerbaijan, while areas populated by the Greek to be called eastern Greece.

There are lands that are populated by Ossetians, namely the territory of Shida Kartli, but to give this territory a name of the foreign country is a crime. But such practice gave Russia opportunity to pursue a colonial policy better.

... There is just one Ossetia which is situated in the North Caucasus and its historical name should be returned to it.

The article is based on "South Ossetia" in Georgia!? by Avtandil Songulashvili

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