Where is Ossetia and who are Ossetians?
03/05/2010 11:51
Gogi Maisuradze
"The Club of exsperts"

Lately a proposition about pure Arian descent of Ossetian people is gathering strength in Ossetian historiography. And the greatest advocates of this are Tskhinvalian scientists. Their works especially clearly demonstrates a sharp U-turn from a universally acknowledged scientific concept about ethnic syncretism of Ossetian people and tendency of active advancement of that absurd suggestion as though Indo-Iranians populated the Caucasus from ancient times and that even creators of the Koban archeological culture that developed on both slopes of the Great Caucasus Range (first part of the first thousand years BC) were indeed those tribes of Iranian descent (?!). Arian pathos of those diligent founders of this ungrounded view is so impressive that we will not be surprised if one day they found place for a mythical home of Indo-Iranians – Airyanem Vaejah – on territories of Vladikavkaz-Mozdik, or even better in gorges of Liakhvi, Ksani or Kvrila...

Obviously, almost entire disappearance of Caucasian substratum in the Ossetian ethno genesis unilaterally causes temptation of excessive grandeur of all of Scythian-Sarmatian-Alan descent and unconcealed apologia of ultra-nationalistic idea of Ossetian ancestors. And this temptation finds it logical manifestation in pseudoscientific dithyrambs towards Iranian-language Scyth-Sarmat-Alans that are becoming very frequent and are aimed at distortion of truth. They often are very anecdotic.

According to the anthropological classification Ossetians belong to Balkan-Caucasian subrace of the big Indo-European race. And according to ethno-linguistical classification, Ossetians are in Iranian group of Indo-European language group together with Persians, Tajiks, Kurds, Afghanis, Lurs, Bakhtiaris, Belujis, Nuristanis, Tatars and Talishs.

Scholars of Ossetian language and history Miler, Shegren, Hufshman, Akhvlediani and others recognize that Ossetians are people of Iranian descent. Famous Ossetian scientists Vasily Abaev came to a conclusion that although Ossetians belong to Iranian branch of Indo-European group they did not come directly from Iran. According to him they used to live in the Urals and territories of Don and later they lived on territories of western and northern Caucasus and in the end they settled in south Caucasus.

Vasily Abaev says that "...scientists have long confirmed that with their descent Ossetian are not connected with neighbouring Caucasian peoples. They came to the Caucasus from the north, namely from valleys of south Russia. In the past they were called Alans. And according to historian Josephus (Titus Flavius Josephus) (I century AD) Alans was a Scythian tribe that lived in areas of the Sea Azov and the river Don".

In the period after the III-V centuries thare are still part of Ossetians in the north-east of the Sea of Azov and in the areas near the river Don - territories of today's Krasnodar and Rostov. According to Byzantine sources even in the VI century Alans did not live on the territories of today's North Ossetia. But their place of residence was land of Karachai.

The fact that Ossetians lived in Balkaria is also confirmed even by Mingrelian words. Namely, Mingrelians use name Asi (Osi – Georgian for Ossetian) for Balkars, Alans and Karachais.

We should mention here as well that Svans (Georgian people) besides Svaneti itself also lived in the north Caucasus and Kuban territory. That's why in the Middle Ages we encounter a term - big Svaneti. At the time of Tolochanov's travels in Urukh gorge and the border of Ossetia and Kabardia (1650-1652) "Soni's road" is being described. So in order to reach Balkaria Russian ambassador's expedition should have passed on the road of Son or Svaneti and through land of Alibeg. It seems that at that time Svans still lived there and that's why "Sonskaya Daroga" was the common name for the entire way from lower Svaneti to Balkaria as it passed on the territory of Sons (Svans). And it seems that Ossetians were to settle in former territories of Svaneti of the gorge of the river Urukh in later period. The following information confirms this: "Church of Savior of Mulakhi community had a land in Ossetia which was used by Ossetians. For the right to use this land Ossetians paid seven bulls, sheep and goats in a year. Mulakhi people used to slaughter these animals and have a feast. If Ossetians failed to provide their tribute to the church Mulakhians used to attack and kill herdsmen and take cattle to their village".

It seems that this was said about eastern part of north Ossetia. It is closer to Svaneti and the road from Terek to Imereti should have passed here.

• It should be noted here that Aragvi in Svan language means eight hearts (ara in Svan language means eight and gvi means – heart i.e. eight heart (compare names of locations such as nine springs). More Svan-Zan toponyms are confirmed to go to the Aragvi gorge and even down into Shida Kartli. For example, one separately standing mountain in Gudamakari that has a form of person's head is called Lutkhum. Local population cannot explain the meaning of the name as they do not know Svan language and in Svan lutkhum means with a head.

According to old Russian and Armenian sources Iasis and Alans are the same tribe but Russians know them under the name of Iasi and Armenians - under the name of Alan. Georgian knew both tribes and therefore in old Georgian sources usually we encounter not one or the other but both names – Ovsi (Osi –Georgian name for Ossetian) and Alan. In the view of famous scientist Megreladze "Osi and Alan are not two names of the one tribe, as some believe, but they are two tribes of one people and Iasis lived more in steppes of southern Russia. So they were neighbours of Russians and that's why the latters knew them under the name of Iasi. While Alans lived east of them (compare Dar-i-alan – gate of Alan or Ossetians) and Armenians knew them under this name".

It is very important to note that most part of the territory of today's North Ossetia was the Ingush territory. More, today's Vladikavkaz was Ingush territory.

In is not accidental that Vladikavkaz was an administrative centre of Ingush Autonomous district that was formed in 1924.

In 1944 Ingush together with Chechens were deported to the Central Asia and Kazakhstan. And during this entire period Ossetians appropriated lands and houses of the Ingush.

Ossetians who lived in central part of the Caucasus call themselves Iron, Digoron. More correctly, until XX century Ossetians did not have a common endoethnonym. As to ethnonym "Os" and name of the territorial unit that is today part of the Russian Federation "Ossetia" Ossetians never knew them. Ethnonym (egzoethninym) "Os" came to the Russian and other languages from Georgian. Other than Georgians practically no one else knew Ossetians under this egzoethnonym. In ancient historical sources Ossetians are considered as remaining part of Alans that lived in Northern Caucasus steppes. At the same time neither are Ossetians direct descendents of Alans. Ossetian ethnos was formed after the XIII century in the mountains of the Northern Caucasus as a result of their assimilation with local Caucasians.

As it was mentioned, in terms of ethnic structure Ossetians are divided into two main subgroups: Irs (Irons) and Digor (Digorians). Irons themselves consist of local ethno-territorial groups such as Alagirs, Tuals, Kurtatians, Tagaurians and Zakhaians. Ossetians living in Georgia also belong to Iron subethnos and they are called by "north Ossetians as Khusaraigs (southern in Ossetian) or Kudairags (residents of Kudaro in Ossetian). It is a simple truth that division of Ossetians into North and Southern Ossetians are conditional and terms "South Ossetia" and "North Ossetia" were artificially adjusted.

Other than Georgian there are other egzoethnonyms and they are the following: Chechen-Ingush – "Hiri", Avarian – "Khiriol", Balkarian-Karachai – "Diugerlik", Abkhazian – "Auafs", Kabardian – "Kushkhe", Russian – "Osetin", Dargoyan – "Asatin, English – "Ossetian" and so on.

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


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