Archimandrite Nikiphore on settlement of Ossetians in Shida Kartli (1817-1818)
08/07/2010 11:03
Gogi Maisuradze
Experts' Club

It is scientifically proven that in the beginning of the XVIII century Ossetians started to settle on the territory of Georgia, namely in the upper parts of Jejori gorge (Kudaro) and that of Ksani gorge (Zhamuri). Migration of Ossetians in Zhamuri was happening both from mountainous gorges of North Ossetia and mountainous strip of the Greater Liakhvi gorge. Prominent Ossetian historian Vasil Abaev noted that Ossetians settled in the Ksani gorge just for around 200 years ago (Abaev, 1949, 50).

Special attention should be given to those suggestions of Vasil Abaev that were published in Nezavisemaya Gazeta newspaper on January 22nd 1992: "The Greater Range of the Caucasus is a natural border between Georgia and Ossetians and every attempt to eliminate this border will cause a state of permanent conflict between Georgians and Ossetians. First of all, it is necessary to stop talking about detaching South Ossetia from Georgia. No government of Georgia will accept this and will be right as this signifies violation of territorial integrity of Georgia. Who wants peace between Georgians and Ossetians should abandon an idea of adding South Ossetia to North Ossetia for good. Who wants peace between Georgia and Russia also should relinquish this idea. This is a reality". ..

It should be also mentioned that distortion of the history of Ossetian migration in Georgia has been happening for the last two-three decades purposely and this was provoked by certain imperial forces. Ossetian youth were taught from childhood that territory of "South Ossetia" was an ancient area of settlement of Ossetians and Georgians were to be blamed for everything; that Georgians were their crossed enemies that had been put over them as masters; After that target of their condemnation became Georgian Social-Democrats (Mensheviks) that defended state territory of Georgia from rebelled Ossetians that were encouraged by Bolsheviks and so on.

From ancient times native population of the mountainous region of Shida Kartli were Georgians. This is unilaterally confirmed by archeological, architectural, epigraphic monuments, as well as toponymic data and geographic names. As a result of migration, political and historical processes there territories were populated by Jews, Armenians and Ossetians who lived alongside native Georgian population.

According to the document dated 1802 it is clear that by the beginning of the XIX century Jews mainly lived together with Georgians in Tskhinvali and Breti while Armenians lived in Tskhinvali, Tamarasheni, Dirbi, Breti, Artsevi and Akhalgori. Georgians residents were mainly Orthodox Christians, while Jews followed Judaism and Armenians were Gregorians and Catholics.

As to settlement of Ossetians on the territory of Shida Kartli historians deny the suggestion about Ossetians living in Georgian from ancient times. Ossetians started to settle in historical Georgian province Dvaleti that is situated on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus Range, between Dariali gorge and Mamisoni pass in the so-called Nar-Mamisoni hollow in the XV century. Historical Dvaleti consisted of gorges of Kasris Khevi, Nara, Zhgeli, Zrogo, Zakha, Zramaga. The process of Ossetian migration continued during the entire XVI century and it ended in the XVII century with assimilation of Ossetians with local Georgian people Dvals. It is notable that despite ethnic changes Dvaleti was an integral part of Georgia till 1858 when Russia subordinated this area administratively to the Terek Okrug.

First settlement of Ossetians on the territory of modern Georgia appeared in Truso gorge and Magran-Dvaleti (over this side of the Greater Caucasus Range near upper parts of the river Liakhvi that was also populated by Dvals). According to specialist settlement of Ossetians on these territories from north Caucasian gorges happened in the first half of the XVII century. Despite the fact that in the first half of the XVII century Georgian population of the mountainous part of Shida Kartli (upper part of the Greater and lesser Liakhvi have already left the territory due to historical and political situation and removed to plains and these territories were left abandoned there were yet no traces of Ossetians.

Ossetians migration started in the mountains of Shida Kartli , namely in the upper parts of the gorges of Greater and Lesser Liakhvi from the second half of the XVII century, By the thirties of the XVIII century they were settled in the mountainous strip of the gorges of Greater and lesser Likahvi, at the upper parts of rivers Mejuda, Ksani, Jejori and Terek. In separate mountainous villages Ossetians were lived together with remaining Georgian population. According to the map of Vakhushti Bagrationi at that period there were no villages densely populated by Ossetians in the plains and foothills of the mountains of Shida Kartli. Historian Roland Topchishvili believes that by the end of the XVIII century the most further south settlement of Ossetians were (from west to east): Kudaro (upper part of the river Jejori in Racha), Gupta (greater Liakhvi gorge), upper part of Atseriskhevi gorge (in the lesser Likahvi gorge), two villages in the upper parts of the Mejuda gorge, Zhamuri (in the upper parts of the Ksani gorge), Guda (upper parts of the river White Aragvi in Mtiuleti), Truso (upper parts of the River Terek). Thus, by the end of the XVIII century Ossetians mainly lived in mountainous parts of Shida Kartli.

Migration of Ossetians from mountains of Shida Kartli into villages and abandoned villages on plains and mountain foothills started at the end of the XVIII and beginning of the XIX centuries. By that time Ossetians started to occupy mountain foothill territories of gorges of Lesser Liakhvi, Lekhura, Mejuda and froneebi. In most cases they lived there together with Georgian population.

The Russian source dated 1802 contains data about ethnic composition of the population of the villages of the Dusheti area and their landownership. This document names the following villages as places of dense settlement of Ossetians: Kornisi (land of nobility), Tbeti (land of prince and a nobleman), Kusireti (land of nobility), Machablebi (land of nobility), several villages such as Gvdisi, Potrisi and several others in lesser Liakhvi gorge(state/king's), Satikhari (land of the Church), Kulbiti (land of nobility), Khromis Tskaro (church land), Ikoti (church land), Churtis Khevi (land of prince), Zhamuris Khevi (land of prince), Tskha Dzmis Khevi (king's) in the Ksani gorge; Truso gorge, Kopi-Achkhoti, Guda-Osni (all of the land of prince) in the Aragvi gorge.

The same source contains data about those villages that were populated by mixed Georgian-Ossetian population such as Dzveleti (land of nobility), Svei (land of nobility), Eredvi, Kordi (church land and land of nobility), Ditsi (king's and land of nobility), Atseriskhevi (king's ), Charebi (land of nobility), Snekvi (land of nobility), Beloti (king's), Satskhenisi (church land), Zardiiaant Kari (land of nobility), Mereti (land of nobility), Arbo (king's and church land), Sakorinto (land of nobility), Karbi (land of prince and of nobility), Kirbalo (land of nobility), Bershati (land of nobility), Lamiskana (land of prince and of nobility).

Based on various sources Georgian scientists confirm that in the first half of the XIX century process of migration of Ossetisn into plains and mountain foothills of Shida Kartli was not very intense. Active Ossetian migration into villages of the Shida Kartli plains started in the middle of the XIX century and lasted till the end of the XIX century.

Thus it is confirmed in the scientific literature that settlement of Ossetians, their dense population on the territories of modern Tskhinvali region happened not suddenly but gradually in the XVII-XIX centuries. This process was aided by historical, political and social situation in Georgia and mountainous regions of the Central Caucasus. Georgian historical literature explains that lessening of population of Shida Kartli that was caused by attacks of enemies, as well as migration of native Georgian population into plains, together with deportation of a large part of population from Kartli, mainly from Ksani region, into Kakheti by King Irakli I (Nazarali-khan) played a significant role in emptying of the territory of Shida Kartli. All this created suitable conditions for migration of Ossetians to these territories. Because of the lack of workforce even Georgian noblemen were in favour of settlement of Ossetian refugee-settlers on Georgian lands, on places abandoned by Georgians and their coming under serfdom. It should be also noted that process of settlement of Ossetians in most cases was not peaceful. Various sources confirm that Ossetians destroyed villages, abducted and robbed people in mountainous area of Kartli.

Conclusions of scientists and data about number of Ossetians living in the Tskhinvali region in the first half of the XIX century are very interesting. Ossetian historians as a result of incorrect reading of historical sources are trying to prove a suggestion about the fact of organized migration of a large group of Ossetians from North Caucasus into Kartli in the XVIII century. At that they name quite a big number. Ossetian historian G. Togoshvili maintains in one of his works that in the XVIII century there were 6 000 families of Ossetians in Georgia. In his later book he increased this number and supposed that by the second half of the XVIII century more than 7 000 Ossetian families lived in Georgia.
Georgian scientists deny the opinion of Ossetian historians and believe that in the XVII-XVIII centuries as well as in the first half of the XIX century there lived an insignificant number of Ossetians in Georgia. Historian J. Gvasalia relies on data of the census of the 1770 and believes that in the seventies of the XVIII century there were 2 860 families of Ossetians in Kartli.

Historian Roland Topchishvili, on the basis of historical sources and analysis of the census confirms the number of Ossetians that lived in Kartli in the end of the XVIII and the first half of the XIX centuries. According to his calculations by the end of the XVIII century and the beginning of the XIX century 2 130 Ossetian families lived on the territory of Georgia (excluding territory of historical Georgian province Dvaleti). The historian counts average seven people in a family which in total constitutes 14 910 people or around 15 000 people. According to demographer A. Totadze there must have been around 14 000 Ossetians in Georgia in 1833. Number of Ossetians significantly rose in Georgia from the middle of the XIX century to the 80-90s of the century. According to historians this process canto be explained by natural increase and confirms mass migration of Ossetians from the North Caucasus.

Until today Georgian and Ossetian historians differ in their views on determining the area of settlement of Ossetians and their number. Thus every new material or source that can bring in additional light into the study of these issues is very interesting.

Data of church sources and documents written by church figures about migration and number of Ossetians in the first decades of the XIX century should be very interesting. As church figures were in direct contact with local population, with each family and individual thus documents, sources, data left by them gives considerable material for reconstruction of historical reality.

The annexation of Georgia by Russia that happened in 1801 was followed by abolition of autocephalous status of the Georgian church in 1811. As a result of reorganization of the Georgian church into Russian way an institute of patriarch was abolished in Georgia and exarchate of Georgia was created that was directly subordinated to the Russian Synod and exarch of Georgia was put in its charge.

Politics of the Russian empire, its desire to broaden its borders, to subdue and russificate neighbouring nations demanded special activization of missionary works. In 1815 by order of the Russian Emperor "Ossetian religious commission" was restored main purpose of which was to convert of Caucasian mountaineers and especially Ossetians to Orthodox Christianity. Direction of the work of the commission now was determined from south towards north. Thus Russia chose Georgia that it had already annexed as a ground for activities of the Ossetian religious commission. And the commission started the process of Christianization of Ossetians from Georgia. Many Georgian religious persons were actively involved in the activities of the Ossetian religious commission. They preached in mountainous gorges of Shida Kartli, in villages settled by Ossetian in very difficult and unsafe conditions.

We believe it is necessary to give the public information about documents that we found, namely reports of preacher of the Ossetian religious commission Archimandrite Nikophore that the latter submitted to Exarch of Georgia Theopylact in 1817-1818. . They contain valuable data about area of settlement of Ossetians, their number in mountainous gorges of Shida Kartli. We believe that analysis and comparison of these documents with other sources will strengthen opinions existing in Georgian historiography about this issue.

It is apparent from archive materials that on October 22nd 1817 Exarch of Georgia Theopylact addressed an official letter to preacher of Ossetian religious commission Nikiphore. The exarch charged Nikiphore with making the census of Christianized or non-Christianized population as well as composition and number of families in villages and gorges populated by Ossetians in Shida Kartli. The archimandrite should have determined also to which nobleman belonged the population of the inventoried village or gorge. The task implied also that this task should be done without much noise. At that the exarch demanded that everything should be done with provision of total security. The census should be done in gorges populated by Ossetians well as in nearby villages where Ossetian religious commission led by Dositeos Pitskhelauri planned to build 12 churches.

It is clear that in December 1817 Archimandrite Nikiphore wrote and sent the first report with regard to this issue that reached the office of exarch on January 21st 1818. Nikophore described villages of 8 gorges of the Caucasian mountains that were populated by newly-Christianized Ossetians. This was a part of the work done. The document makes clear that due to heavy snow in the mountains the Archimandrite was forced to abandon the census in the mountains of Shida Kartli.

There is also the second report of the Archimandrite sent to Exarch Theopylact that is dated March 16th 1818. According to this document the archimandrite continued to t fulfill a task of the exarch. He additionally made inventory of number of families and individuals of population of villages of 11 gorges and, as he himself assured, everything was done in full and faultlessly like that of previous 8 gorges. And at that time archimandrite Nikiphore signed the report as former preacher of the Ossetian religious commission.

Thus the reports of the Archimandrite Nikiphore contain information about settlement of Ossetians in villages of 19 gorges. Both documents mentioned town of Rtskhinvali which was his main place of residence during his work in the Ossetian religious commission and from which he traveled to carry out census in villages populated by Ossetians.

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