My Long-suffering Georgia (psrt II)
20/08/2010 13:43
Vasil Kvirikashvili
Experts' Club

... Georgia reached the height of its strength in the XII and the first quarter of the XIII century. In this period it was one of the strongest countries of the greater Middle East which was mainly due to large number of its population. Indeed, according to the population census in 1254 there were 8 million people living in Georgia. It is notable that in the Middle Ages western Georgia was exclusively populated by Georgians and this circumstance has not gone unnoticed by Italian missionaries who worked in western Georgia for decades. And there "are no traces of existence of non-Georgian population" in Georgia in the Persian sources of the times of Tamerlan. As to eastern Georgia there resided certain amount of representatives of neighbouring countries but not from North Caucasus.

Georgia played a significant role in preservation of Christianity in the east. This is acknowledged by foreign scientists as well. German scientist K. Koch who traveled to Georgia in 1836 noted that "when around there Greeks and residents of Minor Asia were converting to Islam Georgians and Armenians (in lesser extent) remained loyal to their fathers' faith. They saved Christianity from complete eradication in the east". According to Persian historians, Tamerlan was very surprised as to how Christianity was preserved in Georgia that was surrounded by Muslim countries. He used to boast that he would correct this mistake and put an end to this disgrace. Tamerlan managed to convert to Islam peoples of North Caucasus and among them part of Ossetians.

As a result of constant enemy attacks Georgia fell apart into kingdoms and principalities. In this period Russia strongly harassed population of the plains of the North Caucasus, among others Ossetians while Kabardians completely locked Ossetians into mountains. North Caucasians found themselves in very difficult living conditions. They started gradually to move to Georgia – on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Range. Thus, at the end of the XVI and the beginning of the XVII Lezgins appeared in Kakheti, Ossetians on the northern part of Shida Kartli and Apsuas in Abkhazia. Georgia divided into separate kingdoms and principalities no more had ability to free its territory from invaders. From the beginning Ossetians used to settle in the northern part of Shida Kartli as refugees by the side of Georgian peasants. But later, first by the use of force and after that due to eradication of big part of Georgian population as a result of constant fight against enemies on the territory of Shida Kartli Ossetians together with new influxes of their compatriots from north were gradually moving towards plains of Shida Kartli and were settling on former lands of Georgians. These territories were mainly on lands of Georgian nobility such as Ksnis Eristavi, Machabeli, Amilakhvari and Tsitsishvili. Ossetian scientist G. Togoshvili described in details the issue of settlement of Ossetians in Shida Kartli in the XVII-XVIII centuries. He presents documents describing how feudals tried to settle Ossetians in villages that lay abandoned as a result enemy invasions and inner-feudal fights and tried to put them under their subordination.

In the beginning of the XIX century a term "South Ossetian" appears, and in the second half of the same century a term "South Ossetia" also emerges.
Appearance of these terms together with great efforts of Russian imperial forces were due to the circumstance that historical Ossetia – namely communities of Tagauri, Kurtati, Alagir and Digor - directly bordered Shida Kartli in the North across the Greater Caucasus Range. Obviously, if it was not for the circumstance that Ossetia was a direct neighbour of Georgia there would have never appeared such terms and a question of creation of autonomy in central Georgia, in this historical and cultural centre of Georgia would not have been raised no matter how many Ossetians decided to settle in Georgia. Autonomy was encouraged and dictated by Russian imperial forces. Ossetians started to fight for appropriation of Georgian lands. This process was completed in 1922 by creation of South Ossetian Autonomous District on the territory of Shida Kartli that earlier was known as Zena Sopeli.

Before that when Georgia declared independence and in 1918-1921 Georgia was a democratic republic several rebellions against independent Georgia were organized by Ossetians and instigation of Bolshevik Russia on the territory of Shida Kartli that was populated by Ossetians. Despite the fact that according to the Russian-Georgian agreement of May 7th of 1920 Russia clearly recognized independence of Georgia and took obligation to not interfere into internal affairs of Georgia Russia was undermining the Georgian independence before and after that. In this difficult situation on March 20th 1920 the Chairman of the Georgian government Now Zhordania appealed to representatives of England, France, the US and Italy in Tbilisi: "We have received factual recognition that we are very grateful for but.. Only bare recognition has not given us an advantage in maintaining our freedom and existence of our statehood. ... We are again left alone because your governments are not fully aware of the situation or destruction of our republic by Bolshevik Russia is not considered as infringement of your interests in the east. ... In this circumstance interests of our people dictates the Government of Georgia to immediately search for ways for salvation now without you and without taking your interests into account".

In this difficult situation when units of the Russian Red Army were approaching the borders of Georgia Ossetians rebelled several times in Shida Kartli. Commanders of the Russian 11th Army put their hope in rebelled Ossetians in the matter of attack on Georgia and its Sovietization. According to the memorandum that were taken by them these Ossetians supported "Communist rebellions that had started in South Ossetia to spread to provinces of Tbilisi and Kutaisi where it was not only due but were already long overdue". Rebelled Ossetians demanded an autonomy and incorporation into the Soviet Russia. In 1921 Bolshevik Russia annexed the Democratic Republic of Georgia and on February 25th declared Sovietization of Georgia. In 1922 Ossetians got an autonomous district on the territory of Shida Kartli for the service rendered.

The article is based on the book "Ossetians in Georgia: Myth and reality" by Anzor Totadze

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