Ossetians in Georgia (part I)
02/09/2010 15:43
Vasil Kvirikashvili
Experts' Club

"An uninvited guest is worse than a Tatar"
Russian proverb

For the last two-three decades there was a purposeful falsification of the history of Ossetian migration in Georgia by non-Georgian authors. The author that is to be discussed below dedicated several book to this issue. It is determined that migration of Ossetians in Georgia occurred in the late Middle Ages. In Dvaleti it happened in XVII century and in mountainous part of Shida Kartli from the middle of the XVIII century.

...Georgian people are faced with a serious trial. Russian empire is carrying out seizure of indigenous Georgian lands through separatist Ossetians and Abkhazians. And Abkhazians and Ossetians as well as their instigators have "found" historical arguments for this seizure of territories. They are falsifying the history, are creating mythologems. These purposeful historical falsifications have been going on for several decades now. Georgian historians promptly issued their responses but their works, except few of them, were written in Georgian language. Only 200 copies of Russian-translated book about Georgian –Ossetian relations (Georgian-Ossetian ethno- historical review) has been published therefore it cannot be widely distributed. While enemies of Georgian people have enormous means to spread information. Monograph that describes migration of Ossetians in Georgia has also been published in Georgians.

As it is well known today Europe is also interested in issues of settlement of Ossetian ethnos in Georgia and Georgian-Ossetian relationships. Although their interests cannot be satisfied as practically we have nothing in English.

The fact that arrival of Ossetians in Georgia happened later (in the late period of the XVII century) is so obvious that at the time Georgian historians did not even consider this issue worth studying.

This paper discusses initial settlement habitats of ancestors of Ossetians - Alan tribes. In this regard, great benefit for the author of the book became the works of Catalan scholar Agusti Alemány, who had collected sources from all over the world about Alans and related tribes, translated and published these materials and provided relevant commentary. So, all the sources about the Alans are collected in one book. Simultaneously with the publication of this heavy volume in Catalan language its English translation was also published (Agusti Alemany. Sources on the Alans: a critical compilation). Three years later, in 2003, the book was translated into Russian by Moscow Publishing House "Manager" (608 p). It seems as if Agusti Alemany took trouble for us.

According to all sources, ethnogenesis of Alans occurred away from the Caucasus, and up until the invasion of the Huns areas of their settlement were broad steppes of Eurasia and later valleys of the North Caucasus. The book says about this in detail.

... Ossetian ethnic group migrated to the territory of modern Georgia rather late, in the middle of XVII century. They moved here from the mountains of North Caucasus. It is established that Iranian-speaking Ossetians are by no means ancient inhabitants of the Caucasus. Ossetians are newcomers to the Caucasus like Turkic-speaking peoples that also lived there. Despite reliable sources, there are attempts in Ossetian historiography to relate settlement of Ossetians and their ancestors in the Caucasus (and, in their opinion, in Georgia) to ancient period. Moreover, monuments of archaeological and material culture of different epochs found there were declared as belonging to Iranian-speaking peoples, i.e. ancestors of Ossetians.

Georgian scientists determined that Ossetians found refuge in the mountains of the Caucasus during the Mongol invasion. It was during this period when Ossetians - "steppe dwellers" have become highlanders. But it should be said that long before that, ancestors of Ossetians – Alans have already settled in another part of the Caucasian highlands - the territory of modern Balkaria and Karachay. Here they were in close proximity to historical and ethnographic border regions of Georgia: Abkhazia and Svaneti. Transformation of ancestors of Ossetians - Alans into Caucasians was associated with invasions of Huns that were moving from east to west. In the early Middle Ages Alans-Ossetians lived only in Digoria – just one of the four gorges that today are the area of residence of modern Ossetians. As it was noted resettlement habitat of Alan-Ossetians was the territory of modern Balkaria and Karachay. But Alan-Ossetians that lived around Mount Elbrus, i.e. in Karachay and Balkaria, during the invasions of the Mongols were assimilated by Turkic-speaking Kipchaks, who migrated from the Caucasus Mountains and the steppes of southern Russia. But Alan-Ossetians of Digoria did not assimilate, even though they have certain share of Turkish blood (Kaloyev 1999). The fact of residence of Alan-Ossetians on the territory of modern Karachay and Balkaria (Western Caucasus) is also confirmed by Georgian historical sources. According to some scientists, Alan-Ossetians settled in the highlands of the western Caucasus during the invasion of the Huns, i.e. after 70s of the IV century AD. During this time, Alan-Ossetians really settled in the lowlands of the North Caucasus, but there are no written sources, confirming that at the same time, some of them settled in the mountains around Mount Elbrus.

At this time, along with Alan-Ossetians this area is settled by other ethnic groups, in particular, Savirs who were close to Turkic Huns, which soon merged with Alan-Ossetians. At that time, joint migration and settlement of mixed ethnic elements were not uncommon. In the later period, during the Mongol invasion, Ossetians, who came to Allagir, Kurtat and Tagauri valleys of the North Caucasus, settled there together with Nogais. Although Nogais soon left this territory and returned to the area of their roaming. And some Nogais mingled with Ossetians that settled in the Caucasus mountains. And emergence of some Mongoloid features characteristic for the Ossetians refers precisely to this period.

But it must be said clearly and confidently. According to Georgian and foreign sources, Ossetians did not reside on the territory of Georgia until the late Middle Ages. Their migration to the southern slopes of the Caucasian ridge was caused by political events occurring in the North Caucasus. At the same time, causes of displacement have been identified natural geographic and economic factors as well.

Where did the ancestors of Ossetians - Iranian-speaking tribes come from? What is the path and direction of migration? These are questions that confront each of us. But they are not considered by representatives of the Ossetian historiography who believe that the Caucasus has been home to Iranian-speaking tribes since the II-I millennium BC. These issues are clear to objective researchers. But as today history is politicized, and intensive fabrication and mythologization purpose of which is to capture and seize ethnic territories, it is our duty to respond to these questions. Ossetian historians have even started to "prove" that supposedly Ossetians settled in the Caucasus before Vainakhs and that Chechens and Ingush (Ibero-Caucasian peoples) migrated to these places. Moreover, it turns out, Alan - Ossetians settled in the Shida Kartli region before the Georgians (Bliev, 2006)

Scientists have long had the answers to these questions, but the problem was complicated by the fact that the historical sources, which referred to Iranian-speaking peoples (Alans, Sarmatians, Roksolans, the Aors, etc.) that are recognized as ancestors of Ossetians, were not easily accessible. Alans, and other Iranian-speaking tribes are mentioned in many Western and Eastern sources. Fortunately, recently a researcher appeared who has collected all the existing historical sources of the Iranian-speaking ethnic groups. Catalan historian Agusti Alemany wrote a book on study of Historiography. This book was very soon translated into English (Sources on the Alans: a critical compilation). It was published in Russian (2003).

Historical study of the sources of Agusti Alemány is based on Latin (Roman) sources of early and Middle Ages as well as Greek, Byzantine, Arab, Armenian, Iranian, Mongolian, Chinese, Syrian and Russian sources of the Middle Ages. Of course, these sources have a different purpose, meaning and value. In his work the author has missed some sources; he is not also familiar with some research works as well. For example, Agusti Alemany does not use valuable information about Ossetians presented in the works of Vakhushti Bagrationi, while he knows of the existence of this Georgian author and even quotes him in one place.

Modern historiography acknowledges that Iranian-speaking population - ancestors of Ossetians were called Alans. This view was adopted in all the writings published in the XX century. It is even reflected in the fact that the autonomous state entity of the Russian Federation - North Ossetia additionally is called "Alania" although it should be emphasized that the term "Alan" was completely unknown to Ossetians. They were not known under this name by other peoples either. At the same time, It was often noted in studies that the Alans were not ethnically homogeneous. Different views have been also expressed according to which, originally Alans were not Iranian-speaking tribe but one of the Turkic peoples (Miziev, 1986). It is also recognized that the Alans was a large group of nomadic tribe, which was first mentioned in the annals of the Chinese dynasty of the period of the II century BC very far from the Caucasus, in the East.

The mention of the Alans in the Chinese sources indicates that their area of inhabitation was part of the Chinese space. The above Chinese source does not mention any of the Caucasian peoples; the most extreme western point mentioned in this source is eastern side of the Caspian Sea. It is a well known fact in historiography that ethnogenesis and ethnic history of Iranian ethnic groups occurred in the Aral and Caspian seas. As an example, we can bring an excerpt from the book by well-known historian, ethnologist and geographer Lev Gumilev: "In the II. BC. The shores of the Caspian Sea were populated by Sarmatians, and in the II century of AD it was the eastern edge of the union of tribes, headed by the Alans who were pushed westward across the Volga by the Huns around 158 AD "(Gumilev, 202: 284). As to works of classical authors, the Alans are mentioned only from the I century AD among barbaric tribes that were roaming the north-east of the Roman Empire. It must be said that according to all historical sources, at the time of entry into contact with the Romans the Alans occupied the steppes between the northern parts of the Black, Caspian and Aral seas. It should be noted that the sources refer to many other ethnic groups that habitated the mentioned steppe area. Among them were named other Iranian-speaking ethnic groups (tribes or tribal association): Scythians, Sarmatians, Aors, Roksolans with whom Alans had close links ...

To be continued

This article is based on the book by Roland Topchishvili
"The area of initial settlement of ancestors of Ossetians - Alans"

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