Saturday, December 13, 2008

Georgia's forgotten Ossetian exiles

Many newspapers have mentioned that Georgia still has some 200,000 refugees from the 1992-1995 conflict in Abkhazia. However, those same newspapers nearly always forget to mention the 55,000 Ossetians who were driven out of Georgia in 1991.

Before 1990 Georgia contained about 170,000 Ossetians. 70,000 lived in the South Ossetia and the remaining 100,000 lived in cities like Gori and Tblisi and in an area south of Gori. There Ossetians south of Gori had gone there in the 19th century. When Georgia passed from the Turkish and Persian to the Russian sphere of influence around 1800 the Persian emperor evacuated Georgia's Muslims. This left many areas empty that were filled by immigrants: the Ossetians were part of a broader immigration wave. The Ossetains in South Ossetia have lived there for many centuries.

at the end of the 1980s Georgia saw a fierce nationalism. The fact that Georgians formed only 70% of the population and that the Georgians themselves are divided between four different nations with different languages (Georgian, Mingrelian, Svan and Laz) would have suggested a federal state, but instead they took a centralized government. The first president, Gamsachurdia, campaigned under the slogan "Georgia for the Georgians" and one of his acts was to abolish the autonomy of South Ossetia - under the pretext that it hadn't had autonomy in the short time that Georgia was independent (1918-1920). The Ossetians didn't accept this and instead declared independence. Next the Georgians occupied Tskhinvali. A war followed and although there was no fighting in the Georgian cities or the area south of Gori the Georgians took the opportunity to cleanse many of the Ossetians who lived there. Since then it has been impossible for them to return as they cannot get their properties back. Those properties have been usurped by Georgians and the Ossetians are required to go to the court of law to get it back. This results in never ending procedures.

Many of the exiled Ossetians have been resettled in the Vladikavkaz region in North Ossetia.

The 1991 war was ended with an armistice that gave an important role to Russian peacekeepers. But when Saakashvili came to power in 2004 he promised to bring South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) back under Georgian control. This resulted in a flurry of actions that polarized the conflict. Georgia installed rivaling government for both Abkhazia and South Ossetia and increased harassment. There were some distracting actions, like a Georgian property restitution law for which no money was set aside, so it looked like the West was supposed to pay off the cleansed Ossetians. A few Ossetians were set up in a kind of Potemkin village by the Georgian government.

However, real refugee returns never got from the ground. I think that alone should be enough reason for the West not to support Georgian efforts to take control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Otherwise we support ethnic cleansing.

It should be noted that the cleansing of the Ossetians happened before the Georgians were cleansed from Abkhazia. I think a proper solution for those Ossetian refugees will be crucial in establishing a climate of trust in which the Abkhazian conflict can be solved.


Lela said...

Either the author does not know true history of Georgia and the Georgian language or he tries intentionally to mislead readers. The article contains factual errors. Svan and mengrelian regions are not separate nations but rather regions of Georgia like Imereti or Kakheti. These regions developed their own dialects of the Georgian language, which were formed in languages at some point of historical development. This is indisputable truth and every linguist knows that Svan and Mengrelian languages are variations of Georgian developed of the basis of dialects. This is easly proved linguistically. So Svans and Mengrelians are pure Georgians. As for Laz language this kind of language does not exist at all. Laz is a dialect of Mengrelian language.

If you look at the map of Georgia you, it will tell you about the natural border of the country: huge Caucasian mountains. Ossetians came to Tskhinvali region and settled down there enjoying Georgian hospitability for centuries. Now the Ossetians backed up by Russians, who have their imperialistic ambitions towards Georgia, betrayed the nation that gave shelter to their predecessors and dare to declare an independent state on the territory of another country. Shame on them! So called "South Ossetia" never existed on the earth: Tskhinvali region or historic Samachablo is an inalienable part of the Georgian land. This is the absolute truth and this truth will see a day light one day. Georgia is a tiny country and it cannot afford to give away its portions to those whoever decide to establish a new state on its territory.

It’s also strange to speak about the “Georgian nationalism”. The fact that so many nationalities have been living in Georgia proves the hospitality and friendliness of the Georgian people. Ask the Georgian Jews and they will tell you on the worm hospitality of the Georgian people that they share with anyone who has knot hostile attitude and ambitions to this country. Unfortunately, Georgia’s struggle for its existence and for its territorial integrity is interpreted as the “Georgian nationalism”.

God will not admit to tear and divide this land since the truth is on our side. God bless Georgia!

Wim Roffel said...

The difference between languages and dialects is arbitrary. Laz and Mingrelian started to grow apart at the same time that French, Italian and Spanish started to grow apart. And they are just as mutually unintelligible.

It is my impression that the fierce Georgian nationalism is partly an effort to suppress the differences between the Georgians. If there are no more external enemies to fight Georgia would finally have to look at its own diversity and economic problems (corruption).

"Tskhinvali region or historic Samachablo is an inalienable part of the Georgian land. This is the absolute truth and this truth will see a day light one day.": I suppose that God gave you a certificate on the day of creation.
In the rest of the world such extreme claims to lands on which you aren't the majority and haven't been the majority for centuries are considered racist and unacceptable.

According to your logic the Celts in Britain (the Scotch and the Welsh) would be justified to throw out the Anglo-Saxons because they came later and "abused their hospitality".

The whole world is ethnically diverse: so Georgia's ethnical diversity has nothing to do with special Georgian hospitality.

Georgia doesn't have to struggle for its existence. That hasn't been threatened since it became independent. The only threat to its territorial integrity has been its own racism that has antagonized the Abkhazians and Ossetians and would have very probably resulted in their ethnic cleansing if Georgia had had the chance.

Anonymous said...

"Georgia doesn't have to struggle for its existence. That hasn't been threatened since it became independent."

Recently, it can't be forgotten, Russian forces maruaded over much of Georgia. Noises are being made in Russia also as to re-establishing Russia as an aggressive imperialist force and taking back more non-Russian territories that broke free from the empire. The case of Chechnya cannot be forgotten.

Nor can Georgia from 1918 to 1921. Georgia managed to free itself from the old Russian Empire, but when Lenin re estabished Moscow imperialism, he invaded Georgia and instituted a decades-long reign of terror.

All during this time, the aggression has been one-way. Never has Georgia threatened Russia.

Lela said...

Georgia's struggle for its legal territories is the struggle for its existance. If its territories of historic Samachablo and Abkhazia are taken by Russia, what is left for its existence? where should Georgia exist?

Wim Roffel said...

"Russian forces maruaded over much of Georgia"
When you start a war you should not complain about a bit of punishment when you loose.

"The case of Chechnya cannot be forgotten."
Chechnya was never independent.

"Nor can Georgia from 1918 to 1921"
That was just one of many opportunistic secessionistic republics. Not much different from Tuva or Korca (1916-1920).

"If its territories of historic Samachablo and Abkhazia are taken by Russia, what is left for its existence? where should Georgia exist?"
Georgia has twice the size of the Netherlands with only a fraction of its population (16 vs 4 million). Don't tell me it is incapable of missing one sixth of that large territory!
And don't talk propaganda! These areas are not taken by Russia. They are primarily taken by the people who live there!.