Assessment for Ossetians (South) in Georgia
|Publisher||Minorities at Risk Project|
|Publication Date||31 December 2003|
|Cite as||Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Ossetians (South) in Georgia, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a812d.html [accessed 18 May 2013]|
Recent negotiations between Tblisi and Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, have not been fruitful in settling the status of South Ossetia. The Ossetians continue to insist on independence for their state, although they would probably settle for unification with North Ossetia. They have a functioning government, with a president and a parliament, which were elected over strong Georgian opposition. Tbilisi's policy towards its breakaway republics has been to advocate a unified Georgian state, but the government has expressed willingness to grant significant concessions to the republics, including widespread autonomy to South Ossetia. This moderate attitude is partially due to the fact that South Ossetians neither carried out full ethnic cleansing nor subjected to their control all Georgian villages. Georgia and South Ossetia have managed to reach agreements on economic reconstruction and return of refugees, but a political settlement to the conflict has proved elusive.
Despite some risk factors for ethnic violence, such as high levels of group cohesion and concentration (GROUPCON = 3), renewed violence seems less likely here than in Abkhazia. Tblisi has shown little interest in asserting its sovereignty by force, and the Ossetians have been more-or-less content with the status quo. Both Moscow and the OSCE have taken active interests in trying to help the two sides settle their differences, bringing significant transnational pressures on the side of peace. Saakshvili, the new Georgian president, has renewed a drive to reintegrate Georgia's separatist regions, and has used brinkmanship as a strategy, both with Adzharia and South Ossetia. As such, the risk of renewed violence is not absent.
The Ossetians found in Georgia's South Ossetia region constitute 12% of the total number of Ossetians, who are a diverse people inhabiting the central Caucasus Mountains (TRADITN = 1). The majority of the other Ossetians live to the north, in the Russian republic North Ossetia. Due perhaps to the extreme difficulty of travel and communication between villages, the Ossetians in general have a fairly underdeveloped sense of nationhood. The South Ossetians, however, because of their recent conflict with the Georgian state, have developed a degree of group cohesion far greater than their co-ethnics to the north (COHESX9 = 5).
The Ossetians are comprised of many different subgroups and tribes that speak a variety of dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible. While some Ossetian groups are Sunni Muslims, the majority are Eastern Orthodox Christians, which caused the various regimes in Moscow to look favorably upon them over the years. Unlike many Caucasian minorities, the Ossetians maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with their Russian colonizers and avoided the mass deportations of the Stalin era.
Fighting broke out in South Ossetia shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Georgian President, the unpredictable former dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia, introduced legislation strengthening the position of the Georgian language across the entire state. This was followed by decrees banning regional parties from national elections and various other laws that the people in Georgia's regions interpreted as discriminatory. Despite the fact that there was no history of strained relations between Georgians and Ossetians prior to this "war of laws", and that the majority of the Ossetians shared the same religion as the Georgians (CULDIFX4 = 0), violence that was to claim nearly 800 lives erupted in 1991 as Ossetians attempted to ensure their rights and status. The war ended in a ceasefire in 1992, which was as much the result of internal division in the leadership in Tblisi as military success by the South Ossetians. The ceasefire that ended the "mildest ethnic conflict in the Caucasus" is now supported by the presence of a "trilateral" peacekeeping force, consisting of troops from Russia, Georgia and South Ossetia.
In both the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts the major issues have been, and continue to be, the return of ethnic Georgian refugees that fled the regions during the wars and the redefinition of Abkhaz and Ossetian sovereignty. Although not formally recognized by the international community, the Abkhaz and Ossetians have adopted the trappings and prerogatives of full sovereignty by such measures as drafting a new constitution (Abkhazia) and concluding treaties with autonomous entities within the Russian federation (both Abkhazia and Ossetia). Naturally, statements and actions suggesting the recognition or de facto accommodation of Abkhaz and Ossetian separatism have persistently met with immediate and vociferous denunciation by the Georgian government.
Despite repeated rounds of negotiations sponsored by the OSCE, the ultimate status of South Ossetia is still unresolved. The government in Tskhinvali has maintained its demand for full independence, but many observers suspect that it really seeks unification with its ethnic brethren in North Ossetia across the Russian border (AUTGR203 = 1; AUTGR303 = 2). In December 2000, Moscow placed travel restrictions on Georgian nationals, necessitating a visa for anyone wishing to enter the North Caucasus. However, these restrictions did not apply to citizens of the two break-away republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This was widely interpreted as an attempt to further undermine Tblisi's influence in these regions, and is another reason why some observers have called the South Ossetians "de facto Russian citizens."
Protests in South Ossetia continued during 2001-2003, which were primarily road blocks on major commercial routes to express disapproval over customs duties collected by the Georgian national government and to protest against assaults or kidnappings against local officers by Georgians (PROT01-03 = 2). Small-scale violence against Georgian police and military also continued infrequently during this period (REB01-03 = 1), and intercommunal violence between Ossetians and Georgians (usually returnees) continued (INTERCON01-03 = 1).
Council of Europe (2001) "Honoring of obligations and commitments by Georgia", Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee), Doc. 9191, 13 September 2001.
Freedom House, Nations in Transit, 2003
International Crisis Group, various reports on Georgia (2003-2005).
Lexis-Nexis, various articles (2001-2003)
Matveeva, Anna (2003), "Minorities in the South Caucasus" Working Group on Minorities, Commission on Human Rights (12-16 May 2003).
Mateeva, Anna (2002) "The South Caucasus: Nationalism, Conflict and Minorities" Minority Rights Group International Report.
Nodia, Ghia (2001) "Georgia's Membership in the Council of Europe: Achievements and Failures", Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development; compiled for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
United States State Department, Human Rights Reports: Georgia (2001-2003).
United States State Department, International Religious Freedom Report: Georgia (2001-2003).