The Ossetians or Ossetes (/ɒˈsɛtiənz/; Ossetian: ир, ирæттæ, ir, irættæ; дигорæ, дигорæнттæ, digoræ, digorænttæ) are an Iranian ethnic group of the Caucasus Mountains, indigenous to the ethnolinguistic region known as Ossetia. They speak Ossetic, an Eastern Iranian (Alanic) language of the Indo-European languages family, with most also fluent in Russian as a second language. The Ossetian language is neither closely related to nor mutually intelligible with any other language of the family today. Ossetic, a remnant of the Scytho-Sarmatian dialect group which was once spoken across the Pontic–Caspian Steppe, is one of the few Iranian languages inside Europe.
The Ossetians mostly populate Ossetia, which is politically divided between North Ossetia–Alania in Russia, and South Ossetia, a de facto independent state with partial recognition, closely integrated in Russia and claimed by Georgia. Their closest relatives, the Jász, live in the Jászság region within the north-western part of the Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County in Hungary.
|Regions with significant populations|
|(in North Ossetia)||480,310|
(excluding South Ossetia)
(including the Jassic people of Hungary)
|Ossetian, Russian, Georgian|
|Predominantly † Eastern Orthodox Christianity|
with a sizeable minority professing Uatsdin, and Islam
|Related ethnic groups|
|Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans|
Other Iranian peoples, the Jassic people of Hungary, and North Caucasians.
a. ^ The total figure is merely an estimation; sum of all the referenced populations.
The Ossetians and Ossetia received their name from the Russians, who adopted the Georgian designations Osi (ოსი) (sing., pl.: Osebi (ოსები)) and Oseti ("the land of Osi" (ოსეთი)), used since the Middle Ages for the single Iranian-speaking population of the Central Caucasus and probably based on the old Alan self-designation "As". As the Ossetians lacked any single inclusive name for themselves in their native language, these terms were accepted by the Ossetians themselves already before their integration into the Russian Empire.
This practice was put into question by the new Ossetian nationalism in the early 1990s, when the dispute between the Ossetian subgroups of Digoron and Iron over the status of the Digoron dialect made the Ossetian intellectuals search for a new inclusive ethnic name. This, combined with the effects of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, led to the popularization of "Alania", the name of the medieval Sarmatian confederation, to which the Ossetians traced their origin, and inclusion of this name into the official republican title of North Ossetia in 1994.
The folk beliefs of the Ossetian people are rooted in their Sarmatian origin and Christian religion, with the pagan gods having been converted into Christian saints. The Nart saga serves as the basic pagan mythology of the region.
The Ossetians descend from the Alans, a Sarmatian tribe (Scythian subgroup of the Iranian ethnolinguistic group). The Alans were the only branch of the Sarmatians to keep their culture in the face of a Gothic invasion (c. 200 CE), and those who remained built a great kingdom between the Don and Volga Rivers, according to Coon, The Races of Europe. Between 350 and 374 CE, the Huns destroyed the Alan kingdom, and the Alan people were split in half. One half fled to the west, where they participated in the Barbarian Invasions of Rome, established short-lived kingdoms in Spain and North Africa, and settled in many other places such as Orléans, France. The other half fled to the south and settled on the plains of the North Caucasus, where they established their medieval kingdom of Alania.
In the 8th century a consolidated Alan kingdom, referred to in sources of the period as Alania, emerged in the northern Caucasus Mountains, roughly in the location of the latter-day Circassia and the modern North Ossetia–Alania. At its height, Alania was a centralized monarchy with a strong military force and had a strong economy that benefited from the Silk Road.
After the Mongol invasions of the 1200s, the Alans were forced out of their medieval homeland south of the River Don in present-day Russia. Due to this, the Alans migrated toward the Caucasus Mountains, where they would form three ethnographical groups; the Iron, the Digoron, and the Kudar. The Jassic people were a fourth group that migrated in the 13th century to Hungary.
In more-recent history, the Ossetians participated in the Ossetian–Ingush conflict (1991–1992) and Georgian–Ossetian conflicts (1918–1920, early 1990s) and in the 2008 South Ossetia war between Georgia and Russia.
Ossetian is divided into two main dialect groups: Ironian (os. – Ирон) in North and South Ossetia; and Digorian (os. – Дыгурон) in western North Ossetia. In these two groups are some subdialects, such as Tualian, Alagirian, and Ksanian. The Ironian dialect is the most widely spoken.
Ossetian is among the remnants of the Scytho-Sarmatian dialect group, which was once spoken across the Pontic–Caspian Steppe. The Ossetian language is not mutually intelligible with any other Iranian language.
Prior to the 10th century, Ossetians were strictly pagan. They were partially Christianized by Byzantine missionaries in the beginning of the 10th century. By the 13th, most Ossetians were Eastern Orthodox Christians as a result of Georgian influence and missionary work. Islam was introduced during the 18th century by the recently converted members of the Circassian Kabarday tribe (who had been introduced to that religion by Tatars), who had taken over territory in Western Ossetia occupied by the Digor. However, Islam did not successfully spread to rest of the Ossetian people.
In 1774 Ossetia became part of the Russian Empire, which strengthened Orthodox Christianity considerably by sending Russian Orthodox missionaries there. However, most of the missionaries chosen were churchmen from Eastern Orthodox communities living in Georgia, including Armenians and Greeks, as well as ethnic Georgians. Russian missionaries were not sent, as this would have been regarded by the Ossetians as too intrusive.
Today, the majority of Ossetians from both North and South Ossetia follow Eastern Orthodoxy. Ætsæg Din, the Ossetian ethnic religion, is also widespread among Ossetians, with ritual traditions like animal sacrifices, holy shrines, non-Christian saints, etc. There are temples, known as kuvandon, in most villages. According to the research service Sreda, North Ossetia is the primary center of Ossetian Paganism, and 29% of the population reported practicing pagan faiths in the 2012 Russian Census. Ætsæg Din has been rising in popularity since the 1980s.
The northern Ossetians export lumber and cultivate various crops, mainly corn. The southern Ossetians are chiefly pastoral, herding sheep, goats, and cattle. Traditional manufactured products include leather goods, fur caps, daggers, and metalware.
Outside of South Ossetia, there are also a significant number of Ossetians living in Trialeti, in north-central Georgia. A large Ossetian diaspora lives in Turkey, and Ossetians have also settled in Belgium, France, Sweden, Syria, the United States (primarily New York City, Florida and California), Canada (Toronto), Australia (Sydney), and other countries all around the world.
The vast majority of Ossetians live in Russia (according to the Russian Census (2002)):
The Ossetians are a unique ethnic group of the Caucasus, speaking an Indo-European language surrounded by Caucasian ethnolinguistic groups. The Y-haplogroup data indicate that North Ossetians are more similar to other North Caucasian groups, and South Ossetians to other South Caucasian groups, than the two are to each other. With respect to mtDNA, Ossetians are significantly more similar to some Iranian groups than to Caucasian groups. It is thus suggested that there is a common origin of Ossetians from the Proto-Iranian Urheimat, followed by subsequent male-mediated migrations from their Caucasian neighbours.
Ossetic is not mutually intelligible with any other Iranian language.
The 1991–1992 South Ossetian War (also known as the First South Ossetian war) was fought as part of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict between Georgian government forces and ethnic Georgian militia on one side and the forces of South Ossetia and ethnic Ossetian militia who wanted South Ossetia to secede from Georgia and become an independent state on the other. The war ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, signed on 24 June 1992, which established a joint peacekeeping force and left South Ossetia divided between the rival authorities.Alania
Alania was a medieval kingdom of the Iranian Alans (proto-Ossetians) that flourished in the Northern Caucasus, roughly in the location of latter-day Circassia and modern North Ossetia–Alania, from its independence from the Khazars in the late 9th century until its destruction by the Mongol invasion in 1238-39. Its capital was Maghas, and it controlled a vital trade route through the Darial Pass. The kingdom reached its peak in the 11th century, under the rule of king Dorgolel.Alans
The Alans (Latin: Alani) were an Iranian nomadic pastoral people of antiquity.The name Alan is an Iranian dialectical form of Aryan. Possibly related to the Massagetae, the Alans have been connected by modern historians with the Central Asian Yancai and Aorsi of Chinese and Roman sources, respectively. Having migrated westwards and become dominant among the Sarmatians on the Pontic Steppe, they are mentioned by Roman sources in the 1st century AD. At the time, they had settled the region north of the Black Sea and frequently raided the Parthian Empire and the Caucasian provinces of the Roman Empire. From 215–250 AD, their power on the Pontic Steppe was broken by the Goths.Upon the Hunnic defeat of the Goths on the Pontic Steppe around 375 AD, many of the Alans migrated westwards along with various Germanic tribes. They crossed the Rhine in 406 AD along with the Vandals and Suebi, settling in Orléans and Valence. Around 409 AD, they joined the Vandals and Suebi in the crossing of the Pyrenees into the Iberian Peninsula, settling in Lusitania and Carthaginensis. The Iberian Alans were soundly defeated by the Visigoths in 418 AD and subsequently surrendered their authority to the Hasdingi Vandals. In 428 AD, the Vandals and Alans crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into North Africa, where they founded a powerful kingdom which lasted until its conquest by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD.The Alans who remained under Hunnic rule founded a powerful kingdom in the North Caucasus in the Middle Ages, which ended with the Mongol invasions in the 13th century AD. These Alans are said to be the ancestors of the modern Ossetians.The Alans spoke an Eastern Iranian language which derived from Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern Ossetian.Assianism
Assianism (Russian: Ассианство, Assianstvo; meaning the "religion of the ese", in Russian асов, asov) is a Scythian movement of Native Faith practised in Russia, based on the traditional folk religious beliefs of the Ossetians, modern descendants of the Scythians. The religion is known as "Assianism" among its Russian adherents, and as Uatsdin (Уацдин, literally "True Faith") by Ossetians in their own language. It started to be revived in a conscious and organised way in the 1980s, as an ethnic religion among the Ossetians, who have since largely embraced it. Scythian religious groups are also present in Ukraine.
The religion has been incorporated by some organisations, chiefly the Atsætæ Church (Ossetian: Ацæтæ; Russian: Асата, Asata) based in North Ossetia–Alania. Some Russians have embraced Assianism by virtue of the fact that most of the ancient Scythians were assimilated by the East Slavs, and therefore modern Russians may reclaim Scythian culture. Among Russians, Assianism is advocated as a religion for all Slavs, Indo-Europeans, or even as a worldwide spiritual heritage.Digor Ossetian
Digor or Digorian (дигорон digoron) is a dialect of the Ossetian language. The other is Iron, which is more widely spoken. The differences between the two are large enough to call them two languages—and that is done in some sources like the recently published Digor–Russian dictionary by Fedar Takazov (the compiler himself writes "Digor language", while the editor writes in the same book "Digor dialect"). Until 1939 Digor had a literary language separate from Iron.
Digorian speakers live in the west of North Ossetia (Digora, Chikola and other places), in the capital of the republic Vladikavkaz and in larger cities of Russia. There are no precise statistics on that because Digorians are mostly calculated as Ossetians during census, but they are about a sixth of the population.Digor people
The Digor (Digor dialect: дигорон - digoron, pl.: дигорæ, дигорæнттæ - digoræ, digorænttæ; Iron dialect: дыгурон - dyguron, pl.: дыгур, дыгурæттæ - dygur, dygurættæ) are a subgroup of the Ossetians. They speak the Digor dialect of the Eastern Iranian Ossetian language, which in USSR was considered a separate language until 1937. Starting from 1932 it is considered just a dialect of Ossetian language. The speakers of the other dialect - Iron - do not understand Digor, although the Digor usually understand Iron, as it was the official language of the Ossetian people and officially taught in schools. In the 2002 Russian Census 607 Digors were registered, but in the 2010 Russian Census their number was only 223. It was estimated that there are 100,000 speakers of the dialect, most of whom declared themselves Ossetians. The Digor mainly live in Digorsky, Irafsky, Mozdoksky districts and Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia–Alania, also in Kabardino-Balkaria, Turkey and Syria.East Prigorodny Conflict
The East Prigorodny Conflict, also referred to as the Ossetian–Ingush Conflict, was an inter-ethnic conflict in the eastern part of the Prigorodny district in the Republic of North Ossetia – Alania, which started in 1989 and developed, in 1992, into a brief ethnic war between local Ingush and Ossetian paramilitary forces.Ethnic minorities in Georgia (country)
The main ethnic minorities in Georgia are Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Kists, and Yazidi.Georgian–Ossetian conflict (1918–20)
The Georgian–Ossetian conflict of 1918–1920 comprised a series of uprisings, which took place in the Ossetian-inhabited areas of what is now South Ossetia, a breakaway republic in Georgia, against the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic and then the Menshevik-dominated Democratic Republic of Georgia which claimed several thousand lives and left painful memories among the Georgian and Ossetian communities of the region.
During its brief tenure, the Menshevik government of Georgia came across significant problems with ethnic Ossetians who largely sympathized with the Bolsheviks and Soviet Russia. The reasons behind the conflict were complicated. An overdue land reform and agrarian disturbances in the poor Ossetian-populated areas intermingled with an ethnic discord and the struggle for power in the Caucasus.Iron Ossetian
Iron (Ossetic: Ирон, Iron or Ирон æвзаг, Iron ævzag) is one of the two main dialects of the Ossetic language along with Digor spoken in the Caucasus. The majority of Ossetians speak Iron, notably in the East, South and Central parts of North Ossetia–Alania, while in the West the Digor dialect is more prevalent. The Iron dialect has been the basis of the Ossetian written language since the abolition of the Digor standard in 1939.Islam in South Ossetia
Islam in South Ossetia is presented by migrants who work there, but not by the native Ossetians, unlike in North Ossetia - Alania.Ossetia
Ossetia (; Ossetian: Ир, Ирыстон, translit. Ir, Iryston; Russian: Осетия, translit. Osetiya; Georgian: ოსეთი, translit. Oseti) is an ethnolinguistic region located on both sides of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, largely inhabited by the Ossetians. The Ossetian language is part of the Eastern Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages family. The Ossetian-speaking area south of the main Caucasus ridge is recognized by most countries as within the borders of Georgia, but under the control of the Russian-backed de facto government of the Republic of South Ossetia. The northern portion of the region consists of the republic of North Ossetia–Alania within the Russian Federation.Ossetian literature
Ossetian (or Ossetic) literature is expressed in the Ossetian language, an Iranian language of the Caucasus.
The Ossetian literature is comparatively young, with its first specimen published in the 1890s. Its golden age was in the years after the October Revolution in Russia, when local languages received a significant impact.
The most popular motives of the Ossetic literature are:
the life of highlanders, especially the poor ones, in 19th century or in earlier times;
the role of traditional right in the life of Ossetians (including criticism of vendetta-like revenge tradition of "taking blood back" and other "harmful traditions");
the construction of socialism (often in contrast to the previous state of things): Ossetians really received better life compared to the tsarist regime time, when they felt severe lack of agricultural lands, poverty and illiteracy;
the Great Patriotic War (the name of the World War II in Soviet Union): every tenth Ossetian man died during the war, many were honored as "Heroes of the Soviet Union" for their courage;and others.
The Ossetian writers and poets use the rich fund of traditional lyrics and the Nart epic (epos).Ossetians in Turkey
Ossetians in Turkey are citizens and denizens of Turkey who are, or descend from, ethnic Ossetians who originate in Ossetia in the CaucasusSouth Ossetia
South Ossetia (, less commonly ), officially the Republic of South Ossetia – the State of Alania, or the Tskhinvali Region, is a disputed territory in the South Caucasus, in the northern part of the internationally recognised Georgian territory. It has a population of 53,000 people who live in an area of 3,900 km2, south of the Russian Caucasus, with 30,000 living in Tskhinvali. The separatist polity, Republic of South Ossetia (or the State of Alania), is recognised as a state by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Syria. While Georgia lacks control over South Ossetia, the Georgian government and most members of the United Nations consider the territory part of Georgia, whose constitution designates the area as "the former autonomous district of South Ossetia", in reference to the former Soviet autonomous oblast disbanded in 1990.Georgia does not recognise the existence of South Ossetia as a political entity, and therefore its territory does not correspond to any Georgian administrative area (although Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia was created by the Georgian authorities as a transitional measure leading to the settlement of South Ossetia's status), with most of the territory included into Shida Kartli region. The area is often informally referred to as the legally undefined Tskhinvali Region in Georgia and in international organisations when neutrality is deemed necessary.
South Ossetia declared independence from the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1991. The Georgian government responded by abolishing South Ossetia's autonomy and trying to re-establish its control over the region by force. The crisis escalation led to the 1991–92 South Ossetia War. Georgian fighting against those controlling South Ossetia occurred on two other occasions, in 2004 and 2008. The latter conflict led to the Russo–Georgian War, during which Ossetian and Russian forces gained full de facto control of the territory of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast. In the wake of the 2008 war, Georgia and a significant part of the international community consider South Ossetia to be occupied by the Russian military.
South Ossetia relies heavily on military, political and financial aid from Russia. Russia does not allow the European Union Monitoring Mission to enter South Ossetia.South Ossetia, Transnistria, Artsakh, and Abkhazia are sometimes referred to as post-Soviet "frozen conflict" zones.South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast
The South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast (Russian: Юго-Осетинская автономная область, Georgian: სამხრეთ ოსეთის ავტონომიური ოლქი, Ossetian: Хуссар Ирыстоны автономон бӕстӕ) was an autonomous oblast of the Soviet Union created within the Georgian SSR on April 20, 1922. Its autonomy was revoked on December 10, 1990 by the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR, leading to the First South Ossetian War. Currently, its territory is controlled by the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia.
The population of the South Ossetian AO consisted mostly of ethnic Ossetians, who made up roughly 66% of the 100,000 people living there in 1989. Georgians constituted a further 29% of the population.South Ossetian passport
South Ossetian passports are issued to inhabitants of South Ossetia (a disputed territory in the Caucasus) for the purpose of international travel and for the purpose of legal identification within South Ossetia. They were first issued on August 15, 2006. Since South Ossetia is only recognised by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru, many South Ossetians also have Russian passports, which are more practical for international travel.Uatsdin
Uatsdin (Ossetian: Уацдин), otherwise spelled Watsdin, also known as Assdin (Ассдин, "Ese-Faith"), or by the extended name Ætsæg Din (Æцæг Дин, literally "True Faith"; the same meaning of "Uatsdin", which is a word compound), and among Russians as Assianism (Russian: Ассианство, Assianstvo; alternative rendition of "Assdin"), is the modern neo-Pagan movement and religious organization of the same name founded in North Ossetia. Its followers consist primarily by the Ossetians (an Eastern Iranic, Alan-Samatian ethnic group inhabiting a homeland in the Caucasus that is split nowadays between two states: the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania within Russia, and the neighbouring state of South Ossetia). This religion has experienced an organised revival since the 1980s.In the Ossetian case, certain traditions of folk religion had survived with unbroken continuity, and were revived in rural areas. This contrasts, and interacts, with an urban and more intellectual movement which elaborated a systematic revival religion to overcome the crisis of identity of the Ossetian people, based in ethnic nationalism and opposition to both Russian and Georgian Orthodox Christianity, perceived as foreign, and opposed as well to the Islam professed by the neighboring Turkic and Caucasian ethnic groups and among a small minority of Ossetians. The major organisation among Ossetians is the Atsætæ organization (Ossetian: Ацæтæ; Russian: Асата, Asata) led by Daurbek Makeyev, based in North Ossetia–Alania.
The Uatsdin movement is active both in North and South Ossetia. Whilst there are no figures about religious demographics for South Ossetia, in North Ossetia–Alania about 29% of the population was practicing this ethnic folk-religion in 2012, according to a survey carried out in that year.Women in South Ossetia
In 2010, the Caucasian Knot described the women of South Ossetia as females who can transmit change and reinstatement of "trust and peace" between the peoples of South Ossetia and Georgia. They have the capability and competence to defend and preserve their rights as women and to participate as activists and peacemakers. South Ossetian women experienced situations of armed conflict in their regions. The main organization that promotes and safeguards the status of South Ossetian women is the Association of South Ossetian Women for Democracy and Human Rights (sometimes referred to as Association of Women of South Ossetia for Democracy and Defence of Human Rights) and is currently headed by Lira Kozaeva-Tskhovrebova.
Christ Pantocrator (circa 1261) in Hagia Sophia
Eastern Christianity portal
See Also: Ethnic minorities in Georgia