World: What Really Happened In South Ossetia? Part I
Update: More information available here.
Well, we've been educating ourselves on the conflict currently prevailing in South Ossetia. Wikipedia has lots of interesting information, but because its user-edited, it may take some time to sort out the various details. Herewith the short version for the impatient reader.
Ethnically, the South Ossetians are descended from the Sarmatians, a Central Asian tribe. Linguistically, Ossetic is affiliated with the Indo-Iranian, or Indo-Aryan, group of languages. Historically, Ossetians have lived between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea. South Ossetia was once a Russian province. However, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, South Ossetia joined the Menshevik Georgian Democratic Republic, while North Ossetia became part of the Terek Soviet Republic. Ossetians in both North and South number a total of approximately 700,000 people — a very small minority in the world. The majority (approximately 60 per cent) of Ossetians are Christian; however, there is a sizable Muslim minority. Sixty per cent of the Ossetian population lives in Russia in an area called North Ossetia-Alarna. Twenty per cent lives in South Ossetia. The majority of South Ossetians hold Russian passports.
From 1918 to 1920, the Ossetian population of what is today South Ossetia clashed with the Mensheviki Georgians, who accused the Ossetians of being pro-Bolshevik. The repeated clashes led, the Ossetians claim, to the deaths of 5,000 Ossetians. An additional 13,000 Ossetians perished due to hunger and epidemics.
In 1922, South Ossetia was designated the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast as part of the USSR.
In 1988, the Ademon Nykhas (South Ossetian Popular Front) was created among a rising tide of nationalism in both Georgia and South Ossetia. A year later, the South Ossetian regional council requested that the Georgian Supreme Soviet upgrade the status of the region from an autonomous district to an autonomous republic. The Georgian Supreme Soviet responded by establishing Georgian as the principal language countrywide and adopting a law barring regional parties the following year.
Needless to say, the South Ossetians responded to these provocative moves by proclaiming South Ossetia a Soviet Democratic Republic. They boycotted subsequent Georgian parliamentary elections and held their own contest in December. The Georgian government (then headed by Zviad Gamsakhurdia) declared the election invalid and abolished South Ossetia's autonomous status. These events took place over the course of two years (1998-1990). During this time, the Georgian majority of the state (which comprises roughly 70 per cent of the total population, the remaining 30 per cent belonging to various different ethnic groups) was espousing a "Georgia for the Georgians" policy which appeared to be contemplating "ethnic cleansing," or to give it a better deserved, if more brutal, name, genocide.
You might get the idea from the ongoing series of events that the people involved have a long and complex history of conflict; and you would be right.
The following year, 1991, violent conflict broke out between the various ethnic and political factions in South Ossetia, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,000 people. Some 100,000 ethnic Ossetians fled to North Ossetia. Approximately 23,000 ethnic Georgians fled to other parts of Georgia. Shortly thereafter, in 1992, Georgia accepted a ceasefire when it became likely that Russia would be drawn into the conflict.
But do we learn the lessons of history? Apparently, we do not. In 1992, the Georgian government came to an agreement with South Ossetian separatists not to use force against each other. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) agreed to monitor a mixed peacekeeping force of Russians, Georgians, and South Ossetians which had been set up to prevent further outbreaks of violence. South Ossetia held a referendum to decide whether its citizens wanted to be part of a de facto independent state or part of Georgia. This referendum was not recognized by the international community; however, the South Ossetians overwhelmingly opted to form an independent state.
Enter Mikheil Saakashvili and the "Rose Revolution" of 2003. While initially, the Rose Revolution proclaimed the noble goal of stamping out corruption in the notoriously corrupt Georgian government of Eduard Shevernadze, and certainly inspired movements towards liberation in other nations, it wasn't long before Saakashvili had begun adopting the tactics of his predecessors.
To his credit, Saakashvili has made an effort to stamp out corruption and did, initially, appear to be trying to increase minority representation in his government. But to his discredit, and he is now thoroughly discredited in the eyes of his European neighbours for good reason, he is really no different than all the other puppet "strongmen" the U.S. has supported in brutal regimes all over the world.
Many Americans have a naive idea of America as a nation of good, wanting only to support "freedom" throughout the world. These ideas are quickly belied as one looks at the type of "freedom" the U.S. government (not the people) supports all over the world. When faced with the nationalist Ho Chi Minh, the U.S. chose to support the unabashed dictator Ngo Dinh Diem. When faced with Fidel Castro, they preferred the corrupt gusano, Fulgencio Batista.
Say what you will about whether Castro is a brute or a dictator or a tyrant, there is no doubt that Batista was far, far worse. And whatever Ho Chi Minh's faults may have been, they were completely eclipsed by the brutal tyrant and dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.
Saakashvili's transformation from champion of liberty to corrupt puppet was quick in coming.
In 2004, conflicts began breaking out again. In May of that year, Saakashvili engineered a second "Rose Revolution" for the autonomous region of Ajaria. Ominously, he announced as he was welcomed by jubilant Ajarians that this “[...] will be the beginning of Georgia’s territorial integrity,[...]”. This statement created some discomfort for the autonomous South Ossetians, who had their historical memories of Georgia's attempted land grabs against the Armenia and Azerbaijan. Violent conflict between the South Ossetian separatists and the Georgian government became the order of the day.
Between 2004 and 2006, the South Ossetian separatists repeatedly clashed with the Georgian state. Throughout this time, Saakashvili was laying the groundwork for seizing and holding on to power, rather than bettering his people in any way. Auntie Beeb tells us that the U.S. military has had a presence in Georgia since 2002, and that the Russians were likely to be "annoyed."
No shit, Sherlock. Imagine how "annoyed" Americans would be if Russian or Chinese "military advisors" showed up in Mexico or Canada. You're damn right we'd be annoyed. After all, Georgia shares a border (the border of South Ossetia) with Russia. In the previously cited article, the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia announced that the Americans were in Georgia "to stay." Nice.
Part II to come soon. Stay tuned. Note: Wikipedia forms the source of much of this material. However, other sources have been consulted as well. We continue to research and refine our understanding of this crisis. We urge you to do the same.
Please point out any inaccuracies or mistatements in this article. Personal attacks will not be accepted, factual corrections are always welcome. Stumble It!