Sunday, July 26, 2009

South Ossetia (1)

The Ossetians are believed to be descended from tribes which migrated into the area from Asia many hundreds of years ago and settled in what is now North Ossetia.

As the Russian empire expanded into the area in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ossetians did not join other peoples of the North Caucasus in putting up fierce resistance. Some fought alongside the Russians against neighbours who had long been rivals, while others made the difficult journey south across the mountains to establish villages in the part of Georgia, no called South Ossetia.

Bolshevik forces occupied Georgia in the early 1920s. During the carve-up which followed, the South Ossetian Autonomous Region was created in Georgia and North Ossetia was formed in Russia.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, South Ossetia declared its intention to secede from Georgia in 1990. Georgian independence the following year increased South Ossetia's determination to consolidate the break with Georgia.

In an unrecognised referendum in November 2006, South Ossetians voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Georgia. A simultaneous referendum among the region's ethnic Georgians voted emphatically to stay.

The tensions came to head in early August 2008, when, after nearly a week of clashes between Georgian troops and separatist forces, Georgia launched an full air and ground assault attack on South Ossetia, reportedly gaining control of Tskhinvali. Russia said its citizens were under attack and responded by pouring thousands of troops into South Ossetia and launching bombing raids on Georgian targets. Within days, Russian troops had swept the Georgian forces out of both South Ossetia and then proceeded to occupy parts of Georgia.

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