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Peoples of the Caucasus: Ossetians in light green
The Ossetian tribal associations of Iron, Digor and Tual until 13/17. Century and its expansion afterwards. The area east of Ossetia on the Upper Terek has been Georgian settlements since at least the 17th century. The Tual speak subdialects of the Iron Ossetian.

The Ossetians ( Ossetian Ирӕттӕ irættæ , German 'Iranians' ) are an Iranian- speaking ethnic group in the Caucasus, which comprises a total of around 700,000 people.

The majority of the Ossetians live in the republic of North Ossetia-Alania (an administrative unit of the Russian Federation ). Almost 460,000 people identified themselves as Ossetians in the 2010 census. After the war and emigration, only about 50,000 Ossetians live in the contested area of South Ossetia . There are also many Ossetians in other parts of Russia; in the whole of Russia their number was 528,515 in 2010, including over 11,000 Ossetians in Moscow. In Georgia (excluding South Ossetia and Abkhazia ) there were also almost 37,000 Ossetians in 2002. The total number of Ossetians in Turkey is estimated at around 100,000 people.

Language and literature

Kosta L. Chetagurov

The Ossetian belongs to the Iranian group of the Indo-European language family . It is divided into two main dialects, the West Ossetian Digoron and the East Ossetian Iron (with the Tual dialect of South Ossetia). Almost all Ossetians also speak the Russian language , which is an official language in both North and South Ossetia alongside Ossetian. Many Ossetians in the Diaspora no longer speak an Ossetian.

The German word "Ossetisch" and "Osseten" go back to a Georgian word. This is made up of "Oss", which means Ossetians and "-eti", which simply means "country" as an ending. “Oss-eti” means “Land of the Osses”. The Ossetian culture belongs to the Caucasian culture.

Kosta Chetagurow (1859–1906) is considered the founder of modern Ossetian literature; Arsen Kozojew (1872–1944) as a pioneer in Ossetian literature .


Ossetian necropolis in North Ossetia
Ossetian Church in Vladikavkaz

Around 80% of the Ossetians are Orthodox Christians , a significant minority of around 15–20% are Muslims . Islam is particularly widespread in North Ossetia. Due to the long anti-religious policy of the Soviet Union, many people do not practice religion.


The Ossetians are linguistically descended from the Alans , a sub-tribe of the Iranian Sarmatians (traceable since the 1st century AD). They immigrated to the Caucasus in the 6th century and are now predominantly Christian. The Alan Archdiocese was established in 921 . In the 13th century, their empire was destroyed by the Tatars and Mongols . The remaining Alans retreated into the mountains, as can still be seen today in the numerous defense and residential towers .

The modern Ossetian people have their origins in this period. At that time they lived in the north of the main Caucasus ridge. From the 16th century, Islam spread among the Ossetian nobility. This was interested in closer ties with the Kabardian and Balkar nobility . In 1774, Ossetia voluntarily joined the Russian Empire.

After the Caucasus War 1817–1864 and the Russo-Turkish War 1877–1878 , a large part of the Muslim Ossetians immigrated from the North Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire . There were similar migratory movements among many other Caucasus peoples, such as the Abkhazians , Circassians and Chechens .

When the Russian Empire fell apart, the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict broke out in what is now South Ossetia from 1918 to 1920 , in which between 5,000 and 18,000 Ossetians died and around 20,000 were expelled.

Today the traditional settlement area of ​​the Ossetians is divided between the Russian republic of North Ossetia-Alania and the de facto independent South Ossetia , which is seen by the majority of the international community as part of Georgia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were several armed conflicts around South Ossetia, including the South Ossetian War 1991–1992 and the Caucasus War in 2008 . The de facto independent status of South Ossetia has been consolidated since the end of the war in 2008 after Russia and several other states recognized the independence of South Ossetia.

According to the biography of Stalin by Iosseb Iremashvili published in Berlin in 1932 , Josef Stalin was of Ossetian descent. During the Stalin era, the village of Tskhinvali became the capital of South Ossetia and was given the name Staliniri.

Settlement area

Today the majority of the Ossetians live in the Russian republic of North Ossetia-Alania (approx. 460,000) and in the controversial South Ossetia . The population of South Ossetia is estimated at 46,000 to 53,000 people. In the Russian census of 2010, almost 30,000 Ossetians lived outside North Ossetia in southern Russia, especially in the Kabardino-Balkaria region bordering North Ossetia , where there are some traditionally Ossetian villages. There are also strong diaspora communities in many major Russian cities, such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Thousands of Ossetians also live in other successor states of the Soviet Union.

Settlement areas within Russia
North Ossetia-Alania 459,700
Moscow 11,300
Kabardino-Balkaria 9,300
Stavropol region 8,000
Krasnodar Territory 4,500
Moscow Oblast 3,400
Karachay Cherkessia 3,200
St. Petersburg 3,200
Rostov Oblast 2,600

In addition to Russia, the Ossetians' second settlement focus was in Georgia until the early 1990s. At the last Soviet census in 1989, 164,000 Ossetians lived in Georgia, 60,000 of them within the South Ossetian Autonomous Region , today's South Ossetia. Outside of South Ossetia, Georgia also had closed Ossetian settlement areas until the end of the 20th century. Settlement centers were the Rajons Gori , Kazbegi , Kaspi , Caschuri , Dusheti , Borjomi and Achmetha and Tbilisi and the surrounding area. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conflict in South Ossetia, the majority of the Ossetians fled or emigrated in Georgia, mostly to Russia. In 2002 there were just under 37,000 Ossetians in Georgia, but this number had fallen to 14,400 by 2014. These figures do not include the area controlled by the South Ossetian separatists.

Furthermore, there are numerically significant Ossetian exile communities in Syria and Turkey; there is talk of up to 100,000 Ossetians in Turkey . To what extent these are not assimilated, however, is unclear.

Well-known Ossetians

Ossetian costume in the 19th century

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Results of the 2010 Census of Russia , Excel table 7, line 501.
  2. Excel table 5, line 131 .
  3. ^ A b Georgia Census 2002- Ethnic group by major administrative-territorial units. (PDF commons ).
  4. Mark Stonking: Genes, Geography and Language. Addendum - the Ossetians. In: Günter Hauska (Ed.): Genes, languages ​​and their evolution. Univerlag, Regensburg 2005, ISBN 3-930480-46-8 .
  5. de.rian.ru
  6. ^ Joseph Iremashvili: Stalin and the tragedy of Georgia. Memories. Iremashvili, Berlin 1932.
  7. Республика Южная Осетия ( Memento from April 28, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) (Russian).
  8. cominf.org
  9. demoscope.ru
  10. ethno-kavkaz.narod.ru
  11. pop-stat.mashke.org