Abkhazian and Ossetian nationalism as the basis of separatism


  • Zurab Davitashvili


Nationalism is one of the main reasons of separatism and in a lot of cases it is the main cause of this phenomenon. After Russia actively started supporting Abkhazian and Ossetian separatism in Georgia and eventually even recognized independence of these so-called “states”, a perception was created that Russia was almost the sole driving force behind both conflicts in Georgia and that Abkhazian and Ossetian political leaders were only acting on Russian directives. In our opinion, the roots of those conflicts are deeper and they were inevitable, since there was irreconcilable opposition between Georgian national idea on the one hand, and the Abkhazian and Ossetian national ideas on the other. Obviously, the influence and the support of Russian politics on the formation of  Abkhazian and Ossetian national ideas and Abkhazian and Ossetian nationalism is generally large, however, it would be wrong to only focus on Russian factors. One thing that can be said for sure is that the establishment and encouragement of Abkhazian and Ossetian nationalism by Russia serves imperial interests and represents a weapon against Georgian nationalism, which had its own explanation. Among the peoples of the Russian empire, Georgians and Polish were the only ones who had their statehood at a time when they became parts of Russia. Therefore, for them Russia was a conqueror and a claimer of the state (in case of Georgia also Religious) independence. In such case, the goal of the people is to restore the lost independence and their nationalism also serves this purpose. It is clear that Russia would not allow this and with other methods would also try to incite ethnic “strife” and encourage nationalistic attitudes against „dangerous and unreliable“ people by some other smaller peoples and itself would appear as their protector and savior. In order to achieve this goal, it was neccessary to support the formation and development of nationalism of various minorities living in the territorry of „unreliable people“. In case of Georgia, Abkhazians and Ossetians were the ones representing such small peoples. Abkhazians were declared “guilty people” by the empire for fighting against Russia during the Caucasus wars, more than half of them were sent to Turkey and the rest were banned from living along the coast and a number of restrictions were imposed on them. Since the beginning of XX century, Russia drastically changes its policy towards Abkhazians and not only removes all restrictions, but contributes in every way to the development of Abkhazian national self-consciousness, creation of alphabet and establishment of Abkhazian intelligentsia. This did not happen due to caring for Abkhazians, but in order to prevent their “Georgianization”, for them to become as alienized as possible from Georgians and get into a conflict with them. Perception was established that Abkhazians do not have anything in common with Georgia, that it was a country of ancient history and culture and during Soviet period it was being outlined that the Soviet Republic of Abkhazia’s status had been specially demoted to the status of autonomous republic and was illegally turned into part of Georgia and Abkhazian children were raised with this belief.  As for Abkhazian intelligentsia, it was cut isolated from Georgian sphere. Abkhazians used some of the mistakes of the Georgian central government and raised alarm that Georgian demographic expansion was taking place in Abkhazia, schools and the alphabet were attempted to be alianized and the existence of Akbhazian ethnos was in danger. In one word, image of Georgian as an enemy was formed.  Georgian national vision that Abkhazia is one of Georgia’s regions and Abkhazian vision that Abkhazia and Georgia are different  countries have found themselves in irreconcilable conflict with each other. In a situation like this, conflict is inevitable and when the conditions for it were created, it happened. Ossetian nationalism did not have the same support from Russia as did the Abkhazian. Ossetians themselves do not deny that they migrated to Georgia from north Caucasus, therefore, their historical homeland is across the Caucasus. Their official status was also „Khizani“(refugee). At the beginning of XX century, Russia seems to have come to conclusion that the Ossetians could be also used against Georgian nationalism and removed the status of „khizani“.  Ossetians turned into ordinary peasants, who obeyed the emperor and  the lands owned by Georgian nobles, where they settled as ‘khizani’, became their property. With this step Russia increased the number of loyal citizens , for whom Russia was a protector and the Georgians were their rivals. This explains the fact that among people living in Georgia, Ossetians most strongly opposed the creation of the Democratic Republic of Georgia and organized three uprisings led by the Bolsheviks.  The Soviet government appreciated them and after the sovietization of Georgia, created administrative-territorial autonomy for Ossetians in the heart of Georgia, within completely artificial borders. Most importantly, this autonomy was given a previously unknown name – South Ossetia. Thus, with one stroke of the hand, a large part of Shida Kartli became Ossetia. After this, Ossetians living in the area have been thinking that they live in Ossetia. Ossetia, on the other hand has been illegaly divided between North Ossetia (as part of Russia) and South Ossetia (as part of Georgia). Therefore, Ossetians became a divided nation and by their belief, as a divided nation, they have the full right to be reunited, with North and South uniting under the United Ossetian Republic as part of Russian Federation. Clearly, this type of national vision was contrary to Georgian national vision, according to which the existence of Ossetia in the south of Caucasus mountains is inconceivable and thus this illegal autonomy had to be abolished. Such incompability between Georgian and Ossetian national ideas would inevitably lead to conflict, and it did. As we can see, Abkhazian and Ossetian separatisms have very solid basis in the form of Abkhazian and Ossetian nationalism. Therefore, even without the Russian support for separatists this nationalism will be a serious obstacle in resolving these conflicts and restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity.


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