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Theories from historians can be no less harmful than declarations by politicians03.12.2008 | 09:59
Mamuka Areshidze is director of the Caucasian Centre for Strategic Research (in Tbilisi), has a doctorate in history and is an expert on conflicts. With the statement making up our headline, he explained to our correspondent his wish to enter into polemics with Valery Dzidzoev - an Ossetian historian, a doctor, professor and head of the politics department at the North Ossetian State University. In order to put forward his own viewpoint as to why Ossetians and Georgians will not be able to find a common language and whether there is any point in them relying on historical evidence in their endless disputes.
"Mr. Areshidze, so from a historical point of view, where does the truth lie in relations between Georgia and South Ossetia?"
"Mr. Dzidzoev claims that Ossetia voluntarily joined the Russian Empire in 1774. And that Georgia allegedly tries to deny this. And according to another of his allegations, throughout the twentieth century and the start of the new one Georgia has been methodically wiping out the native population of South Ossetia. These conclusions are made with reference to his "own research into objectively confirmed historical facts". But his opponents have also have done their own research, based on which they have every right to come to opposing conclusions. And you can argue ad infinitum about whose version of history contains the truth. This completely closes off any path towards dialogue. Furthermore, following the August events both sides have been accusing each other of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Yes unfortunately, war only embitters people. And this backdrop makes the possibility of dialogue even more difficult to achieve.
Personally I don't have anything against people of various ethnicities living on Georgian territory, because the multinational coexistence of people on our land enriches both our history and our culture. But nowadays nobody can be surprised anymore by attempts to rewrite history, especially in Georgia. Historical facts were also misrepresented during Soviet times. However, what started to happen after the collapse of the Soviet empire crossed any conceivable boundaries. An especially large number of these "chroniclers of their peoples' history" sprang up in academic and political circles. Politicians, OK, on the whole noone expects them to make statements that can be substantiated academically. However, I think that professors and people with history doctorates should be a bit more circumspect. After all, for every historical fact that they misrepresent, there are numerous historical documents and different sources which simply cannot be rewritten, and any attempt to do so engenders a feeling of awkwardness for the sphere of historical research.
So let's examine South Ossetia joining Russia. There is no mention of Ossetia in any historical document before the end of the 18th century for the simple reason that no such territorial or political unit then existed. As far the date is concerned, in 1774 the Kuchuk-Kainarji Peace Treaty was signed between Russia and Turkey, which proclaimed the neutrality of Kabardia. This region incorporated the mountainous Ossetian tribes. In the North Caucasus the Ossetians lived in four gorges (Tagauri, Alagiri, Kurtauli and Didgori). At that time these Ossetian gorges were under Kabardia's command, and although formally they became Russian subjects, they could only really become Russian subjects several years later. Immediately following the conclusion of peace, the Ossetians sent ambassadors to the governor of Astrakhan with a request for protection by Russia. This opened the way for them to head to the Caucasian plains controlled by the Kabardians, who didn't let Ossetians onto them.
"And do you agree with the theory about how Georgians appeared on Russian territory? Or are you also prepared to refute that?"
"I assume he means South Ossetia... I don't know, if we really are talking about Russian territory, then for a long time Georgians have lived both in the North Caucasus (Balkaria, Kabardia, North Ossetia), and even in the Sochi region, where there is still a Georgian village, Plastunka. But this does not give us any grounds to start insisting that these are native Georgian lands. And if we're talking about South Ossetia, then this is historically Dvaleti, which was part of the Kartli-Kakheti kingdom that joined Russia in 1801. But I reiterate that Ossetians live on this land today, and noone would have touched them if they hadn't caused problems, just as the remaining Ossetians living in other regions of Georgia don't cause problems.
"Is it true that the South Ossetians were punished by the Georgians for their ‘principled unwillingness to secede from Russia along with Menshevik Georgia?"
Incidentally, the Ossetians received two seats in the Georgian parliament of 1918 and signed the Act of Georgian Independence. Furthermore back then, just like today, more Ossetians lived in the rest of Georgia than in South Ossetia. According to the most recent census about 50,000 Ossetians live in Georgia, not counting South Ossetia. During the war in August, 20 ethnically Ossetian soldiers fought in the Georgian army.