South Ossetia is marking 40 days since last month’s attack by Georgia, and according to Orthodox custom, special memorial services are held in remembrance of the dead. Tskhinvali says the war claimed more than fifteen hundred lives. Last month’s war came following years of simmering tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia. The conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia has a long and complex history.
Georgia entered the Russian Empire in the early 19th century. At this stage, neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia was under Tbilisi’s jurisdiction. South Ossetia had been absorbed into Russia several years earlier and Abkhazia was incorporated in 1810, as Russia gradually gained control of the Southern Caucasus. “Abkhazia was a separate country historically, the Abkhazian population never agreed, in their hearts at least, to any unification with Georgia”, said Sergei Arutyunov from the Caucasus Department of the Russian Academy of Science.
The 1917 Soviet Revolution prompted a redrawing of the map of the Caucasus. South Ossetia became an autonomous region within Georgia in 1922, whilst Abkhazia remained a republic in its own right until Iosif Stalin incorporated it into Georgia in 1931, shortly before the notorious purges. During the Soviet régime, Abkhazia retained autonomous status within Georgia. Secessionist voices in the area were relatively silent during the Soviet rule until Gorbachev’s Perestroika sparked a fresh wave of nationalism.
But, when South Ossetia and Abkhazia claimed independence in the early 1990s, Georgia, which considered the regions to be part of its territory, sent in troops. Two bloody wars followed, leaving thousands dead and causing a mass exodus of Georgian refugees from both regions. After a 1994 ceasefire deal, Abkhazia and South Ossetia became de facto independent states, and peacekeeping forces, made up largely of Russian troops, were deployed in the region. However, sporadic violence continued with Georgia repeatedly accusing Russia of stirring up tensions.
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