Ossetia is a country located in the centre of the Caucasus, north and south of the homonymous mountain range. Most of its inhabitants are Ossetians, a people of Iranian language and Orthodox Christian religion who trace their ancestry back to ancient Alans.
The country is divided between two political entities: North Ossetia-Alania (the largest and most populated), a constituent republic of the Russian Federation; and South Ossetia, a self-declared state which, in practice, is a satellite of Russia.
Between the 9th and 13th centuries, the kingdom of the Alans extended beyond the borders of present-day Ossetia, and was destroyed by the Mongols. Between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, Russia completed the conquest of the Ossetian-populated territories. In 1922, already in the Soviet period, the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast was created within Georgia. In 1924, the North Ossetian Autonomous Oblast was established within the borders of Russia, which was elevated to the status of an autonomous republic in 1936.
In 1990, Georgia cancelled the autonomy of South Ossetia. The following year South Ossetia proclaimed its independence, which did not recognise any state. In 2008, South Ossetia, with military support from Russia, fought a brief war against Georgia. Georgian forces were defeated and Russia officially recognised the independence of South Ossetia.
Ossetian is an Indo-European language of the Eastern Iranian branch, thus related to Persian and Kurdish, and isolated from the languages spoken in its environment. In 2010 it had some 600,000 speakers, according to Russian and South Ossetian censuses.
The language is official throughout Ossetia, according to the constitutions of North and South Ossetia, alongside Russian. In practice, most official functions —the language of the administration, the media, education...— are reserved for Russian almost exclusively.
North and South Ossetians recognise themselves as one single people. Because of history and religion, Ossetians have built closer ties with Russia than any other peoples in the Caucasus have.
The 2015 South Ossetian census showed that 89.9 percent of the population was Ossetian, 7.4 percent Georgian, and 1.1 percent Russian.
65.1% of the population of North Ossetia declared themselves to be Ossetian in the 2010 census, 20.8% Russian, and 4.0% Ingush.
Government and politics
The northern two-thirds of the country is governed by the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, a federal subject of Russia. The Parliament of North Ossetia-Alania, elected by universal suffrage every five years, is the republic’s legislature. The Parliament is controlled by Russian parties affiliated with or tolerated by the Kremlin. No Ossetian national party is represented.
The southern third of the country is governed by the Republic of South Ossetia, a state that self-proclaimed independent from Georgia. The republic is highly dependent politically, militarily and economically on Russia. The semi-presidential republic is headed by the president, who is not only the head of state but also of the Government of South Ossetia. He or she is elected by universal suffrage every five years, as is the Parliament of South Ossetia, the legislative chamber of the republic. All the parties represented in Parliament are exclusive to South Ossetia, though the main one among them (United Ossetia) maintains close ties with its Russian equivalent (United Russia). The goal of United Ossetia, as stated in its programme, is the reunification of South Ossetia with North Ossetia within the Russian Federation.
Georgia considers the Republic of South Ossetia to be illegal. The Georgian authorities consider that the Provisional Administration of South Ossetia —an autonomous government in exile— is the legitimate authority of the territory, over which it has no control.
South Ossetia is recognised as an independent state by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, and Syria. All other UN members consider South Ossetia to be an integral part of Georgia.
Referendum on annexation to Russia
In March 2022, then-president of South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov announced plans to hold a referendum the same year for the country’s accession to the Russian Federation. In April, South Ossetian electoral authorities registered an initiative to convene two referendums: one on the accession to Russia, and the other on unification with North Ossetia. In May, Bibilov officially scheduled the referendum for 17 July 2022. The Russian Federation has not given explicit support to this process, nor has it rejected it. The new South Ossetian president Alan Gagloiev has suspended the holding of the referendum.
TERRITORY: SOUTH OSSETIA
President: Alan Gagloev (since 2022)
Prime minister: Gennady Bekoyev (since 2020)
Distribution of seats in Parlament. 34 members (June 2019 election):
United Ossetia - 14
People's Party of South Ossetia - 5
Nykhaz - 4
Unity of the People - 3
Communist Party of South Ossetia - 1
Independents - 7
(Last updated June 2022.)