Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast


(Iuzhnaia Osetiia), part of the Georgian SSR. Formed on Apr. 20, 1922. Area, 3,900 sq km. Population, 103,000 (Jan. 1, 1978). The oblast has four raions, one city, and four urban-type settlements. The administrative center is Tskhinvali.

Natural features. Iuzhnaia Osetiia occupies the central part of the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus and the northern periphery of the Vnutrenniaia Kartli Plain. Sections of the Racha, Likheti (Surami), Kudaro, Gudi, Kharuli, and Lomisi ranges lie in the oblast. The Keli Highland is located in the northeast. About 90 percent of the oblast lies more than 1,000 m above sea level. Many peaks in the north are higher than 3,500 m. At 3,938 m, Mount Khalatsa is the highest peak in the oblast. The principal passes through the Glavnyi, or Vodorazdel’nyi, Range are the Roka (2,995 m), Zekara, and Dzedhori. Three altitudinal zones are distinguished in Iuzhnaia Osetiia: the foothill zone (up to 1,000 m), the middle-mountain zone (1,000–1,200 m), and the high-mountain zone (above 2,000 m).

The climate varies, according to altitudinal zone, from moderately warm and humid in the south to a climate of perpetual snows in the north. The mean temperature of the warmest month (August) is 20.7°C. in Tskhinvali and 13.8°C at an elevation of 2,000 m, and that of the coldest month (January) is –2.6°C and –6.5°C, respectively; the average annual precipitation correspondingly ranges from 500 mm to 1,000 mm or more.

The principal rivers are the Bol’shaia Liakhvi, Malaia Liakhvi, Ksani, Lekhura, and Medzhuda, all of the Kura River basin. The most important lakes are Kelistba and Ertso.

The foothill zone is covered primarily by chernozem-like soils, although alluvial soils and soddy calcareous soils are also found. At higher elevations there are dark brown mountain-forest soils and mountain-meadow soils. Forests and shrubs cover 48 percent of the entire oblast. The lower forest zone is made up of oak forests with shrubs; at higher elevations the oak forests give way to forests of such trees as oak, beech, hornbeam, and maple. The higher forest zone is dominated by coniferous forests—primarily spruce, but also fir and pine. Beech trees account for 79 percent of the forested area, oak trees for 10 percent, and coniferous trees for 8 percent. Subalpine and alpine meadows are found at still higher elevations. Wolves, bears, lynx, and foxes inhabit the forests; the tur inhabits the high-mountain country.

Population. According to the 1979 census, the population includes Ossets, 65,000; Georgians, 28,000; and Russians, 2,000; various peoples make up the remainder. On Jan. 1, 1978, the average population density was 26.5 persons per sq km. More than 90 percent of the population lives in the south, which has a density of 130 persons per sq km, and in the middle-mountain areas.

Historical survey. Iuzhnaia Osetiia was inhabited by human beings during the Paleolithic period, as attested by cave habitation sites at Tsona and Kudaro. By the beginning of the third millennium B.C., the lower regions of the oblast had been settled by tribes of the Kura-Araks Aeneolithic culture. Archaeological complexes of the Bronze and Early Iron ages (second to first millennia) show that the ancient population of the oblast maintained contact with Western Georgia and the Northern Caucasus. It was in this period that primitive communal relations broke down and early class relations developed. In the second half of the first millennium B.C., Iuzhnaia Osetiia became part of the Iberian (Kartli) state.

Between the ninth and 13th centuries an early feudal state was formed among the ancestors of the Ossets—the Alani. It maintained cultural ties and carried on trade with Georgia, Kievan Rus’, and the Byzantine Empire. Invasions by the Mongol-Tatars, which began in the 1230’s, and Tamerlane, in the late 14th century, forced the Ossets to move to the mountain gorges of the Caucasus, whence they began settling the southern slopes of the mountains. The Ossets initially inhabited the high-mountain region of central Georgia but in the 17th and 18th centuries spread to the foothill and plains area. On the plains they engaged primarily in land cultivation; in the mountains they raised livestock. The formation of the Ossetic nationality continued until the 18th century.

Iuzhnaia Osetiia became part of feudal Georgia, where most of the Ossets lived in the Kartli Kingdom and a smaller number lived in the Imeretian Kingdom. Feudal relations developed in Iuzhnaia Osetiia beginning in the 13th century, but such vestiges of the clan system as mutual assistance among clan members, the blood feud, and exogamy were largely preserved until the early 20th century in the everyday life of the Mountain (Southern) Ossets, who were serfs of the Georgian feudal lords.

In 1801, Iuzhnaia Osetiia voluntarily joined the Russian Empire as part of Georgia. As it entered the mainstream of Russian development, its natural economy became less isolated. Despite the establishment of a colonial regime, inclusion in the Russian Empire was a progressive step: union with Russia, the only way to free Iuzhnaia Osetiia from the domination of Turkish and Iranian feudal lords, fostered socioeconomic development and strengthened the cultural ties of the Southern Ossets with the Russians and other peoples of Russia.

In the first half of the 19th century the colonial policy of Russian tsarism and the oppressive conditions of serfdom provoked armed peasant uprisings in Iuzhnaia Osetiia, the largest of which occurred in 1804, 1810, 1830, 1840, and 1850. Serfdom was abolished in Iuzhnaia Osetiia in 1864, but the peasants continued to perform feudal obligations. At the same time, the peasantry in the countryside became more stratified, and the ranks of the rural proletariat swelled. The Ossets went to work in the industrial centers of the Caucasus and became involved in the class struggle. At the end of the 19th century the liberation movement in Iuzhnaia Osetiia came under the influence of the nationwide working-class struggle. In 1905 peasant revolutionary committees were formed in Iuzhnaia Osetiia; the Red Hundreds—armed peasant detachments organized by revolutionary Social Democrats—fought against the landowners and the tsarist administration.

After the October Revolution of 1917 the Georgian Menshe-viks formed a bourgeois government and wrested Georgia, including Iuzhnaia Osetiia, away from Soviet Russia. In August 1917, the Union of Revolutionary Working Peasants was established in the village of Ortevi; one of the union’s organizers was I. Kharebov. Under its leadership, Ossetic and Georgian peasants rose up against the Mensheviks in March 1918; they took Tskhinvali, but the superior forces of the bourgeois government forced them to retreat.

The Iuzhnaia Osetiia Organizing Bureau of the RCP(B) was formed in the village of Dzhava on July 30, 1918, and by early 1919 local party committees had been set up throughout the region. The District Committee of the ACP(B) was elected on June 12, 1919, at the First (Illegal) Conference of Bolshevik Organizations of Iuzhnaia Osetiia. In October 1919 uprisings against the Mensheviks broke out in several areas. On October 23 the rebels in the Roka area proclaimed the establishment of Soviet power and began advancing toward Tskhinvali, but Men-shevik forces suppressed the uprising. The rebels moved to Se-vernaia Osetiia where, together with the working people of Terek Oblast, they continued their struggle against counterrevolution in the Northern Caucasus.

In late April 1920 the peasants of the Roka region rebelled, and on May 8, Soviet power was restored. A brigade of partisans from Iuzhnaia Osetiia that had been formed in Vladikavkaz came to the peasants’ assistance and fought the Menshevik troops. Soviet power was proclaimed in Iuzhnaia Osetiia on June 8, 1920, but on June 12 the Menshevik forces launched an offensive; they inflicted harsh reprisals on the people, burning and looting the villages. Those who had taken part in the uprising, as well as a large part of the population, crossed through the passes and settled in Severnaia Osetiia. At the order of V. I. Lenin, the Vladikavkaz revolutionary committee allocated land near Vladikavkaz to provide a permanent place of settlement for the refugees.

The Menshevik government in Georgia was overthrown in February 1921, and on Apr. 20, 1922, the Iuzhnaia Osetiia Autonomous Oblast was formed as part of the Georgian SSR. During the prewar five-year plans (1929–40) the economic and cultural backwardness of the region was eliminated, local industry underwent development, and agriculture was collectivized. During the cultural revolution vestiges of the clan system were done away with, and a national working class and intelligentsia formed. The Ossetic people became a socialist nation.

During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 the working people of Iuzhnaia Osetiia showed courage and steadfastness at the front and in the rear. About 5,500 servicemen from Iuzhnaia Osetiia received government awards; eight were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. The oblast continued its economic development from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. By 1977 the oblast had one Hero of Socialist Labor. Iuzhnaia Osetiia was awarded the Order of Lenin in August 1967 for its successes in economic and cultural development; in 1972 it was awarded the Order of Friendship of Peoples to mark the 50th anniversary of the oblast.

Economy. In the years of socialist construction Iuzhnaia Osetiia became an industrial and agricultural region.

INDUSTRY. The volume of industrial output in 1977 was 29 times greater than in 1940 and 3.3 times greater than in 1965. Four hydroelectric plants have been built: Tskhinvali, Kekhvi, Leningori, and Kvaisi. The mining industry was developed. The principal branch of industry is machine building, represented by the Elektrovibromashina and Emal’provod plants, a machine shop and a bus repair enterprise, all in Tskhinvali. The wood-products industry, represented by a timber combine in Tskhinvali, is based on local timber. Reinforced-concrete units and other construction materials are produced. The food-processing industry turns out canned goods, beer, fruit punches, dairy products, and fruit wines, including berry wines; the Dzau-Suar and Bagiata mineral waters are bottled in the oblast. A garment factory is now in operation.

AGRICULTURE. In 1976, 48 percent of the oblast’s territory was agricultural land, primarily summer pasture. In 1977, 22,300 hectares (ha) were under cultivation, and there were 14 kolkhozes and 16 sovkhozes. The principal grain crops are winter wheat, barley, and maize. Vegetables and melons are raised in the lowlands, and potatoes are grown in the higher regions. The cultivation of sugar beets has recently begun. The area occupied by fruit plantings, including berry plantings, and vineyards has increased in the southern part of the oblast; in 1977, 6,400 ha were devoted to the cultivation of fruits, including berries, and 1,100 ha to vineyards. The oblast’s climate makes it necessary to irrigate most cultivated areas, which are served by the Tiriponi, Kekhvi, and Vanati irrigation systems.

Animal husbandry, notably sheep raising, plays a major role in agriculture. In winter, the sheep are herded to graze in pastures in the Northern Caucasus. Cattle and swine are also raised. In 1977 there were 134,000 sheep and goats, 66,000 cattle, and 22,000 swine in the oblast.

TRANSPORTATION. A 33-km spur line from Gori to Tskhinvali connects the oblast’s administrative center to the Transcaucasian Railroad. The main highway, Tskhinvali-Kvaisi-Oni, links the oblast with Tbilisi and the western areas of Georgia.

Public health. As of Jan. 1, 1976, the oblast had 22 hospitals, with a total of 1,400 beds (12.8 beds per 1,000 inhabitants), and 334 physicians (one physician per 385 inhabitants). There is a health resort at Dzhava, seven sanatoriums, and a house of rest. Also in the oblast are the balneological and climatic health areas of Bagiati, Vezura, Lese, Nagutni, and Edisi.

Education, cultural affairs, and scientific institutions. Before the October Revolution of 1917, Iuzhnaia Osetiia had 38 schools, attended by 1,800 students; there were no secondary or higher educational institutions. In the 1977–78 academic year 24,000 students were enrolled in 182 general-education schools of all types, and 238 students attended the oblast’s vocational-technical school. Four specialized secondary educational institutions had a total enrollment of 800, and the pedagogical institute in Tskhinvali had 2,000 students. In 1976 more than 2,000 children attended 16 preschool institutions. The Iuzhnaia Osetiia Scientific Research Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR is located in Tskhinvali. As of Jan. 1, 1977, the oblast had one theater, 166 public libraries, 88 clubs, and 66 stationary motion-picture projection units.

Press, radio, and television. There are two oblast-level newspapers: the Ossetic-language Soveton lryston (Soviet Ossetia; since 1924) and the Georgian-language Sabchota Oseti (Soviet Ossetia; since 1933). The oblast receives Program 1 of Central Television for 12.9 hours daily. All-Union Radio and the republic radio system provide a total of 33 hours of broadcasting daily, and local radio programs are broadcast for 2.2 hours daily.

Architecture and art. Ancient art discovered in Iuzhnaia Osetiia, dating for the most part from the Aeneolithic, includes the ruins of religious structures and the remains of dwellings, as well as metal articles and pottery of the Koban culture.

Medieval architecture tended to follow the architectural styles of Georgia and Abkhazia, although local construction techniques were also developed, as evidenced in the Byzantine churches at Armazi (864), Tigva (1152), and Ikorta (1172) and in the palace in the village of Dzagina (17th century). In the Middle Ages watchtowers, military towers, fortress-residences, burial vaults, and shrines were built in the mountain regions.

Settlements in the high mountains were generally laid out in a terraced pattern; settlements in the mountain and foothill regions were arranged around a few central buildings. In the 18th and 19th centuries the people of Iuzhnaia Osetiia generally lived in two types of dwellings. The first was a stone structure with a flat roof and a terrace. The second was a stone or wooden house with a flat or sloping roof; in the center of the roof was a pyramidal opening to allow light to enter and smoke to escape. A two-story dwelling with a gallery along the facade was also common.

Decorative applied folk art in Iuzhnaia Osetiia was represented by fine embroidery with gold and silver thread and silk and by the production of such articles as metal vessels, ornaments, weapons (finished in black enamel, engraved, or embossed), carved wooden utensils, and furniture. Also notable were elegant drinking horns in silver mounting.

In the late 19th century, K. L. Khetagurov became the founder of Ossetic easel painting and graphic arts.

In Soviet Iuzhnaia Osetiia, Tskhinvali is being modernized in accordance with general plans. Extensive construction has begun of industrial buildings, shops, and housing.

M. S. Tuganov, a painter known primarily for his genre scenes, played an important role in the development of Soviet visual arts in Iuzhnaia Osetiia. Since the 1950’s the arts have moved forward in Iuzhnaia Osetiia. Notable painters include A. I. Gassiev, G. V. Doguzov, V. G. Kozaev, S. V. Minasov, B. I. Sanakoev, D. G. Turmanov, G. S. Kotaev, and I. B. Alborty. Portrait and monumental sculpture is represented by such artists as V. N. Kokoev, V. D. Kelekhsaev, and A. V. Pliev. M. I. Kokoev is known for his monumental paintings, and such artists as T. A. Gagloev, A. G. Zasseev, and R. B. Chochiev have painted memorable stage sets. Prints and book graphics have been produced by such artists as A. D. Vaneev, I. V. Dzheiranashvili, A. M. Sanzherovskaia, and V. G. Tskhovrebov. In decorative applied art, Kh. L. Zaseev, G. P. Mamitov, M. F. Gubaev, and G. V. Nikoleishvili are oustanding.


Theater. The first performances in the Ossetic language were staged by amateur theatrical groups in Tbilisi and Ordzhonikidze in 1904. In 1931 a professional theater was established in Tskhinvali; the company, initially drawn from amateur groups, expanded by taking on last-year students at drama studios in Tbilisi and at higher educational institutions of drama in Moscow and Leningrad. The repertoire and distinctive character of the company was in large part determined by the dramaturgy and theatrical art of Georgia.

In 1939 the theater was named in honor of K. L. Khetagurov; it staged his Dunia in 1939 and a dramatic version of his narrative poem Fatima in 1959. The theater has staged the works of local playwrights, notably Shavlokhov’s The Shepherd’s Farmstead (1940) and Khanzerifa (1949), Gagloev’s Zalina (1956) and Tale of a Mother (1966), Dzhusoita’s Azau and Taimuraz (1956), Tuaev’s Mother of Orphans (1956), and Britaev’s Amran (1971). The theater has also presented Russian and foreign classics and the works of Soviet playwrights.

Among those who have made important contributions to the development of the theater are People’s Artists of the Georgian SSR S. M. Dzhatieva, Z. A. Gagloeva, N. Z. Chochieva, D. I. Mamiev, and I. D. Tskhvirashvili; the directors Z. Chabieva, V. Murguliia, G. Kabisov, and V. Kairov; the artists M. S. Tuganov, Ts. Gazdanov, and T. A. Gagloev; and the composers B. A. Galaev, N. I. Gudiashvili, and D. S. Khakhanov.

In 1935 the theater was joined by a Georgian company, whose performances have included Pliev’s Chermen (1956), Sumbatashvili’s Treason, Kandelaki’s Maiia Tskhneteli, Natroshvili’s Buried Rays, Mrevlishvili’s In the Shade of the Old Oak (1970), and Nakhutsrishvili’s Priosmani (1971).

In 1977 the theater’s Ossetic company included People’s Artists of the Georgian SSR G. Taugazov, B. A. Tskhovrebov, and N. Z. Chabieva; Honored Art Workers of the Georgian SSR L. Galavanova, R. Gassieva, A. Gel’diev, E. Gugkaeva, I. Dzhigkaev, R. Dzagoev, Z. Medoeva, A. Tedeev, R. Gabiev, and K. Chochiev; and Honored Artists of the Severnaia Osetiia ASSR D. Gabaraev and F. Kharebov. The principal stage director of the company is M. K. Madzaev. In 1977 the Georgian company included People’s Artist of the Georgian SSR I. V. Sheraza-dishvili and Honored Artists of the Georgian SSR T. Gasanova, I. Darbuashvili, D. Kokoev, R. Plieva, and E. Taralashvili. The company’s principal stage director is U. Sh. Mindiashvili.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.