North Ossetiya-Alaniya

   An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. Incorporated into the Romanov Empire during the early 19th century, the region constituted a portion of the Mountain Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) during the early Soviet period. It became an ASSR of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1936; North Ossetiya declared its sovereignty in mid-1990, the first ethnic republic to do so.
   The titular majority of the republic are Ossetians, an Iranianspeaking, predominantly Orthodox people who also reside in South Ossetia (although a significant Muslim minority exists). Joseph Stalin saw fit to expand the republic in the wake of the deportation of the neighboring Ingush in 1944, planting the seeds for continuing ethnic conflict and territorial disputes between the peoples of the two republics; from 1991 to 1992, open conflict between the two communities raged and Boris Yeltsin was forced to send in federal troops to quell the violence. In 1994, Alaniya—the medieval place-name of Ossetia—was added to the republic’s name, and has gained popular use among the Ossetians.
   North Ossetiya covers 8,000 square kilometers of heavily forested and mostly mountainous territory, making it one of the smallest administrative regions in the country. The republic borders KabardinoBalkariya, Chechnya, Ingushetiya, and Stavropol Krai, and shares an international border with Georgia. It is part of the Southern Federal District and the North Caucasus Economic Region. It has a population of slightly more than 700,000 inhabitants, 63 percent of whom are ethnic Ossetians; ethnic Russians comprise a quarter of the population, followed by Ingush, Armenians, and Ukrainians. The regional capital is Vladikavkaz (pop. 315,000), one of the most populous cities in the North Caucasus.
   North Ossetiya has suffered intensely from the regional instability caused by the Chechen Wars. Since 1999, Vladikavkaz has been a regular target of bomb attacks, and in 2008, two successive mayors were gunned down by unknown assailants. The most dramatic development, however, was the September 2004 hostage taking at School Number One in Beslan perpetrated by militants under the direction of Shamil Basayev. The ensuing gun battle resulted in the deaths of more than 300, including 186 children. Developments in Georgia have also impacted the republic. Conflict between the separatist South Ossetians and Tbilisi in 1990–1992 and 2008 has resulted in massive flows of refugees into North Ossetiya’s Prigorodny raion; the first influx triggered the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1991–1992. Unlike much of the rest of the North Caucasus, North Ossetiya is mostly urbanized, and benefited from industrial development during the Soviet era; the republic’s economy is strong when compared to its neighbors in the region. The region is rich in natural resources, including lead, silver, zinc, and untapped fossil fuels. Major industries include radio electronics, hydroelectrical power, metallurgy, alcohol manufacture, and light industry. Despite concerns about terrorism, the region is also a tourist destination and is developing its skiing infrastructure; half of the republic is covered by the Alaniya National Park and other national preserves.
   The republic is a bastion of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and elected Aleksandr Dzasokhov, a former Politburo member, as president in 1998. His relations with Ingushetiya’s president, Ruslan Aushev, which began as friendly, grew strained over the disputed Prigorodny raion. After completing a second term, Dzasokhov was replaced by the Putin loyalist Taymuraz Mamsurov in 2005. Mamsurov is a native of Beslan, and his son and daughter were both taken hostage during the crisis. Since taking office, he has raised the geopolitical temperature in the region by speaking of the “integral” nature of the two Ossetiyas and warning of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conspiracies to incorporate North Ossetiya to Georgia.
   See also Islamism.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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