- Ethnic group. An Indo-Iranian group of the Caucasus Mountains, the Ossetians are divided between Russia’s North OssetiyaAlaniya and the Georgian breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Ossetians, or Ossetes, self-declare as Iristi or Irættæ, and descend from the Sarmatian Alans. Their ancestral language is the last surviving member of the northeastern family of Iranian languages, which also include Persian, Pashto, and Kurdish; it employs a Cyrillic orthography. Most Ossetians in the Russian Federation use the Russian language as a lingua franca, while those in South Ossetia use Georgian in their everyday activities. They are predominantly Eastern Orthodox; however, a significant number are Muslims, especially among the Digor subgroup. In total, they number 725,000, of which more than a half-million reside in the Russian Federation. The Ossetians, who were favored by tsarist as well as Communist authorities, benefited from World War II–era deportations of their Muslim neighbors; subsequent historical disputes with the Ingush have triggered ethnic violence since 1991. Attempts by authorities in North Ossetiya and South Ossetia to unify have been a major source of friction between Moscow and Tbilisi.See also Chechnya; Iran; South Ossetian war.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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