Playing “unpredictable past” for the sake of dubious future: response to Chochiyev from the overseas (Georgia-South Ossetia) Print E-mail
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Saturday, 21 March 2009 23:23

Earlier REGNUM published South Ossetian Vice Premier Boris Chochiyev’s lecture in Georgia’s history. Some of his theses have received lively response from whoever interested in the subject. Since Chochiyev’s Georgian colleagues try to avoid discoursing on history and say that politicians and state officials should act on the basis of the present-day national and international law rather than some historical interpretations, REGNUM has asked to comment on the subject the professor of history and political science, expert on the Caucasus Andrew Andersen from the Center for Military-Strategic Studies of the University of Calgary.

“Dad always said: ‘First of all, destroy the archives!’” Schwartz, “To Kill the Dragon”

Some time ago Eduard Kokoity, leader of the self-proclaimed “Republic of South Ossetia” – a tiny part of the Georgian region of Shida Kartli, presently controlled by an illegal “South Ossetian army,” with the support of Russian “peacekeepers” – stated that he would seek the incorporation of that area into the Russian Federation. Kokoity’s initiative is based on some mysterious “historical document on the accession of united Ossetia into the Russian Empire in 1774.”

No surprise that in response to this statement by the “leader” of an unrecognized “republic,” Georgian Deputy State Minister for Conflict Settlement Georgy Volsky reminded everybody whom Kokoity’s statement may concern that there was neither mythical “united Ossetia” nor any other Ossetia within the borders of Georgia in 1774. This statement by Volsky must have caused a storm of anger among Kokoity’s backers both in Georgia and Russia. Particularly, “Vice Premier of South Ossetia” Boris Chochiyev has made a quite remarkable response, given by REGNUM under the title “Vice Premier of South Ossetia Carries out Literacy Campaign in Homeland History.”

Literacy campaign (“likbez” – a Soviet term of the 20 of XX that means “liquidation of illiteracy”) is certainly a good thing, especially if an illiterate person is educated by a literate guru. Alas, nowadays there are quite a few historically illiterate people in the world. The key reason is that in mid XX some countries began cutting or even removing history from their school curricula. The authors of this measure considered the history to be too far from reality to be given so much time and money.

Especially “lucky” were Georgia and the other peoples of the USSR: their history was simply erased from school programs in the West. It was believed in the West that those peoples would never get out from under Russia’s wing, and, since they had no future as nations, their past was not worth mentioning. While in the Soviet Union there was a strong belief that the knowledge of national histories of the Soviet republics would be a threat to the integrity of “the unbreakable Union.” As a result, we have got several generations of historically semi-literate or even absolutely illiterate politicians, journalists and ordinary citizens. In the last decades, this almost total ignorance of the real past has given rise to lots of authors that are creating a completely new virtual past. The past has become “unpredictable.”

But in this particular case, we cannot say that Mr. Volsky is historically illiterate — for all he says is true. Like it or not, but in 1774 there was no “united Ossetia,” Mr. Kokoity and other expansionist campaigners keep talking about; nor was there any Ossetia as such. Of course, people speaking various Ossetian dialects lived on both slopes of the Big Caucasian Range, but most of the Ossetians inhabiting the territory of the present-day Republic of North Ossetia-Alania (historical regions of Alagiria, Kurtatia and Tagauria and most of Digoria) were ruled by Kabardian feudal lords, and their lands were, respectively, part of Kabardia, which, in its turn, was formally subordinate to the Crimean khans – vassals of the Ottoman Empire. The territory of the present-day self-proclaimed “Republic of South Ossetia” and the historical area of Tualia-Dvaleti (Tualia is now in North Ossetia-Alania) was part of the eastern Georgian Kartli-Kakheti kingdom and, by no means, separate from Shida Kartli.

In fact, they have never been separate from Eastern Georgia. This fact is proved by all serious historians of the past and is not argued by anybody, except for some new “historians” of the last years, who, nevertheless, have no proofs of their “revolutionary” views (though political adventurers hardly need their proofs).

So what exactly joined the Russian Empire in 1774 and on what documentary basis? The answers can be found in the archives of the Russian-Turkish war of 1768-1774, which ended in Kucuk-Kaynarca, a peace treaty concluded by Russia and Turkey in the village of Kucuk-Kaynarca July 10 (21) to mark Russia’s victory in the war. The treaty drew Russia’s border in the Northern Caucasus along the river Kuban, proclaimed the Crimean Khanate to be independent from the Ottoman Empire and gave Russia several sectors of Black Sea coast with the fortresses of Kerch, Yenikale and Kinburn. Russia retained its rule in Big and Smaller Kabardia, got the right to freely sail its ships in the Black Sea and through the Black Sea straits. The principalities of Moldavia and Walachia got autonomy under Russia’s protectorate.

That is all, the treaty says nothing about Ossetia – either united or separated. It mentions Big and Small Kabardia, which, as was already said, included part of lands populated by Ossetians. Hence, we don’t need to give a literacy lecture to Mr. Volsky. What we need is just to try to understand what historical lesson Boris Chochiyev tries to give to his Georgian opponent? Looking into Chochiyev’s biography on his official web-site, one can only wonder where and when he has acquired so thorough a knowledge of the history of Georgia and the Ossetian people. “The vice premier” of tiny unrecognized “power” started his career as a worker and the secretary of a district committee, then of a regional committee of Komsomol (Young Communists League of the USSR). He simultaneously studied natural sciences in the Biology Department of the South Ossetian State Pedagogical Institute. Then, till the collapse of the Soviet Union, he worked in the staff of the South Ossetian regional committee of the Communist Party. None of the above activities required the knowledge of history, especially, of Georgian history. And he was probably busy enough to have time for acquiring it. But… who knows. Let’s assume Mr. Chochiyev found time for studying history and learned it so well that can now teach the others. So, what kind of lesson does he have for us?

Mr. Chochiyev begins his lecture by quoting S. Robakidze, the author of the Georgian Geography text-book of 1917, who says that “Ossetia is not actually a part of Georgia.” Alas, the question “what is actually a part of what” is too philosophical for today’s practical problems. Besides, it’s hard to appropriately assess an out-of-context excerpt from a century-old provincial school text-book. However, if we look into the fundamental works in Georgian history by Allen, Lang or even Ioseliani, or just glance at the administrative maps of Georgia before and after its joining Russia in 1801, we’ll see no “South Ossetia” outside Georgia. In fact, the state border of Georgia in 1801 and the administrative border of Tiflis province later were almost exactly the same as the borders of independent Georgia after 1918 and the Georgian SSR after 1921. Also there is the present-day officially recognized state border of Georgia. Some insignificant shifts were made only in Dvaleti-Tualia, the bigger part of which was later given to Terek region and later to Gorsky and North-Ossetian ASSR. But Georgia doesn’t claim those territories. Well understanding that the past scientific works and geographical maps are a big obstacle for those who would like to fabricate a new past by rewriting history, we should assert that even if those works and maps are destroyed all over Russia, they will be preserved in other corners of the world…

Then Mr. Chochiyev suggests one of the old hypotheses of where the Georgians are from, which says that their ancestors came to the South Caucasus from Mesopotamia. Well, this hypothesis may have a right to exist and may be as true as the one saying that Baltic-German-Slavonic peoples have come from India. But even if true, that was very log ago and can now be nothing else but just an exercise for a scientist. Also amusing is Chochiyev’s quoting some daily of 1917 that Alans gave the Georgians (then new-comers from the Middle East) both culture and military skills. It’s amusing because even if Georgians were actually migrants at some prehistoric times, it’s very unprofessional to say there were “Alans” at the described period. The hypothetical ancestors of Ossetians of those times were Scythians and Sarmatians, but, in no way, Alans (the descendants of the Scythians who appeared in the area much later).

At those times Scythian-Sarmatian tribes (and it’s still unknown where they came in the first place) controlled not only the Northern Caucasus but also a big part of modern Southern Russia and the whole of Ukraine. Maybe in that why the Ukraine should also be incorporated into Ossetia? At least, the regions that recently supported Yanukovich? In any case, having migrated to the South Caucasus, together with other peoples, Scythians never controlled any territories south of the Big Caucasian Range. Migration was a usual thing in the world history, but presence of some tribes in some areas did not always mean their dominance over the areas in question. In any case, the ancient Georgian states of Colchis and Iberia were recorded as existing in the South Caucasus by ancient Roman historians, who gave their precise borders and also mentioned other Kartveli tribes related to the ancestors of Georgians living in the territories outside those two Georgian states. However, none of them mention any Scythian states in the territory of the present-day “Republic of South Ossetia,” which was then a part of Iberia, except for some tiny parts in Cholchis.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chochiyev continues edifying the readers, reminding them of the role of Ossetians (then already Alans or, how Georgians called them, Osses) in the later history of Georgia – from the early middle age to late XVIII. Let’s not go deep into the biographies of the Georgian military leaders and warriors mentioned by Chochiyev, heroes who helped Georgia to become a domineering Eastern Mediterranean power from early XII till the disastrous Mongol-Tartar invasion, and to survive in the later tragic periods of its history, when its state and very existence hung by a thread.

It is incorrect to speculate on the ethnic origin of some national heroes of Georgia (and of any other country likewise), while to say that all 300 Aragvians were Ossetians is also ridiculous. Obviously, there were many Ossetians among the heroes of Georgia – no surprise as many Ossetians who moved to the southern slopes of the Caucasian Mountains historically got integrated into the Georgian state. But there were also Kurds, Arabs, Polovians, Tartars, Italians and even Scandinavians. So does this mean that if there were Vikings in the troops of Tamara the Great, now Sweden can claim some parts of the Georgian territory? Hardly so.

If we go back to the speech the “father-reviver” of Poland, Marshal Pilsudski made in 1920. Remembering the past battles of his people, where fighting were Germans, Jews, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Tartars, Armenians and people of other nationalities, Pilsudski said that all they were sons of Poland, who owes them its existence. Cannot this same phrase be referred to the multi-tribal sons of Georgia, including Ossetians, for whom they fought and gave their lives? But we should be indulgent to Mr. Chochiyev: it’s not his fault that the training programs for Komsomol and Communist functionaries did not include speeches by Pilsudski and other enemies of the Soviet regime.

One more interesting fact: the history says that the fore-fathers of the present-day Ossetians, living to the south of the Big Caucasian Range (in Georgia), sent their sons and daughters to Georgia for serving, protecting and strengthening that country. Why then are the great-grand children of those heroes of Georgia so eager now to shatter the self-same Georgia? We are not blind advocates of mountainous adats (customs), but we know that the Caucasian nations (including Ossetians) have a custom to respect their old people, especially ancestors. So, the present behavior of some Ossetian adventurers can’t but puzzle us.

Then Chochiyev makes one more strange historical statement: "In the time of hardship Georgia voluntarily joined Russia. The accession into the Soviet Union was also the will of ordinary people, though presently some latter-day “patriots” claim it was “an annexation.” No, Mr. Chochiyev really needs to learn the history of his own homeland. If he did that earlier he would know that the Russian Empire grossly violated the terms of the Georgievsky Treaty by first letting Iran to tear Eastern Georgia to pieces and then annexing the torn out kingdom ruled by a sick king; that the small western-Georgian principalities showed strong resistance to the empire; that there were popular revolts and exiles to Siberia; and, finally, that the Soviet Russia attacked the Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1921 immediately after signing a peace treaty with it, and that the Georgian troops stood up in a desperate effort to stop the invading armies of Bolshevist Russia and Kemalist Turkey. And until he learns that, it will be hard for him to teach the others.

Between his excursions into an alternative virtual past, the “South Ossetian minister” flings out remarks that are even more perplexing than just rewriting history. For example: “That’s what Georgian bright spirits say, Dear Mr. Volsky, and they – Georgians – knew their history better than you and me – non-Georgians – do, they loved Georgia more than we do”. Such words make one doubt if the works in Georgian history by Lang and Allen were worth studying at all? Both were Englishmen, so, according to Chochiyev, they knew Georgian history much worse than any cabman from Tbilisi or a khinkali-maker from Gori do, of course, on condition that those cabman and khinkali-maker are Georgians to the seventh generation. Quite a new approach to the study of history!

Or the conclusion: “And the sun rose for Georgia from the ‘north’ (but not under Shevardnadze), the people breathed again, straightened itself, threw off its rags, put on the cap.” This passage is really a hard nut to crack. What cap is he talking about? Perhaps, the “aerodrome” type caps, people in the Caucasus began to wear in the early 20s of XX, following the English fashion? But what do they have to do with 1801? Or is it some philosophical metaphor we ordinary people can’t perceive? And why does Mr. Chochiyev think that the Georgians wore rags, which they later threw off — to remained stark naked but “in a cap”? What cosmic cataclysm is he talking about when our long-suffering planet changed its orbit? No… this is from some parallel universes, we, unlike some apologies for historians, are hardly competent in.

In the end of his apocrypha Mr. Chochiyev speaks about the very recent history of Georgia. But the very recent past according to him, is also alternative and unpredictable. Remembering the Georgian enlighteners of the past, Chochiyev says that “they could not even imagine a time when their homeland would try to conquer other’s land and take away other’s liberty.” We can only wonder: who is present-day Georgia trying to conquer? Whose liberty is it taking away? In any case, this is certainly happening somewhere in parallel worlds – for starting from 1989 Georgia was plunged into several wars, including a civil war, but none of them went outside the country.

Then comes a passage about Georgia of the last decade of XX: “Having lost everything human, Georgia took up arms against historically loyal Ossetians, under the Fascist slogan ‘Georgia for Georgians!’ But what for? Georgians and Ossetians have always been in close relationship – before 1989 their bio-ethnic (mixed) marriage rate was as high as 30%.” Let’s drop the phrase “everything human” – “human” is a very relative concept, and if we apply it to the Georgia of the times of anarchy, invasions and civil war (that’s exactly what was happening with the country in 1989-1993), we’ll have to compare Georgia with some other neighboring countries, and this comparison will hardly be to their advantage. While the slogan “Georgia for Georgians!”, so frequently mentioned by hysterical anti-Georgian media, is not official or pan-national. Even during the above-mentioned hard times this slogan could be voiced by just small groups of fanatics or, more likely, provocateurs, like the slogan “Russia for Russians!” is now being quite frequently voiced in Russia — the selfsame Russia the leaders of “South Ossetia” are so eager to join, together with a strategically important piece of the Georgian territory. Still Chochiyev is absolutely right when he says that Ossetians and Georgians are historically relative to each other or that they are historically loyal to each other, but he forgets that it was exactly the leaders of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region (formed by the Bolsheviks in the occupied Georgia in 1921 from parts of Gori and Dusheti districts of the Tiflis province as well as even smaller segments of Racha and Shorapani districts of the Kutais province ) who first broke their historical loyalty and illegally “raised the status of autonomy” and later broke away from Georgia at all.

It is natural that this and many other provocations effectively reverberated in the atmosphere of high strung nerves, zero political culture and presence of provocateurs among Georgians and led to a bloodshed. Georgia tried to preserve its territorial integrity as any other state would do at any time, but it chose wrong methods and its executives were often unprepared or simply malevolent people.

But Chochiyev is probably not satisfied with the past tears, blood and grief of both the Georgian and Ossetian peoples. In his statement he directly incites Georgia to provoke a conflict with neighboring Turkey. He says: “…They better present a bill to Turkey for its 300-year rule in Ajaria and claim back the territories belonging to Georgia in the times of Queen Tamara.” We would very much like to say it’s not a provocation, but, hard as we may try, we can’t say it isn’t. Also provocative is the phrase about something absolutely atypical of the present leadership of Georgia: “Now, trying to show to the world community that they are the only principal nation in the territory of the former Georgian SSR, the Georgians say that all the other residents of this multinational land are guests, ‘aliens’ (but from what planet?!). Either they did badly at school, or they are showing symptoms of infantile marasmus, and the transatlantic air has stupefied them so much that they have forgotten everything they learned at school.”

Who are those mysterious “they,” in what oral or written statements did the Georgian authorities express such strange ideas? And what is “infantile marasmus” after all? We haven’t heard anything of “infants suffering from marasmus.” But … let’s assume that it’s not a lie but again an allusion to some other parallel reality. Simply my concern is that those who see that parallel reality are the leaders of the unrecognized “Republic of South Ossetia.” In most regions of the world people seeing parallel worlds are, as a rule, removed from power and are placed under the care of experienced doctors.

In the end of his statement Boris Chochiyev remembers the losses the Ossetian people sustained in the conflict unleashed by external and internal provocateurs in the territory of Shida Kartli and asks us a whole number of rhetorical questions: Who will answer for all that? Who will make them answer? Where does xenophobia start? Why should national consciousness be based on hatred for another nation?

The questions are serious, but their answers are known:

1. Unfortunately, it is always the peoples who have to pay for the political gambling of their leaders. The Georgian and Ossetian peoples have already paid a lot. They have had enough, haven’t they?

2. There is the International Hague Tribunal, but also courts that can make responsible those guilty.

3. Any explanatory dictionary will explain what xenophobia means, but this term is not applicable to the conflict in Shida Kartli: none of its victims have been or are “xenos-aliens” – they are all sons and daughters of their long-suffering Georgia.

4. National consciousness should not be based on hatred for another nation and the “fathers” of the Ossetian people should also remember that.

We would like to believe that the Ossetian and other nations of Georgia and the Caucasus, as a whole, will settle their problems and will not yield to new provocations that might question their future and the future of their descendants for the sake of specific and alien interest-groups.


REGNUM News Agency

14:30 04/15/2006