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The War Nerd August 19, 2004
 
Ossetia: Great Danes and Great Russians
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 3
 
When this new Georgian president, Saakashvili, took power last year (with a whole lotta help from the CIA and George Soros), he started some intensive dental surgery to make sure none of those loose ethnic teeth fell out. First he went after Adzharia, that loose lower-front tooth. He got lucky there, because Adzharia was ruled by some white-haired nut-case who was more interested in raising fighting dogs than government. They liberated his kennels -- seriously, this fruitloop had about 200 pit bulls and Dogos Argentinos, those all-white monsters -- and voila, Adzharia was back in Georgia again.

Adzharia was pretty easy, because most of the locals saw themselves as ethnically Georgian, only they were nominally Muslim instead of nominally Orthodox Christian as most Georgians are.

Ossetians don't think of themselves as ethnic Georgians. The Ossetians have what you call "a glorious past," and in their case it's true. The Ossetians are nothing but the stay-at-home remains of the Alanii.

If you know your late-Roman and Dark-Ages military history, that made you sit up and grab for your helmet. The Alanii! They really were glorious. The Alanii were horse nomads who raided around the steppes east of the Black Sea. They had a lot of cool nomad war tricks. One I like is that they used Great Danes, who used to be called "Alanii Dogs," to attack enemy horses.

The Alanii kicked ass until they encountered the Roman Empire pushing east. The Romans beat them in 175 AD, and then incorporated them into the Imperial Army. The Romans were smart that way: they didn't take it personally if you put up a good fight. They admired you for it, helped you up and offered you a job somewhere else in the Empire -- somewhere where you didn't have any relatives who'd try to talk you into rebelling.

They sent a unit of Alan cavalry to Britain, where an Alan leader Artoris became sort of a local legend under the English version of his name: Arthur. The Alanii who stayed home soon had a big problem: the Huns, who were moving west all through the fourth century. The Romans were getting weaker; the Huns were unstoppable. One thing you'll notice about Western military history is that we always had a hard time dealing with mounted archers, and the Huns were the best. They could put an arrow through your eye and make their horses dance a waltz at the same time.

The Alanii were good horsemen too, but they used the spear and the sword. Like their friends the Vandals, they couldn't handle those mounted archers. The Alanii did the sensible thing: got the Hell outta Dodge. They may not have had an Interstate, but they made pretty good time: they went all the way West. Some stopped in Gaul, but some kept going into Iberia (Spain) and further into North Africa.

Some Alanii still roamed the steppe till the Mongols came. The Mongols were like the Huns, squared. Same tactics and weapons but much more systematic about wiping out everyone in their path. The Alanii fled into the mountains, and that's how they became the Ossetians.

From then on it was just a matter of who was going to dominate them, the Russians or the Georgians. Most Ossetians preferred the Russians, who were farther away and not so damn interested in them. In this part of the world, the less interested your masters are in you, the better. The Georgians were too close, too bossy, too similar.

When the USSR dissolved in '91, one of those classic border messes developed: North Ossetia was still inside Russia -- the new, smaller Russia, the Russian Federation -- but South Ossetia was officially part of Georgia. Which it didn't want to be.

In 1989, all fizzy with that liberation chatter that was going around back then, South Ossetia declared itself united with North Ossetia. The Georgians, led by the nutcase Gamsakhurdia, begged to differ. In 1991, the Georgian Army made its point about South Ossetia being an integral, beloved part of Georgia the traditional Caucasian way -- by shelling every rebel village in range of its guns. And since these were Soviet artillery, the best guns ever made, the point got through. At least 100,000 South Ossetians fled North, which meant that the entire population of South Ossetia is now only 70,000 people. Backed by the Russians and plenty of North Ossetian first cousins, the South Ossetian irregulars wound up flattening the Georgians and have been free-ish ever since.


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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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