First Ethnic Ossetian Refugees from Syria Arrive in North Ossetia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 65

Refugees from Syria in North Ossetia (Source: Caucasian Knot)

Since the beginning of this year, Syrian Ossetians have been arriving in North Ossetia. Six refugees arrived in the republic at the end of January, and 12 more followed in February. The Ossetians from Syria arrived in the North Caucasus at the invitation of the non-governmental organization the High Council of Ossetians, which is closely affiliated with the North Ossetian government. “Sixty-two invitations have been issued [for repatriates from Syria]. Eighteen people have arrived,” North Ossetia’s Minister for National Affairs Soslan Fraev told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website. “Twelve of them have been accommodated at the center for foreign nationals in the village of Arkhonskaya. Six were accommodated by their relatives in the city of Beslan. The head of North Ossetia, Taimuraz Mamsurov, reportedly allotted extra funds to help the Syrian Ossetians adapt to the new environment. The refugees are taken on excursions throughout the republic to familiarize them with the region and are undergoing medical checkups (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/222028/).

Ethnic Ossetians ended up in Syria under circumstances similar to the Circassians, although on a much smaller scale. Following the conquest of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the 19th century, the Russian government encouraged the outflow of Muslim population from the region and the inflow of Christians. Since part of the population of North Ossetia was Muslim, some ethnic Ossetians were convinced to leave their homeland after the establishment of Russian rule in the North Caucasus. In the 1860s, the distinguished Russian general of Ossetian origin, Musa Kundukhov, led a large group of ethnic Ossetians, Ingush and Chechens to the Ottoman Empire, and they were resettled in various areas, including what is today Syria. Kundukhov himself became a general and military commander in the Ottoman army and even participated in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877–1878 on the Turkish side. But the general retained links to the Tsarist government and apparently had a complex relationship with it. Reportedly, Kundukhov continued to supply the Russian government with strategic information about the Turkish side, while at the same time rejecting the Russian plan to form a Russia-sponsored buffer state made up of Caucasians on the border with Afghanistan. Also two of Musa Kundukhov’s brothers joined Imam Shamil’s fight against the Russian armies (http://archivesjournal.ru/?p=844).

The Syrian Ossetians who recently arrived in North Ossetia told Kavkazsky Uzel that they had decided to leave Syria one and a half years ago, but due to various obstacles, they could only emigrate now. Like many other refugees from Syria, Ossetian refugees fled the country fearing for their lives and the lives of their relatives. “The Arabs fight each other, the country is destroyed and under these conditions we become the most defenseless part of the population,” 68-year-old Munir Albegov, a refugee from Syria, told an Ossetian blogger. “Both sides in the fighting tell us directly – ‘who are you here, foreigners?’ People fear for their lives, lawlessness is rampant. Everything that we worked for was looted. Lately, kidnappings have occurred, and the kidnappers ask for ransoms in money or arms.” There has been a substantial response from North Ossetians to the plight of Syrian Ossetians, with people donating funds and household items to the new arrivals. Thirty more refugees are reportedly preparing their paperwork for emigration to the Russian North Caucasus (http://region15.ru/blogs/salbiev/2013/02/20/radosti-zhizni/). In the summer of 2012, Syrian Ossetian activists appealed to the North Ossetian government to assist the repatriation of the Ossetians. According to Khisham Albegov, an Ossetian Syrian activist who resides in Turkey, there were about 700 ethnic Ossetians in Syria and 100–150 of them were prepared to leave the country. During the past year, the number of people wanting to leave Syria has probably increased (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/210571/).

The repatriation of ethnic Ossetians from Syria to North Ossetia is forcing the North Ossetian public to rediscover lesser known parts of its past and also raises questions about its present. Some North Ossetians were opposed to the repatriation of Syrian Ossetians because of their religion. Muslims are a minority in North Ossetia and among ethnic Ossetians in general. Under communist rule, the differences between ethnic Ossetians over religious issues did not cause much friction, but with people having rediscovered their origins, Ossetians today are much more cognizant of their religious affiliations.

The repatriation of the Syrian Circassians to the Circassian republics of the North Caucasus, and now to North Ossetia, creates a whole layer of Syrian North Caucasians whose interaction will connect these republics. The emigration of ethnic Ossetians from Syria to Russia shows that the process is not limited to Circassians. All the North Caucasian republics are likely to lobby Moscow and receive a tentative nod to accept some refugees from Syria. So more people will likely arrive from Syria to the North Caucasus, both as a result of the continuing civil war there and the greater exposure of the North Caucasus to the outside world. Whether Moscow wanted it or not, the North Caucasus is gradually becoming a place more open to the world and a part of the Greater Middle East.