Friday, August 08, 2008

Ossetians: Their Language and Identity

Ambrose Bierce said that war is God's way of teaching Americans geography. It can also teach ethnolinguistics. As Georgia attacked the Ossetians and Russian peacekeepers,1 I looked for background information and found out that the Ossetians speak an Iranian language, divided into two dialects Iron and Digor. Here's a paper that includes a long section on a fascinating history of construction of the Ossetian identity: Victor Shnirelman, "The Politics of a Name: Between Consolidation and Separation in the Northern Caucasus," Acta Slavica Iaponica, Tomus 23, pp. 37-73.

1 Predictably, the United States and Europe sided with Georgia at the UN Security Council today, at the cost of preventing an immediate ceasefire:
The U.N. Security Council failed on Friday to reach an agreement on a Russian-drafted statement that would have called on Georgia and separatists in its South Ossetia region to immediately halt all bloodshed.

The 15 Security Council members began meeting late on Thursday and remained behind closed doors for two hours until early Friday morning to discuss the three-sentence statement.

But council diplomats said one phrase in it was unacceptable to the Georgians, backed by the United States and Europeans. That wording called on all sides in the conflict "to renounce the use of force," according to a draft of the text.

After failing to agree, the council decided not to take any action on the issue, the diplomats said. (Louis Charbonneau, "UN Council Split on South Ossetia, Russia Angry," Reuters, 8 August 2008)
Georgia is an important energy transit state, whose two major pipelines, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, are "particularly valued by the European Union because they reduce dependency on Russian supplies and do not cross Russian territory" ("Georgia's Importance as an Energy Transit State," Reuters, 8 August 2008).

1 comment:

maja said...

They used to teach Ossetian in Hamburg, Germany, along with a large number of other Iranian languages: Kurdish, Pashto, Avestan etc. Of course, after the death of the instructor in the late 1990s and the introduction of tuition and “elite universities” in Germany, no-one needs that stuff. Long live the free market and its endless (im)possibilities! Anyway, there is a sample text of Ossetian in Kenneth Katzner's Languages of the World, p. 122, which can be checked through google books as well.