Military Wiki
Georgian-Ossetian conflict (1918–1920)
Part of Russian Civil War
LocationSouth Ossetia, northeast Georgia
Result Georgian military victory
Area was later Sovietized
Ossetian rebels
 Russian SFSR
Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic
Democratic Republic of Georgia
Commanders and leaders
Kosta Kaziev Valiko Jugheli
Casualties and losses
4,812-5,279 dead,
unknown wounded

The Georgian–Ossetian conflict (1918–1920) comprised a series of uprisings, which took place in the Ossetian-inhabited areas of what is now South Ossetia, a breakaway republic in Georgia, against the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic and then the Menshevik-dominated Democratic Republic of Georgia which claimed several thousand lives and left painful memories among the Georgian and Ossetian communities of the region.

During its brief tenure, the Menshevik government of Georgia came across significant problems with ethnic Ossetians who largely sympathized with the Bolsheviks and Soviet Russia. The reasons behind the conflict were complicated. An overdue land reform and agrarian disturbances in the poor Ossetian-populated areas intermingled with an ethnic discord and the struggle for power in the Caucasus.


After the 1917 February Revolution that resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the Ossetians set up a National Council of Ossetians which convened in Java in June 1917 and advocated the creation of organs of self-rule in Ossetian-inhabited areas on the both sides of the Caucasus. The Council was internally divided along the ideological lines and soon became dominated by the Bolsheviks who called for the unification of North and South Ossetias and the incorporation of South Ossetia into Soviet Russia.

Already in February 1918, there were numerous outbreaks of disobedience among the Ossetian peasants who refused to pay taxes to the Tiflis-based Transcaucasus government. On March 15, 1918, the Ossetian peasants rose in rebellion and managed to hold off an offensive by a Georgian People’s Guard punitive detachment commanded by an ethnic Ossetian officer, Kosta Kaziev. The fighting culminated in the town of Tskhinvali which was occupied by the rebels on March 19, 1918. [1] The Georgian People’s Guard regained the control of Tskhinvali on March 22. The uprising was finally suppressed and harsh repressive measures established in the region, generating resentment against the Mensheviks, being now equated, in the eyes of the Ossetians, with Georgians.[2] This also opened the way for strong pro-Bolshevik sentiments among the Ossetians.

Valiko Jugeli spoke about the Ossetians saying, "Our worst and most relentless enemies" and, "These traitors should be cruelly punished. There is no other way."[3]


In October 1919, revolts against the Mensheviks broke out again in several areas. On October 23, rebels in the Roki area proclaimed the establishment of Soviet power and began advancing toward Tskhinvali, but suffered defeat and retreated in the Soviet-controlled Terek district.

The year 1919 also saw a series of fruitless discussions concerning the status and governance of the region. Ossetians demanded a degree of autonomy comparable with the one granted to the Abkhazians and Muslim Georgians in Adjara. However, no final decision was made, and the Georgian government outlawed the National Council of South Ossetia, a Bolshevik-dominated body, and refused any grant of autonomy. Bolsheviks fully exploited the tensions and the Menshevik mistakes to further strengthen their influence among the Ossetians.[4]


In 1920, a much larger Ossetian uprising took place, which was supported by the regional committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (RCP (b)), which had gathered a military force in Vladikavkaz, the capital of modern-day Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, Russian Federation. Despite assurance of respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity in the Treaty of Moscow of May 7, 1920, Soviet Russia demanded Georgia call back its troops from Ossetia.[5] On May 8, the Ossetians declared a Soviet republic in the Roki area on the Russian-Georgian border. A Bolshevik force from Vladikavkaz crossed into Georgia and helped the local rebels to defeat a Georgian force in the Java district. The rebellious areas were effectively incorporated into Soviet Russia. However, Lenin’s desire to keep peace with Georgia at that time and eventual military failures of the rebels forced the Bolsheviks to distance themselves from the Ossetian struggle. The Georgian People’s Guard under Valiko Jugheli crushed the revolt with great violence, defeating the insurgents in a series of hard-fought battles. Several villages were burned down and some 3,000 to 7,000 were killed during the hostilities.[4] About 20,000 Ossetians were forced to seek refuge in Soviet Russia.


In February 1921, many Ossetians joined the advancing Red Army which brought Georgia’s independence to an end. In April 1922, newly established Soviet Georgian government rewarded the Ossetian service with the establishment of the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast which included not only Ossetian and mixed Georgian-Ossetian, but also purely Georgian villages and had Tskhinvali, where the Ossetians were in minority at that time,[6] as its capital. However, an area populated by the Ossetians equal to what became the Ossetian Autonomous Oblast was left out inside Georgia. These included great pockets of Ossetian ethnic territories south of Gori and along the spine of Mount Caucasus, east of South Ossetia to the borders of Azerbaijan


Despite this bloody conflict and painful memories left by it,[7] the relations between Georgians and Ossetians remained peaceful throughout the Soviet period in contrast to Georgia’s other ethnic troublespot, Abkhazia, where ethnic discord was much more profound and potentially inflammable.

With the rising of ethnic tensions in South Ossetia in the late 1980s, the 1918–1920 thematic surfaced again, with conflicting narratives and interpretations of the conflict. The South Ossetians consider those events as part of their struggle for self-determination and claim that the Georgian reaction to the uprisings was genocide. According to their version, 387 men, 172 women, and 110 children were killed in action or massacred; 1206 men, 1203 women, and 1732 children died during flight. The total fatalities amounted to 4812 or 5279 by another source, i.e., 6-8% of the region’s total Ossetian population. The depopulated Ossetian villages were allegedly occupied by their Georgian neighbors from the Dusheti and K'azbegi districts.[8] On September 20, 1990, People's Deputies' Council of South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast characterized conflict as Ossetian Genocide by the Democratic Republic of Georgia. Similar resolutions have been made by North Ossetia and some other republics of Russia’s Northern Caucasus.[9] On 2 November 2006, the People's Assembly of Abkhazia unanimously passed a resolution recognising the Georgian actions of 1918—1920 and 1989—1992 as a genocide under the 1948 convention.[10] Georgians deny the accusations and consider the figures exaggerated. While not denying the brutality of the fighting,[11] they view the conflict as the first attempt by Russia to destabilize Georgia by encouraging South Ossetia to secede and explain the severity of Georgian reaction by the Ossetian pillage of Tskhinvali and the Bolsheviks’ role in the events.[12]


  1. Республика Южная Осетия, Д.В. ЗАЯЦ, журнал "География"
  2. Cornell, p. 141.
  3. Waal, Thomas De. The Caucasus: An Introduction. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lang, p. 228.
  5. Cornell, p. 188
  6. Cornell, p. 144
  7. The events were described by a number of authors, eyewitnesses and participants of the conflicts. Among them are the Ossetian writers, Arsen Kotsoyev and Tsomak Gadiev, as well as the Georgian Bolshevik Filipp Makharadze, the Menshevik Valiko Jugheli and several Georgian political émigrés to Europe.
  8. After the Sovietization of Georgia, however, many Ossetian refugees returned to their homes. The rest refugees mingled with the North Ossetian population. The Soviet authorities also pursued an active urbanization policy which helped to make Tskhinvali a largely Ossetian town. Cornell, p. 145.
  9. (Russian) Парламент Южной Осетии дал политическую оценку событий 1918–1920 годов.
  10. "Абхазия признала "грузинский геноцид" в отношении осетин". 2 November 2006. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  11. Georgia: Academics, Politicians Counter Putin's Ossetia Claims, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 30, 2006. Retrieved on November 17, 2006.
  12. The Georgian - South Ossetian Conflict, chapter 4, Danish Association for Research on the Caucasus. Retrieved on November 17, 2006.


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