18 August 2008

Iristun, an Olympic celebration

It would appear that the word “Iristun” does not occur in the English speaking World Wide Web, so Piri’ Miri Muli’ is honored to welcome the concept of the Nation of Iristun to the web and declare it the undisputed victor of the Olympiad, a victory that came at a striking cost to human lives and infrastructure.

“The Ossetians call their land Iristun, which is divided by the Caucasus into North Ossetia, an autonomous republic in the Russian Federation with Vladikavkaz as capital, and South Ossetia, with its capital of Tskhinvali. Ossetian plans for the unification of the two regions now appear to be given up as impractical.” (Lonely Planet Georgia, 1st Edition. Pictured: Mikhail Lermontov's Tiflis)

As I've suggested, if the events of this month bring the Ossetians closer to the Nation of Iristun, it has come at a human cost – Moscow puts the death toll resulting from Georgian bombing of the capital at at least 1,600, with over 30,000 fleeing north from the combat zone. Georgian president Saakashvili claims that the region had been evacuated by Russia, he was returning fire, and no civilian sites were targeted, but global media reports cite the total destruction of the city’s civilian buildings and eyewitness reports of mass graves after the bombings.

Both the mainstream Western media and the suspicious blogosphere has begun the process of summarizing “the true meaning of the Ossetian war,” making a wide range of assertions about new Cold Wars, old Cold Wars, American motives, and Russian motives. Today’s New York Times: “It’s.. the story of how both Democrats and Republicans have misread Russia’s determination to dominate its traditional sphere of influence” ‘that’s the way they all became the Putin Lunch.’ These assertions, be they pro-Georgian propaganda in the corporate media or elegies for the American empire in the blogosphere, seem to be characteristic of the narcissism of any empire’s inhabitants.

The facts support the conclusion that this was a local war between Russia and a Georgian president that was completely out of line, in which Russia performed its duty to the will of the Ossetians in a manner which is, in retrospect, unassailable and without any viable alternative and wants to maintain relations with the US and NATO as they have been. Assertions that Russia is ‘counteracting NATO expansion,’ ‘paying back NATO for Kosovo,’ ‘playing games with oil pipelines’ tend to reflect Western propaganda rather than the reality that any inaction on Russia’s part would have led to a further humanitarian catastrophe.

Is that boring? Maybe, but not for the poor and desperate Ossetians whose lives, marked by poverty and desperation have endured crisis and death for a long term victory for the unification of North and South Ossetia.

The assertion that the Russian defense of Ossetia is somehow a poke in the eye of the US almost requires the assumption that the US had a hand in the planning of the Georgian offensive. For sure, the war has spawned a reaction by the Bush administration and its occupation of the McCain campaign that US-Russian relations are in peril, and that is not without significance, but it’s unclear what that significance may actually be. There will be no sanctions, no successful appeal to the world community to isolate Russia. There is no interruption of pipelines recently built or any change in plans of future pipelines short of the destablization of Georgia itself.

Russia has used the occasion to warn NATO of supporting Saakashvili, not implying directly that there was any US support for the attack which would possibly draw the US further into the conflict. Beneath the propaganda in the Western press is the implicit suggestion that any further military support or arms sales to Saakashvili would constitute a major blunder and should heretofore be avoided. The NY Times article cites the Cheney faction of the White House supporting arms sales, and any covert US support for the attack on South Ossetia would have most likely come from Cheney loyalists.

The predictable result of the war has been a stronger Russian position and the weakened rule of the US puppet, which doesn’t circumstantially rule out the work of those ‘brilliant, visionary’ Neocon planners. Another predictable result is the talking point of media pundits that “this conflict makes McCain’s foreign policy experience more valuable.” The Cheney faction is clearly invested in perpetuating Republican support of war operations, and is the faction that sought congressional approval for a naval blockade of Iran, which would be legally a declaration of war. Alarmed web journalists consider the Georgian provocation to be an attempt to bog the Russians down in such a grandiose war plan involving Iran, but if that’s true, the Russians weren’t bogged down long.

But while I have no idea what makes Saakashvili bomb, I get back to the main point of this or any saga that the mainstream media ignores, the life and death of poor people in other countries. Back to the Lonely Planet: “You will probably be better received if you speak a little Russian, rather than Georgian, although there are areas where the population is predominantly Georgian. The preferred currency is the Russian rouble, though the lari is sometimes accepted, and the clocks here are one hour behind the rest of Georgia, in harmony with Moscow time.

“In the period of the Russian revolution, many Ossetians were on the Bolshevik side. In 1922 the South Ossetian Autonomous Region was formed within Georgia. However, a request in 1925 for the creation of a united Ossetian Republic was rejected by nationalities minister Stalin.

“In the late 1980s, encouraged by Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness) policies, many Ossetians demanded more cultural and political autonomy from Georgia. At the same time, many Georgians, led by Zviad Gamsakhurdia, began to support and intransigent nationalism. The South Ossetians’ demand to merge with their northern half within the Russian Federation was seen by many Georgians as a Russian plot. When South Ossetia declared itself a republic, Gamsakhurdia’s response was to abolish its autonomous status. Armed conflict broke out in 1989, and lasted until 1992, a few months after the successful coup against Gamsakhurdia in Tblisi. Russian, Georgian, and Ossetian units were deployed to patrol the cease-fire.”

Since then, the South Ossetians voted on an independence referendum in 2006, in which the South Ossetians voted overwhelmingly to break away from Georgia. Ethnic Georgians, who constitute a quarter of the population, for one reason or another didn’t vote, but it showed nonetheless the unanimous will of ethnic Ossetians to break ties with Georgia. Ossetians accused Georgia of attempting a coup at that time and seeking to assassinate their leader, Eduoard Kokoity, a denizen from Moscow.

So when people remember the year that Georgian president Saakashvili made bombing entire cities to rubble a new Olympic sport, Iristun may be remembered as having brought home the purest of gold in the 2008 Olympics.


Linh Dinh said...

Yo Ian,

Thanks for providing this historical context, which the mainstream media has ignored completely. Like you, all they had to do was consult a travel guidebook to make more sense out of what's happening, but making sense wasn't their agenda.

Ian Keenan said...

thanks, I may have to put off my Caucasian trekking vacation and settle for Lermontov's descriptions of the landscape.