Russian-backed authorities in South Ossetia are continuing to demolish the homes of ethnic Georgians despite backlash from Georgian officials. In a statement released September 22, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili joined other prominent figures in calling this destruction an act of ethnic cleansing on the part of Russia.
South Ossetia is neither fully Russian nor fully Georgian. Ossetians, an ethnic group with a language closest to Persian, make up the majority of the population. Prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, the region belonged to Georgia and approximately one-third of its population was ethnically Georgian. However, South Ossetia declared itself independent from Georgia during a time of high separatist sentiment in 1992. This issue was not addressed fully until 2008, when South Ossetia was the site of a brief war between Russia and Georgia. The war resulted in Russian control of the region.
Since then, Moscow has worked to isolate South Ossetia from Georgia by enforcing a strict but often ambiguous border between the region and the rest of the country. The location of the border is disputed by the various powers that use different maps to demarcate the region.
Georgian citizens find themselves under Russian control suddenly and without warning as the border shifts. Tatiashvili, a Georgian living in Jariasheni, a town on the border of South Ossetia, came home one day to find his house and land on the wrong side of the border. Afraid of arrest by Russia’s border service, he dares not return home.
Now, Russian-backed officials have begun the demolition of the homes of 1,000 ethnic Georgians in Eredvi, a village east of the South Ossetian capital. Overall, 268 homes are set to be demolished and transferred to the region’s Ministry of Agriculture. Many consider this to be an act of ethnic cleansing verging on genocide. In a statement released on September 22, Margvelashvili condemned the action as “a crime before civilians which should receive a sharp response from the international community.”
These crimes are a continuation of the ethnic cleansing that began in 2009, when the Human Rights Watch concluded that the arson, pillaging, raping, murder, and theft committed by South Ossetian forces against ethnic Georgians amounted to crimes against humanity.
“This is not a construction debris [sic], these are houses of living persons, individuals who have been expelled from their homes and who are unable to return because of the ongoing occupation and the deliberate policy of Russia,” said Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation Ketevan Tsikhelashvili. Moscow has, for the most part, feigned ignorance of its surrogates’ actions in South Ossetia. However, Russian Minister for North Caucasus Affairs Lev Kuznetsov visited the region on September 19.
“In these not-so-easy times for the federal budget, Russia confirms and accepts all the commitments previously undertaken in assisting South Ossetia,” vowed Kuznetsov. Russia appears unwilling to release its hold in the region any time soon.