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The Localized Geopolitics of Displacement and Return in Eastern Prigorodnyy Rayon

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635Eurasian Geography and Economics, 2008, 49, No. 6, pp. 635–669. DOI: 10.2747/1539-7216.49.6.635Copyright © 2008 by Bellwether Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.The Localized Geopolitics of Displacement and Return in Eastern Prigorodnyy Rayon, North OssetiaJohn O’Loughlin, Gearóid Ó Tuathail (Gerard Toal), and Vladimir Kolossov1Abstract: Three noted political geographers examine the geopolitical entanglements of therepublic of North Ossetia in Russia’s North Caucasus, where the country’s first violent post-Soviet conflict occurred. The dynamic history of administrative border changes in the regionis reviewed against the backdrop of population movements (most dramatically Stalin’s 1944deportation of the Ingush people) and shifting federal-local alliances. The primary focus is onthe unresolved territorial dispute in Prigorodnyy Rayon, affected strongly by population dis-placement from Georgia in the early 1990s. After reviewing the causes of this dispute, whichflared into open warfare in late October 1992, the paper examines two of its outcomes: thelocalized geopolitics of displacement and return on the ground in Prigorodnyy, and the impactof North Ossetia’s geopolitical entanglements in general on ethnic attitudes. Results of a pub-lic opinion survey (N = 2000) in the North Caucasus conducted by the authors revealed highlevels of ethnic pride among Ossetians and a generally positive attitude toward relations withother nationalities. Duly noted is the August 2008 confrontation involving Russia and Geor-gia over neighboring South Ossetia, which generated a new flow of refugees. Journal of Eco-nomic Literature, Classification Numbers: H10, I31, O18, P30. 5 figures, 1 table, 43references. Key words: North Ossetia, Russia, South Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Georgia,Prigorodnyy, internally displaced persons, deportations, returns process, inter-ethnic rela-tions, territorial claims, Beslan tragedy, ethnic cleansing, nomenklatura, radical Islamists.1Respectively, Professor, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, Campus Box 487,Boulder, CO 80309-0387 ([email protected]); Professor, School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Techin the National Capital Region, Alexandria, VA 22314 ([email protected]); and Institute of Geography, Russian Academyof Sciences, Staromonetnyy pereulok 29, Moscow 119017, Russia ([email protected]). The research wassupported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (grant number 0433927), via its Cross Directorate Initiative inHuman and Social Dynamics. First and foremost, we wish to thank the 2000 respondents in North Ossetia and thebroader Caucasus region who graciously answered our survey questions. We also are grateful to Alexei Grazhdankin ofthe Levada Center in Moscow for organizing and successfully carrying out the large and complex surveys in NorthOssetia and the North Caucasus. We have benefitted from the commentaries of participants at a presentation and dis-cussion of the survey results at the Institute of Management, Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, and appreciate the efforts ofmany individuals who helped us understand the complexities of Ossetia in our interviews in Vladikavkaz in July–August 2007. Nancy Thorwardson of the Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, has againcontributed her expertise in map design and production as well as in proofreading, and helpful comments on the initialdrafts of the paper were provided by Valery Dzutsev of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. Last butnot least, Arthur Tsutsiev of the Center of Social Studies of the Vladikavkaz Management Institute has been an invalu-able resource throughout the research and writing phase of this project. He organized our field interviews and visits inNorth Ossetia, provided the data and the draft commentary on the section on refugees and return migration, and con-tributed detailed comments on the rest of the paper. While this help has been critical to this project (which includedchallenging the final analysis), he is to be absolved of responsibility for the interpretative emplotment and narrativeframes we use in the text. These are our constructions and are fully open to contestation and challenge.OLoughlin.fm Page 635 Saturday, December 20, 2008 10:42 PM636 EURASIAN GEOGRAPHY AND ECONOMICSagorno-Karabakh, located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, was the first violent territo-rial conflict to erupt as the Soviet Union experienced its death throes. It is a less wellknown fact that the first post-Soviet violent conflict to flare up on the territory of the RussianFederation was not in Chechnya. Rather, the hostilities that began on October 30, 1992 andcontinued six days thereafter until November 5 involved a historic territorial dispute betweenthe Russian republics of North Ossetia and (the newly [re]constituted) Ingushetia, previouslythe western part of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The locus ofthe conflict was the territory east and south of the city of Vladikavkaz, the capital of NorthOssetia, a portion of the large Prigorodnyy (“suburban” in Russian) Rayon that wrappedaround the city, encompassing its surrounding suburbs (see Fig. 1 on p. 641). The rayon iscomprised of a series of towns and villages that have been the object of historical contestationsince at least the 18th century. Although the active phase of the 1992 conflict lasted only a fewdays, it had severe political and humanitarian consequences (Memorial, 1994). Nearly 600people lost their lives, and at least 30,0002 (the majority of the Ingush population of NorthOssetia) were forced to leave their homes in violence quickly dubbed “ethnic cleansing” bythe international media (e.g., Ethnic Cleansing, 1992). Over 3,000 houses, overwhelminglythose of Ingush families residing in the region, were destroyed, most after the fighting hadended (Sokirianskaia, 2004). The process of managing the competing territorial claims and ofregulating the legacy of displacement and the possibility of return continues to this day.North Ossetia–Alaniya (to use its current official name) is a republic with many geopo-litical entanglements. Its geopolitical life is still profoundly shaped by the violent upheavalsof the early 1990s, firstly in neighboring Georgia to the south and then in Prigorodnyy, whichare in turn conditioned by the legacies of the 1944 Stalinist deportations and territorial


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