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Ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia

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Georgian refugees from South Ossetia in Tbilisi on August 10, 2008.

Ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia was a mass expulsion of ethnic Georgians conducted in South Ossetia and other territories occupied by Russian and South Ossetian forces,[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] which happened during and after the 2008 Russia–Georgia war.[8] Overall, at least 20,000 Georgians were forcibly displaced from South Ossetia.[9]

The Human Rights Watch concluded that the "South Ossetian forces sought to ethnically cleanse" the Georgian-populated areas.[10] In 2009, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolutions condemned "the ethnic cleansing and other human rights violations in South Ossetia, as well as the failure of Russia and the de facto authorities to bring these practices to a halt and their perpetrators to justice".[11] According to the September 2009 report of the European Union-sponsored Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, "several elements suggest the conclusion that ethnic cleansing was carried out against ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia both during and after the August 2008 conflict."[12]

Of the 192,000 people displaced in the 2008 war, 127,000 were displaced in Georgia proper, 30,000 within South Ossetia, and another 35,000 fled to North Ossetia.[13] According to the 2016 census conducted by the South Ossetian authorities, 3,966 ethnic Georgians remained in the breakaway territory, constituting 7% of the region's total population of 53,532.[14]

1991–92 South Ossetia War[edit]

Between 1989 and 1992, fighting flared in the South Ossetian A.O. and in Georgia proper between ethnic Ossetian paramilitary troops and Georgian Interior Ministry (MVD) units and paramilitaries. South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia. In turn, Georgia abolished South Ossetian autonomous status, which existed since the early Soviet years. The Georgian government, led by the president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, responded by sending in army and paramilitary units, in an attempt to restore its control of the region.

On the night of 5 January 1991, 6,000 armed Georgians entered Tskhinvali. After fierce street fighting, the Georgian forces were repelled and driven out of Tshkinvali by South Ossetian troops.[15]

As a result of the war, approximately 100,000 ethnic Ossetians fled from the South Ossetian A.O. and Georgia proper, and 23,000 ethnic Georgians fled from the South Ossetian A.O. into ethnically Georgian areas. 100 villages were reportedly destroyed in South Ossetia by Georgian forces. Additionally, the North Ossetia-Georgian border went largely uncontrolled, providing an almost unhindered access point for weapons, fighters, and ammunition in both directions.[16]

A deputy to the North Ossetian Supreme Soviet explained, "When the war began in South Ossetia (Georgia), there were thousands of refugees....Naturally, those Ossetian refugees from South Ossetia and from Georgia who fled here wanted to kick out Georgians living here. There are 15,000 Georgians living here, just in Vladikavkaz...We stopped this; no one fled".[16]


Tserovani is one of the settlements built by the Georgian government for the IDPs from South Ossetia
  • The Australian paper The Age quoted Major-General Vyacheslav Borisov, the commander in the Russian-occupied city of Gori in their description of the circumstances: "There is growing evidence of looting and "ethnic cleansing" in villages in the area of conflict between Russia and Georgia. The attacks — some witnessed by reporters or documented by a human rights group — include stealing, the burning of homes and possibly killings. Some are ethnically motivated, while at least some of the looting appears to be the work of opportunistic profiteers. The identities of the attackers vary, but a pattern of violence by ethnic Ossetians against ethnic Georgians is emerging and has been confirmed by some Russian authorities. "Now Ossetians are running around and killing poor Georgians in their enclaves," said Major-General Vyacheslav Borisov, the commander in the Russian-occupied city of Gori."[17][dubiousdiscuss]
  • The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, in cooperation with three other human rights organisations, conducted an investigation which concluded that ethnic cleansing continues in the de facto border region between Georgia and South Ossetia. "The Human rights monitors found evidence of the burning of houses, attacks on civilians and forced displacement of the Georgian population as late as Friday 17 October. The material collected describes 16 alleged cases of killings of civilians (excluding deaths resulting from crossfire, bombing and shelling at the time of large scale military operations, and accidents with unexploded ordnance), in areas controlled by Russian forces, many of which seems to be instances of summarily executions.".[8]
  • Human Rights Watch: "Instead of protecting civilians, Russian forces allowed South Ossetian forces who followed in their path to engage in wanton and wide-scale pillage and burning of Georgian homes and to kill, beat, rape, and threaten civilians," said Denber. "Such deliberate attacks are war crimes, and if committed as part of a widespread or systematic pattern, they may be prosecuted as a crime against humanity." According to the HRW, 15,000 of 17,500 Georgians left South Ossetia prior to the arrival of the Russian soldiers.[18]

According to the Human Rights Watch's January 2009 report on the war in Georgia: "[HRW's] observations on the ground and dozens of interviews conducted led us to conclude that the South Ossetian forces sought to ethnically cleanse this set of Georgian villages: that is, the destruction of the homes in these villages was deliberate, systematic, and carried out on the basis of the ethnic and imputed political affiliations of the residents of these villages, with the express purpose of forcing those who remained to leave and ensuring that no former residents would return... [In undisputed Georgian territory] Beginning with the Russian occupation of Georgia and through the end of September, Ossetian forces, often in the presence of Russian forces, conducted a campaign of deliberate violence against civilians, burning and looting their homes on a wide scale, and committing execution-style killings, rape, abductions, and countless beatings."[10]

South Ossetian position[edit]

The policy of ethnic cleansing was also affirmed by the president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, who in his interview of 15 August 2008 given to the Russian publication Kommersant, on the question "Will Georgian civilians be allowed to return?" gave the following answer: "We do not intend to let anybody in here anymore".[19]

The Economist also quoted a South Ossetian intelligence officer as follows: "We burned these houses. We want to make sure that they [the Georgians] can't come back, because if they do come back, this will be a Georgian enclave again and this should not happen".[20]

International courts[edit]

On 21 January 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling found the Russian and South Ossetian forces guilty of preventing the return of thousands of forcibly displaced Georgians to their territory in South Ossetia.[21][22][23]

The International Criminal Court concluded its investigation in the Situation in Georgia in December 2022, delivering arrest warrants for three de facto South Ossetian officials believed to bear responsibility for war crimes committed during the 2008 war — Mikhail Mindzaev, Gamlet Guchmazov and David Sanakoev, respectively, holding the positions of Minister of Internal Affairs, head of a detention centre in Tskhinvali, and Presidential Representative for Human Rights of South Ossetia, at the relevant time. The fourth suspect, Russian general Vyacheslav Borisov, was not indicted as he had died in 2021.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "August 28, 2008 Article: Georgia warns of ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia. AP via highbeam". Archived from the original on 26 October 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  2. ^ "South Ossetia one year on: Georgians wait in fear for Russians to return" telegraph.co.uk 01 August 2009 Link retrieved 16 August 2009
  3. ^ Patashuri, Mikheil (2008-08-13). "A few more facts". Jordan Times. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  4. ^ "Report by the Government of Georgia on the aggression by the Russian Federation against Georgia " georgiandaily.com 7 August 2009 Link retrieved 16 August 2009
  5. ^ "Saakashvili Calls for Unity on War Anniversary" civil.ge 7 August 2009 Link retrieved 16 August 2009
  6. ^ "Another War: Who Is It Good For? " georgiandaily.com 7 August 2009 Link retrieved 16 August 2009
  7. ^ Sengupta, Kim; Walker, Shaun (2008-08-20). "Georgians tell of ethnic cleansing". The Independent. Archived from the original on April 20, 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2011.
  8. ^ a b "Ethnic Cleansing Continues in South Ossetian Conflict Zone in Georgia - Den norske Helsingforskomité". 2009-07-29. Archived from the original on 2009-07-29. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  9. ^ "South Ossetia: The Burden of Recognition - Europe Report N°205" (PDF). International Crisis Group. 7 June 2010. p. i. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  10. ^ a b The Human Rights Watch (January 23, 2009), Up in Flames: Humanitarian Law Violations and Civilian Victims in the Conflict over South Ossetia, pp. 3, 10, 125, 131. ISBN 1-56432-428-1
  11. ^ Resolution 1647 (2009) Archived 2009-11-22 at the Wayback Machine and Resolution 1683 (2009) Archived 2013-12-27 at the Wayback Machine. PACE. Retrieved on October 18, 2009
  12. ^ IIFFMCG report, vol. II, ch. 7 Archived July 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, pp. 389-394. IIFFMCG website. Retrieved on September 30, 2009
  13. ^ "Revised UN estimates show 192,000 uprooted during Georgia conflict". UN News. 12 September 2008. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  14. ^ Svanidze, Tamar (12 August 2016). "South Ossetian Authorities Release Results of 1st Census in 26 Years". Georgia Today. Archived from the original on 31 December 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  15. ^ Zürcher, Cristopher; Pavel Baev, Jan Koehler (2005). "Civil Wars in the Caucasus". Understanding civil war: evidence and analysis, Volume 2. The World Bank. ISBN 978-0-8213-6049-1.
  16. ^ a b RUSSIA THE INGUSH-OSSETIAN CONFLICT IN THE PRIGORODNYI REGION hrw.org May 1996 Link accessed 18-08-2009
  17. ^ Tavernise, Sabrina; Siegel, Matt; Tbilisi (16 August 2008). "Looting and 'ethnic cleansing' in South Ossetia as soldiers look on". The Age. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  18. ^ "Russia/Georgia: All Parties in August/South Ossetia Conflict Violated Laws of War". Human Rights Watch. 23 January 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  19. ^ "(Russian) Eduard Kokoity: We have practically razed to the ground everything". Kommersant. 15 August 2008. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  20. ^ "Ethnic Cleansing of Georgians Resulted from Russian Invasion and Occupation since August 8, 2008" (DOC). Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
  21. ^ Luke Harding (21 January 2021). "Russia committed human rights violation in Georgia war, ECHR rules". Guardian. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  22. ^ "Court Condemns Russia for Violating Human Rights After 2008 Georgia War". The Moscow Times. 21 January 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  23. ^ "European court: Russia must answer for abuses in 2008 Georgia war". Reuters. 21 January 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  24. ^ "Situation in Georgia: ICC Pre-Trial Chamber delivers three arrest warrants". International Criminal Court. 30 June 2022. Retrieved 18 December 2022.