South Ossetia marks 20 years of independence

The Republic of South Ossetia celebrated 20 years since it declared independence. In the last two decades it has faced several military conflicts amid attempts by Georgia to bring it back under Tbilisi’s control.

On September 20, 1990, the local parliament declared South Ossetia independent from Georgia.

At that time, the Soviet Union was falling apart and independence declarations in the region were following one after the other.

For the Elbakidze family in South Ossetia, Independence Day always starts with hustle and bustle. Not just because it is a national holiday, they also have their own independence child – Ruslan. Just as little Ruslan was coming into this world – a new republic was born.

But Georgia did not want to allow it – it cut the electricity to freeze the breakaway region and sent in troops. For little Ruslan “that meant that since his first day he has been hearing blasts and gunshots. His first words were – mom, a blast!” Ruslan’s mother Raya Elbakidze remembers.

Back then, the Georgian army had surrounded Tskhinval.

At one point people in the city couldn't even bury their dead – troops had blocked the road to the cemetery. Instead, they were forced to use the yard of a local school.

“When I was little I used to come here – but I lived close by and saw this place even out of my window. I remember how often people cried here when they were burying the dead,” said Ruslan.

To escape the ongoing violence, Ruslan’s family had to flee to Russia – as did tens of thousands of Ossetians.

The conflict remained frozen until in August 2008 when Georgia once again resorted to violence to take control over the republic.

When Georgia attacked Tskhinval, it was Ruslan was worried most about his grandmothers living there.

“They were sitting in the basement, the phone lines worked really badly. When they managed to get through they said the city was attacked. People were killed, they stormed and burned the houses,” Ruslan said.

Thankfully, Ruslan's grandmothers survived the five day war.

Moscow sent forces to repel the Georgian attack as many of those under fire were Russian citizens – civilians and peacekeepers.

Later, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia, as did other countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua.