Ossetian embassy. Painting by Azanbek Dzhanaev
It is customary to count the first contacts between Russia and the Ossetians not from the 18th or even from the 17th century. Alans, whom many researchers consider the ancestors of the Ossetians, had the closest contacts with Russia in the 10th century. These were both trade and military alliances, and sometimes relations were reduced to one of the most specific forms, that is, to war. But basically the interactions were allied, which was partly cemented by mutual ties with Byzantium.
However, Alania turned out to be weak in the face of the pressure of new peoples, including the Mongol-Tatars, centrifugal forces in the Caucasus itself and others. As a result, the Alanian kingdom disintegrated, losing vast lands. The unified state was replaced by a disunited confederation of about 11 societies, ruled by their elected or hereditary leaders. The weakness of such “statehood” was obvious.
Embassy from the “blockade” lands
By the middle of the 18th century, the Ossetians were in an extremely difficult situation. Turkey and Persia were actively expanding into the Caucasus. At the same time, the right people were recruited among the local population. Thus, some Circassian princes and even entire Georgian principalities, not counting the traditional Turkish henchmen of the Crimean Khanate, became “allies” of the Turks and Persians. The Ossetians, who had professed Orthodoxy since the days of the Alanian kingdom, found themselves in a blockade. In fact, they were deprived of access to the plain, driven into the mountains. They simply did not have sufficient resources to resist in the struggle for national identity.
The choice was obvious. The mighty Russian Empire, reaching the southern expanses, needed allies right in the center of the Caucasus. Moreover, the religious factor contributed to this.
In 1749, the gathering of the embassy to the Russian imperial court began. Ossetians immediately faced opposition from Kabarda. The Kabardians said that if the ambassadors go to Russia, they will be detained there in amanats (hostages), and at this time the houses of the above-mentioned ambassadors will be ruined by the Kabardians themselves, since they consider this step unfriendly.
Because of the threats, the number of ambassadors was reduced from five to three: two were afraid to bring destroyers to their lands. The stripped-down embassy left in early September 1749. It included:
– Zurab Elikhanov / Magkaev from the clan of the owners of the Zaramagsky castle, who knew, in addition to Ossetian, Russian, Georgian and Kabardian languages. He was the unofficial leader of the embassy, since was known for his education throughout the Caucasus;
– Elisey Khetagov from the community of the Zakan Gorge;
– Batyrmirza Kurtaulov from the Kurtatinsky community.
Monument to Zurab Elikhanov / Magkaev in the Zaramagskaya Valley
They were accompanied by one assistant minister, who came from the families of the noble military aristocracy. However, despite the reduced composition of the embassy, according to the internal Ossetian agreement, the ambassadors represented “the entire Ossetian land”, and not separate societies. This is also due to the fact that the very fact that the empress received such an embassy from all over the world contributed to the rallying of Ossetia.
As a result, the entire path of the embassy was full of dangers. Militarily strong enough neighbors who control the flat lands, that is, a source of resources, have long considered the Ossetian territories, if not their own, then obliged to pay tribute. The Kabardian, Imeretian and Kartlian princes, distributing purely paper titles indiscriminately to every loyal and more or less influential Ossetian, naturally perceived such an embassy as an act of disobedience. The ambassadors and their assistants, in fact, became participants in the operation against the enemy’s rear. Their first target was Astrakhan, where the ambassadors managed to arrive safe. The Astrakhan governor provided the ambassadors with carriages, which, however, had to be soon changed to sleighs.
To Moscow at any cost
In December 1749, that is, four months later, the embassy, battered by an extremely difficult road, arrived in Moscow. It is worth noting that at that time this path said a lot about the people who overcame it, so the representatives of Ossetia were greeted with all cordiality and very solemnly. The ambassadors were introduced to the senators of the Russian Empire, before whom Zurab Yelikhanov spoke, first of all expressing gratitude “for the highest mercy shown to them by Her Imperial Majesty.”
Also, such a reception was due to the fact that Zurab Yelikhanov was not the first time in Russia. Growing up at the court of the Kartli king Vakhtang VI, Zurab arrived in St. Petersburg in 1724 as part of the tsar’s retinue. The purpose of that embassy was to search for a military and political alliance with the empire in order to protect the people from the military invasion of Persia and Turkey. Peter I agreed to liberate the lands devastated by the Persians and Turks, but he simply did not have time to realize what he wanted. The great sovereign died in 1725.
Zurab Yelikhanov stayed behind to resolve the alliance issue and build bridges with the Russian Empire. As a result, he spent almost ten years in Russia, studying culture, language and the intricacies of politics. In addition, it was thanks to this ten-year diplomatic work that Zurab in 1745 took an active part in the work of the Ossetian spiritual commission, which arrived from Russia. By the way, this commission served as an intermediary in bringing to the attention of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna the readiness of the Ossetians to accept Russian citizenship.
At the foot of the monument to Zurab, the remains of the once mighty galuan (castle) of the Magkaevs
Despite all these facts and a warm welcome, the problems of the Russian-Ossetian negotiations began from the very first days in Moscow. The Russian-Ossetian negotiations, which drew such close attention to themselves even in the Caucasus, entailed a whole heap of intrigues in St. Petersburg itself. Considering the knot of interests of many countries tied in the Caucasus region, this was to be expected. Even before the negotiations began, all the participants in the Ossetian embassy became the target of numerous denunciations. The sources of denunciations were very diverse: from the Caucasus itself and Turkey to European countries.
In this regard, a thorough investigation was carried out, naturally, with the involvement of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs. The head of the Ossetian spiritual commission, Archimandrite Pakhomiy, was also interrogated. At first, the investigation confirmed the credentials of each member of the embassy and their origin, and later disavowed all denunciations. However, these denunciations nevertheless brought some benefit to the ministers – in fact, the work of the embassy and the Russian side was somewhat delayed.
In the capital of the empire
In early February 1750, the Ossetian embassy arrived in St. Petersburg. The reception was also warm, and the ambassadors themselves were accommodated in comfortable apartments on Vasilievsky Island. In addition, the ambassadors were given a small boat to sail along the Neva and the Gulf of Finland, so that they could admire the grandeur, they hoped, of the capital of their new state. A long tour of industrial enterprises was held, and they were presented with several guns at the Sestroretsk Arms Factory.
Winter Saint Petersburg of the 18th century
Finally, the difficult Russian-Ossetian work began. The Ossetians, in fact, had two requests: to accept Ossetia into the empire and to allow the resettlement of a part of the Ossetians to the Ciscaucasian plain, which was once part of the Alanian kingdom. The ambassadors also understood that Russia has its own political interests and no one would rush into the Caucasian maelstrom hoping to swim out. Therefore, the embassy offered, in response to its requests, to deploy an Ossetian army of 30 thousand people (the figure is obviously greatly overestimated) for the service of the empire, and also indicated the presence of minerals in the mountains of Ossetia.
Work was in full swing in all directions until the end of 1751. They found out the features, the degree of solidity and the geographical position of the borders of Ossetia, the political appetites of neighbors and the authority of their claims to the Ossetian lands, whether they have documentary evidence of these claims and the possibility of realizing them by military means. The views on Ossetia of Turkey and Persia were also taken into account.
Immediate entry of Ossetia into the empire was objectively impossible. According to the Belgrade Peace Treaty of 1739, which ended the Russo-Turkish War of 1735-1739, Russia was deprived of the opportunity to have a fleet in the Black Sea and a fortress. At the same time, Small and Big Kabarda became formally independent lands, playing the role of a barrier between Russia and the Port. And since Kabarda lay between Ossetia and Russia, the Ossetian territories were geographically cut off from the borders of the empire. At that time, Russia could not even provide significant military support.
Thus, the official outcome of the negotiations was the establishment of friendly diplomatic relations with Ossetia. The embassy itself was henceforth considered the diplomatic representation of Ossetia in the Russian Empire and could remain on the territory of the capital and Russia. Unofficially, the Ossetian ambassadors were made clear that as soon as the geopolitical obstacles were removed (and the war with Turkey was not far off), Ossetia would receive citizenship of the Russian Empire and, accordingly, the protection of the imperial army.
Monument to the 200th anniversary of the annexation of Ossetia to Russia. Vladikavkaz
At the end of December 1751, the official reception of the Ossetian embassy was organized by the Empress Elizaveta Petrovna herself. The Empress stated that allied relations between the Ossetian people and Russia are of great importance, and noted the adherence of the Russian and Ossetian peoples to a single Orthodox faith. And in order to accelerate the integration of Ossetia into the empire, the Ossetians received the right to duty-free trade in Russia, because for a long time the Ossetians transported goods to Kizlyar and Astrakhan.
In February 1752, the Ossetian embassy left St. Petersburg for Ossetia. Zurab Elikhanov devoted the rest of his life to rallying the Ossetian people and integrating this land into Russia.
Now it is considered to be the year of the annexation of Ossetia to Russia in 1774, that is, the year of the signing of the Kuchuk-Kainardzhiyskiy peace treaty, which ended another Russian-Turkish war. This treaty canceled the previous one and extended the influence of the Russian Empire to the south of the existing borders. The empire was no longer bound by obligations towards Kabarda. But until now ethnically engaged political “historians” dispute even the very existence of the Ossetian embassy, and those who admit this fact use the old “methodology” – the failure of the ambassadors …