One of the 21 autonomous republics of Russia, in the Caucasus Mountains, between Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. To the south it abuts the rebellious South Ossetia region of Georgia.

The area is 8000 km2 and the population about 700 000. The capital is Dzæudzhyqæu, normally known by its Russian name Vladikavkaz ("Fortress of the Caucasus"), which was called Ordzhonikidze after a Politburo member from 1931 to 1944 and from 1954 to the breakup of the Soviet Union; and it was also called Dzæudzhyqæu between 1944 and 1954. (I have no idea why Comrade Ordzhonikidze might have been out of favour then.)

The Ossete people speak an Indo-European language: it was once considered to be a separate branch midway between the Indo-Iranian and the Slavonic, but is now classed as an Iranian language. The ancestors of the Ossetes are said to be the Sarmatians. However, in recent years they have reclaimed as their heritage the historical people known as the Alans, and renamed their country Alania. It used to be known as North Ossetia, and this is still the usual name in English and in its Russian equivalent. Officially, the two are combined and the republic is known in full as North Ossetia-Alania, or Cægat-Irystony Alanijy Respublikæ in Ossete.

South Ossetia (Xussar Iryston) is also inhabited by Ossetes, but is across the border in Georgia. After the independence of Georgia, its Ossetes sought reunion with their northern kin. They seceded and declared themselves part of Russia in 1991. Georgia responded by abolishing the autonomous status of South Ossetia in 1992 and renaming it as Tskhinvali, after its capital. This broke out into warfare. North Ossetia has also had violence with its Ingush minority.

North Ossetia-Alania has had three presidents:

Akhsarbek Galazov   1990-1998
Aleksandr Dzasokhov 1998-2005
Taimuraz Mamsurov   2005-

The flag used by Ossetes on both sides of the border is a horizontal tricolor of white, red, and yellow. A variant has been seen for official use which bears the national emblem on it, a snow leopard before seven white mountains. An error of translation has sometimes seen the red stripe (Russian purpurnyy 'dark red') depicted as purple.

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