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Referendum to rename South Ossetia ‘Alania’ set for April

7 February 2017

The president of the de-facto republic of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, has announced that a referendum will be held to rename South Ossetia into the ‘Republic of South Ossetia — the State of Alania’, Ria Novosti reported. The plebiscite is to be held on 9 April 2017.

The idea to rename South Ossetia was first announced by Tibilov early in 2015, but on 6 February 2017, he finally signed a decree setting the date for the referendum, coinciding with South Ossetia’s presidential elections.

‘Considering their heroic struggle for freedom and independence, the people of South Ossetia deserve the ancient name of their ancestors, which is shared with the people of our brother republic of North Ossetia-Alania’, Tibilov’s statement read.

The republic of North Ossetia–Alania, which is a federal subject of Russia, has supported their southern neighbour’s initiative. The late North Caucasian republic’s leader, Tamerlan Aguzarov, stated in 2016 that they supported the initiative and had plans to work together in various economic, political, and cultural fields.

In 2015, Tibilov said that after renaming South Ossetia into Alania, both South and North Ossetia would unite within the Russian Federation as the state of Alania, referring to the scenario as ‘the dream of the people’.

South Ossetia is considered to be the sovereign territory of Georgia under Russian military occupation by Georgia and the international community; South Ossetia declared independence in 2008 following the Russo-Georgian war, and is recognised by four countries including Russia.

The initiative was met negatively in Georgia — the office of Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued a statement on 7 February, claiming that an attempt to rename ‘Georgia’s occupied region without the consent of Georgia’s central authorities, represents an attempt to infringe on Georgia’s sovereignty and integrity’.

Nevertheless, the name ‘Alania’ itself is a subject of dispute between North Ossetian and other North Caucasian peoples, which is a reflection of a bigger dispute over who the historic heirs of the medieval Kingdom of Alania are.

Alania was originally a medieval kingdom in the central North Caucasus, with the capital city of Maghas. According to some, Maghas was located in Ingushetia. That is one reason why Ingushetia (also a federal subject of of Russia located in North Caucasus), named a new town (currently the capital of Ingushetia) Magas in 1995.

Tibilov’s initiative to rename South Ossetia into ‘Alania’ sparked the construction in 2015 of a ceremonial arch, called the ‘Alania Gates’,  in the Ingush capital Magas.