North Ossetia, the State of Alania in Russia: Where Athletes are Born and Times are Tough
By Irbek Teziev
While working throughout Russia I decided to visit the ancestral lands, so I called a car through the BlaBlaCar.ru (this is a long-distance service to connect drivers with empty seats and travelers) for a trip to the Caucasus, to North Ossetia, the State of Alania.
The fixed-route taxi arrived with 10-12 voyagers inside the van. The drivers, as well as the rest voyagers, were from the Republic of Georgia.
It would take you 18-20 hours by airplane to get to Ossetia from Moscow; it depends on carrier vehicle available, and, if without incidents. In our case, it took 28 hours.
The Russian government maintains a complicated visa regime for foreigners and so I would recommend the US tourists checking information before travel there as visa laws change regularly and the implementation of new regulations are not always transparent.
I will describe the road from the Stavropol Territory. First of all, the scale of the Russian lands is striking and amazing. They have no end. Huge wastelands that are uninhabited. The sheer number of abandoned land is colossal. You can go for hours and not see a soul.
As we approach the Caucasus region, the density increases, you meet people more and more often. Stavropol Territory is a huge region, endless steppes, steppes and steppes, many fields are planted.
Groans, Creaks and Threatens to Give Up
As you go, you simply die in that fixed-route taxi, which groans, creaks and threatens to give up a ghost. We got into a huge traffic jam, there were repair works on the road, and the drivers decided to take a detour.
We drove somehow but were stuck in some kind of trench. It was dark and cold in the evening. Everyone had to get out of the car and push and pull it out. It took us 40 minutes.
The driver stopped for a smoke break every two hours on the road, there were many canteens there. But as you know, often having a snack on the road is risky.
No one is waiting for you with freshly prepared meals. And by the way, the food there is not cheap. It is better to take some sandwiches, snacks, and water with you. But in my opinion, considering the road and vehicle, only water is necessary.
With foodservice points, the situation changes as we approach the North Caucasus. Changing for the better. The food is good and not so expensive.
You can calmly and confidently buy food, eat meat, chicken, cheese and be sure that you are not intoxicated. Still, food culture in the Caucasus is much higher, and most importantly there is respect for food.
The first republic that we meet after Stavropol is Kabardino-Balkaria. It is probably the most developed republic in the North Caucasus, in terms of agriculture, animal husbandry, etc. on the way you can see tents, sheds and other structures in which you can buy anything from honey to meat and fish, lamb and huge turkeys almost the size of a human!
People are hospitable and pleasant in communication, they are not rude when you ask something, but on the contrary, they are very helpful when they find out that you are a guest.
Kabardians leave only a good impression, this is my personal opinion. Although the Kabardino-Balkaria cops leave much to be desired, “the nastiest traffic cops in the North Caucasus,” they say.
Kabardino-Balkaria is one of the largest republics in the Caucasus by its territory, so it takes a lot of time to cross it. My destination is North Ossetia and after passing through Kabardino-Balkaria we drive up to the stationary post of the Kabardino-Balkaria and the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. These posts between regions cause a lot of inconveniences. All travelers had to exit their vehicles to the control check, and there is always a line.
Waiting No Matter the Weather
It does not matter, day or night, heat or snow, everyone has to wait. There are a couple of sheds, but they do not protect either from rain or snow. In general, you can face this situation in every stationary post. Terrorist attacks brought a lot of grief to the Caucasus and throughout Russia. But very often, while checking passengers, their luggage is not checked. This is absolutely stupid.
So, we are in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. The people are the only Europeans in the North Caucasus; they are descendants of the Scythian, Sarmatian, and mighty Alan. Along with Kabardians, I can state with all confidence that these people are conflict-free, no aggression, no hostility, very hospitable. In addition to Ossetians, there are many other nationalities in Ossetia, Armenians, Georgians, Russians, Jews, Tajiks, Kumyks, Greeks, etc.
What is the difference between North Ossetia and the rest of Caucasus? First of all, the appearance is closer to the European. Besides, there are mixed marriages everywhere.
Memorials on the Roadsides
Driving through Ossetia, I noticed a large number of memorial stones on both sides of the roads. These are people who died mostly in car accidents, or in shootouts. By the way, such monuments, set by the relatives of the victims, haunt you throughout the federal highway the Caucasus. People love to drive fast.
Although federal highways are in good condition, accidents occur regularly in Ossetia. What immediately catches the eye in the republic is the “killed” roads. Very often there are no stops; stopping places without stops.
The trouble with Russia — roads, exists in the Caucasus as well.
Vladikavkaz is one of the most beautiful cities in Russia, with its flavor that is unique; the city is divided into old and new Vladikavkaz.
New Vladikavkaz presents the usual elite new buildings, etc. nothing interesting, but the old city is incredibly beautiful.
Buildings have been built soundly 200 or more years ago seem to be fortresses. Previously, the leadership lived in them, all those who came to lead the entire Caucasus, officials, etc.
This also applies to the center of Vladikavkaz, the same with Prospect Mira, which looks like you are somewhere in Western Europe. There are a lot of red brick buildings around the city, a large number of monuments and sculptures of all kinds, not only in Vladikavkaz but throughout the territory of Ossetia – Alania, it is also one of the highlights of the city and the republic as a whole.
The city has a huge number of points of catering, beauty salons, and dentistry. This is really striking. A large number of people involved in sports, no matter how, but engaged in the parks, on the athletic fields, you can see people who run, jump, hang on horizontal bars, and it’s people of all ages.
Sport is highly developed in Ossetia, especially wrestling, football, arm wrestling, boxing, and even hockey. We can mention the village of Nogir, which is listed in the Red Book by the number of Olympic champions, four Olympic champions, and one triple.
I was amazed at these results of Ossetians in sports because there are no conditions in the republic, the people survive, and all these achievements are not due to someone or something, but in spite of everything.
You can simply Google and it will be clear what amazing people this country has given to the world, and not only in sports. It is worth mentioning a couple of famous names as Valery Gergiev and Nodar Pliev.
Fatal Accidents Every Week
As I mentioned above, traffic accidents are the scourge of Ossetia, almost every week you hear about a fatal accident. Another thing, and it is much worse, is the electro-zinc plant, located within the city. It is poisoning both the residents of Ossetia and the environment.
Cancer is a huge problem in the republic. For many years Ossetians have been struggling with this problem, but the corrupt top of the government did not care about the deaths of people and the plant continued to operate. Only this year, the people rebelled and the plant was closed, the work was officially stopped. And hopefully, it will save many lives in Ossetia.
Ossetia is also known to the world with the city of Beslan, when in 2004, terrorists from a neighboring republic seized a school on September 1. They tortured, killed and raped hostages, 366 people died, of which more than 180 were children. This tragedy shook the whole world. The terrorists held hostages for more than three days, without giving them either food or water, the children drank their own urine.
There has never been anything like this in modern history. I hope all those who were involved in this monstrous atrocity would never find rest either in this or in the other world. In Beslan, there is a cemetery in which all those children are buried. It is called the City of Angels. According to the stories of local residents, groans are often heard there at night. And just to see this cemetery is not a sight for the faint-hearted.
Eating in Vladikavkaz
There are many places in Vladikavkaz where you can eat, ranging from inexpensive dining to high-end restaurants. The food is really cooked with soul. Of course, not everything is so perfect and there are exceptions, but in most cases, everything is just that.
A special place should be given to the Ossetian cuisine. If you did not try the Ossetian pie, consider that you have never been to Ossetia.
This is an amazing meal! You can eat it every day. Mouth-watering pies mostly baked with meat, cheese, potatoes, greens, and beetroot. Pies are the most traditional food which is tied to the culture and rituals of Ossetians.
Ossetian pie is a symbol, they have two forms: a circle and a triangle. The circle is a symbol of the earth, infinity and higher powers, the triangle is the fertility of the earth, its strength, and stability.
You also cannot ignore the Ossetian cheese and Ossetian beer Bagan. It is non-alcoholic, ritual and takes its roots from antiquity. Today with the influence of Russia, vodka has appeared on the tables.
Previously, it was prohibited and all that muddies the mind was considered a sin. But times are changing. There is also local vodka, called Arak, which simply knocks you down, but let’s leave this talk since I do not drink and I do not recommend it to others.
Food Culture in Ossetia
If you follow the purely Ossetian traditions, then much attention is paid to food culture. You can never approach a table with a bare torso, the youngest will never sit at the table without an invitation from the elder, and especially the older.
Arriving at the Ossetian house with an overnight stay, you will be surprised to wake up in the morning and find your shoes polished to a shine. This is a sign of respect for the guest. Being a guest is a special status, be sure you will never have any problems with accommodation or meals when you are in North Ossetia. In general friendliness and peacefulness are distinguished features of Ossetians.
It is the most hospitable region of the Caucasus in terms of attitude to foreigners, as well as in terms of tolerance and liberality.
For instance, in Chechnya or Ingushetia, you will not be allowed to wear shorts, whether male or female, in Northern Alania shorts, does not create any problems.
I can bring you MANY examples, these are some of them: I took a taxi and had a long trip outside Vladikavkaz, it cost more than 200 Rubles, the taxi driver Arthur, brought me there but did not have change and he simply told me: “You will pay if we ever meet again”.
By comparison, 200 Rubles in the republic with salaries that range from 6.000 to 15.000 Rubles is a sizeable amount.
Refugees of Ossetia
There is a small food store in the ground floor of the house where I lived, two women, Sofia and Bella (mother and daughter) have been working there.
They are Ossetian refugees from Tbilisi, Georgia. They fled from there in 1992 when serious disorder and persecution have broken out.
When they knew that I was a guest in Ossetia, they often brought me adjika sauce, pepper and other spicy food of their own making free.
Another story is about two brothers Arthur (one more Arthur) and Marik, having found that I am a guest in the country, a guest with accommodation problems, they provided me with a three-room flat in the center of Vladikavkaz absolutely free of charge, I lived there more than a year!
OMarik told me: “I wonder why today human attitude is something supernatural and perceives as a miracle, why if I can help, I should not do this”.
Weddings and Funerals
Hundreds of people take part in all sorts of events in Ossetia, whether it is a wedding or a funeral. Each of them will help with something and render material aid.
It is mandatory to boil the meat in huge boilers, they are now rectangular, apparently, and they are more convenient in use. Meat is pulled out with pitchforks and cut; meat, greens, bread, vegetables, and fruits are always on the tables. And of course, the pies. This is the main attribute on holidays, three pies and thee ribs, just three. At the funeral two pies.
So, if you plan to visit and want to bring a present, bring one or three, never two. It does not matter if it is a bar of chocolate or juice; do not carry an even number.
Taxis around the city can be ordered very easily. If you call a taxi, in 90% of cases, it will not cost more than 100 rubles. If you stop it on the street, then, of course, it will be more expensive.
Due to the high unemployment rate in Ossetia, there are many taxi drivers. Many survive at the expense of small stores. Especially those who live on the ground floors, they create a shop from the room and stuff it with food products. Practically, in every such store, you can enjoy the homemade food.
The Long-Suffering Republic
Ossetia is a long-suffering republic due to wars and terrorist acts; many grief and misfortunes fell on the heads of the inhabitants of this small republic in the early 90s and 2000s. But the people survived, although it broke down, gradually comes to life.
There is a revival of traditions, restoration of shrines, sacred places for Ossetians, the revival of culture and sports.
North Ossetia is a multi-faith republic; there are both Christians and Muslims. Although the majority adheres to the old Ossetian faith Iron Din and celebrate all the Ossetian holidays.
There are churches and mosques, many sacred, historical sites, such as, for instance, the sacred groves Khetag, an Ossetian saint. I am sure, if Ossetia located geographically somewhere in Switzerland, it would also flourish.
I can address many kind words to the Ossetians and if you want to make sure in my words, welcome to North Ossetia!
In conclusion, I would love to mention the wishes that people make to each other during conversation, I do understand they sound differently in the Ossetian language, but I try to make them clear: “Let your life give you a bright fate. Pax huic domui. Light upon you. Light upon your home”.
I often heard these wishes and in a moment of sadness, they always made me feel better.
The Republic of North Ossetia-Alania will leave a lasting impression, a beautiful country with incredible and magnificent nature, mountains, noble, hospitable people, delicious food and wonderful air.
The richest culture, religious rites in their original form, all these can be seen in Ossetia. Dargavs the city of the dead, holy places, sacred groves Khetag, Verkhniy Fiagdon, Valley of the Sun and much more will amaze you with its beauty, mystery and magic. North Ossetia, the State of Alania is the pearl of Russia and the Caucasus.
Irbek Teziev is a teacher of physical training who has been living and working abroad in Russia and Central Asia for the past two years. He has worked as a realtor and raising his family.