Obvious place to start, Wikipedia highlights:
"Most Ossetians are now Christian (approximately 61%); there is also a significant Muslim minority." (Sunni)
They speak Ossetic, an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch.
Most of the Ossetes today are Eastern Orthodox Christians. (I found quotes from both the Russian Patriarch and the Georgian Patriarch today asking for truce and peace from their parishioners)
Under the rule of Georgia's government during Soviet times, it enjoyed some degree of autonomy including speaking the Ossetian language and teaching it in schools
The Ossetians are descendants of a tribe called the Alans. Like the Georgians, the Ossetians are orthodox Christians, but they have their own language. In Soviet times the Ossetians had an autonomous region within Georgia. The Georgians say the Ossetians cooperated with the Bolsheviks and tended to be more pro-Soviet. Their ethnic kin live across the border in the Russian region of North Ossetia, so they feel more drawn to Russia than to Georgia - and many have Russian passports (from Q and A)
Oil: The pipeline that crosses Georgia can pump slightly more than 1 million barrels of crude oil per day, or more than 1 percent of the world's daily crude output. The 1,100-mile pipeline carries oil from Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea fields, estimated to hold the world's third-largest reserves. Its potential vulnerability was already in the spotlight after it was sabotaged this week, apparently by Kurdish separatists.
Note to self: All these sites are using the same talking points, I really need to dig past them and get to some meat from the locals. Help ... If you have links to resources I want a better understanding of this situation.
So far my thoughts:
- Russia wants South Ossetians to like them, if they tick them off they end up with problems with their own Ossetians on the north side of the border
- Georgia thought they could launch an attack during Olympics and we would back them against Russia
- Sounds like both sides need to get out of the province, and then do serious talks about the next stage
Another Update: From a commenter on Kevin Tracy's blog. And this person feels a whole lot different than what most American and Western media are reporting:
After another night of fighting, Georgians still killing all the people which they can find in the ruined city, no matter military or civilians. They destroyed the only hospital, university and bakery. No food, no water, no help to the people there. Snipers are killing old people on the streets, who are slow and easy targeted. Russians take the nothern part of city, but still heavy fights and many Russian tanks are burning. Several aircrafts are shot down, seems that Georgian, but in Georgia reported to be Russian. Georgian TV says to the whole country that Tshinvally is under controlf of Georgian troops and the operation will soon be over. Russian TV shows the real picture from the battle field. It seems that many soldiers killed, but there are still many heavy fights.
Later Saakashvilly starts to blame “Russian Invaders, who attacked small Georgia”.
Then I see him on many western channes, they also show ruined Tskhinvally streets, BUT SAYING THAT THESE ARE STREETS OF GEORGIAN TOWNS, AFTER RUSSIAN BOMBINGS, but these are OSETIAN streets, after GEORGIAN BOMBINGS and attacks. There are cars with russian numbers, russian signs and what is more important: russian soldiers, walking peacefully in”Georgian bombed towns”. Do you think this is possible???
August 10: Tskhinvally is cleaned from Georgian troops (they always retreat when meet some resistance, this happened same 16 years ago and before). Saakashvilly says that he wants peace.
He difinitely wants now, after no forces left to attack. The mission complete! He is a victim of Russian bear(Medvedev is coming from word “bear” in russian… Everybody in the world is indignant by Russia bombing “poor little Georgia” with military budget of US$ 1 billion of American money during last year… But nobody remembers that they started killing women and children on last Thursday night, when everybody were asleep peacefully in their beds. Nobody knows that they has opened water pipe system to drown the rest of the poor people still hiding in the basements of Tskhinvally from the continuing missle and artillery attacks. This is how he want’s peace. New wonderful and touchy show arranged by America.
Update: Notes from friend in Sweden who's been to Georgia:
"Kosovo and Kurdistan are relatively easy AFAIC. Turkey as a country hasn't existed but since the end of WW I, and the Kurds happened to get swept up in it. I think it's reasonable that they should have a significant degree of independence. Kosovars are a completely separate ethnic group that happened not to get broken-off from Serbia in the Civil War.
I see some of the more difficult ethnic conflicts as including Russians who were moved to Latvia after June 1940 and are statless and the Basque/Catalan questions in Spain."
"Russia is trying to provoke Georgia. They've been doing it ever since Georgia declared independence and stepped it up after Sakhashvili got elected. Russian is the second-language in Armenia, which is very close with Russia, but as soon as you cross the border from Armenia into Georgia, you no longer see anything in Russian. I had better luck speaking French (what little I speak) than Russian in Georgia, and this shows the country's western orientation that annoys Putin to no end. First he banned Georgian wine (wine is a huge business in Georgia), then he raided Georgian restaurants in Moscow (Georgia has fabulous food that's very popular in Russia), and now he sends in the tanks.
The borders of Georgia are very old, dating to 600 BCE, and it's pretty clear to me that Georgia has a legitimate claim on both S. Ossetia and Abkhazia."
"South Ossetia is Georgian Othodox with a smattering of Muslims. It's an ancient offshoot of the original church, predating even the Council of Nicaea. Georgian Orthodox is an extremely conservative branch and they take it very seriously--a priest kicked me out of a church in Tblisi on a 95-degree day because I was wearing shorts.
Georgia is a hugely fractured country with dozens of ethnic groups (see also Abkhazia), many of them dating back to antiquity. The ethnic groups don't get along (see also Nagorno-Karabakh), and under Stalin many were uprooted and resettled. Now they are all mixed up but have rediscovered their ferocious ethnic nationalism (see also Chechnya)."