I was always interested in the northern Caucasus but my impression was that it was a no-go region, plagued by war and terrorism. The government websites of Canada, the US and the UK all warn against travelling there, and the Canadian site says “If you are there, you should leave.” When several years ago I first consulted with a colleague who has spent time in the region, he said it is okay if you have some local contacts who will look out for you, so once I acquired some I decided to risk it and go.
With the collapse of the USSR in 1991 many areas fell into violent conflict, particularly in the Caucasus. North Ossetians fought with the neighbouring Ingush who claimed the eastern part of Ossetia for themselves, and attacks by Ingush terrorists continued for years, including the infamous takeover of a school in Beslan in 2004 which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent children and the bombing of Vladikavkaz’s central bazaar in 2010. In the South, the 1991 declaration of independence led to almost two years of war with Georgia; a fragile peace was disrupted when Georgia invaded again in 2008 but after five days of fighting the Russian army moved in and have guaranteed South Ossetia’s borders since that time.
In recent years Ossetia has suffered no major outbreaks of violence, and ever since my first visit two years ago I have felt completely safe here. I often wonder why people who are put the off by occasional reports of shootouts between police and terrorists in faraway lands think nothing of visiting places like Chicago or New Orleans where their chances of falling victim to violence are much higher. Ossetia hasn’t seen any terrorist acts in a decade, in contrast to places like England, France and Germany which nevertheless continue to receive tourists in droves.
I cannot speak for neighbouring republics such as Ingushetia, Chechnya, or Daghestan (although I felt safe during my brief visits to those places as well), but in my opinion both North and South Ossetia today are much safer than many of the world’s popular tourist destinations, and the alarmist warnings of our Western governments are now completely obsolete. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to visit Ossetia!