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War, Ossetia and the Olympics

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While it can be argued that there is never a good time for war, the timing of the Russian-Georgian conflict has struck a dissonant chord with the international community. The Beijing Olympics-inspired harmony of brotherly spirit and international goodwill were temporarily drowned out by the South Ossetia-related bloodshed. Abruptly popping the bubble of sporting bliss like it was a kid’s birthday balloon.

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War is also a horrible way to introduce ourselves to a people or place, but that is exactly what happened upon reading the bellicose headlines about a place that frankly I had no clue about. I admit my ignorance, but surely I am not the only one in that line. So, awkward introductions aside, and while ignoring for a moment the inevitable politics, can there be a better time to familiarize ourselves with South Ossetia and North Ossetia-Alania?

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Take for example the interesting image at the beginning of this article. Located near the Dargav settlement in North Ossetia, one sees an example of local architecture in a picturesque, rustic setting. Quaint. Nice place to visit, right? Maybe not for those easily spooked. The place is actually a necropolis built to house the dying and the dead during a horrible plague that lingered in the area from the 16th – 18th centuries AD. Been-Seen’s on it. We’ll do some research and come back with the 411 for you soon.

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How regrettably tragic that sometimes it takes war for us to see these places for the very first time. You’re reading this on the internet. Maybe like me, quite comfortably, protected from this war by thousands of miles of geography and favorable circumstances of economy. Either you care about it, or you don’t. In any case, what can the average global citizen do about it, if anything at all?

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In my case, I choose to know, and to acknowledge the existence of communities – the Georgians, Ossetians, and Russians— whose destinies are now in the terrible hands of warriors bent on destruction in the name of a foreseen greater good. Communities whose casualties already number in the thousands and who tremble while the world focuses on athletics. My typically short information-age attention span is right now focused on them.

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It remains to be seen whether or not these eyes will ever reflect the cragged Caucasus Mountains landscapes that separate Russia and Georgia and also Europe from Asia. Perhaps this casual armchair travel to the next hemisphere over will never blossom into a real stamp in my passport or some Caucasian mud on my boots. After all, I live in New York City, and I still haven’t even met the neighbors two doors over.

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However, upon considering it all I remember a Maya Angelou quote I recently read about travel that says, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Not that one must befriend everybody, but I’ll take understanding and call it a good day.

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Of course there is no shortage of, nor monopoly on suffering in the world. And neither does the world lack candidates to memorialize. But when hearing the cheers coming from Beijing remember for a moment the screams in places like Tskhinvali and Gori.

AER

Images courtesy of Associated Press, Ade&Abet, and Agence France Presse

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