Independent at Last

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Aug. 26 was a day of historic importance for our people. On this day, all South Ossetians sat glued to their television sets and listened as President Dmitry Medvedev announced that he had signed a decree recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

I am not overly sentimental by nature, but nothing has ever affected me the way those tumultuous days in August did. And I am not alone in these emotions. Everyone in South Ossetia is jubilant.

Under the spell of these feelings, and reflecting upon the history of the Ossetian people's centuries-old, painful struggle for independence, I asked myself: What is the reason for this truly historic victory? The answer can be found in one word -- Russia. Our Russian friends have always come to our aid at critical moments, helping whenever and wherever it was needed.

All Ossetians, but especially the South Ossetians, have long dreamed of walking down a single road together with Russia.

A simple man named Gedevan Gagloyev lived in the South Ossetian village of Vanel. He, like thousands of others, dreamed of seeing this road completed one day. Before his death, Gedevan called three of his sons to his side and made a unique request. "You can see that I won't live to witness the completion of the road," he said. "But I believe that it will be finished one day. And when that happens, come to my grave and yell out loudly, 'Gedevan! The road has finally been built!'"

By the completion of the road, Gedevan meant the unification of the Ossetian people. His dream has come true. The road has been built, and the Ossetian people are unified at last.

August 2008 will enter the annals of South Ossetian history as a month of epochal importance. For the first time in their history, Ossetians living beyond the Caucasus ridge gained their independence, giving official status to the Republic of South Ossetia. All of that become a reality exclusively due to the efforts and decisive actions of Medvedev. Russia astounded the world with its magnificent military operations to repel Georgia's aggression.

Aug. 26 marked not only the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but it also gave birth to a more powerful Russia. The country went through a painful and debilitating transitional period under the two leaders who destroyed the Soviet Union -- Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin -- but it has become a new and more powerful nation thanks to then-President Vladimir Putin and now Medvedev. It was precisely Russia's decision to project its power and take decisive action against Georgia that averted a greater tragedy in South Ossetia.

During those August days, I met with many foreign journalists who knew in advance that Medvedev was planning to recognize the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Their first questions were always, "What will you ask for -- to join Russia or to be independent? Is Russia planning to reinstate the former Soviet borders?"

The unification of North and South Ossetia has been our eternal dream, and this is perfectly understandable. It is natural that people who are separated seek unification with their relatives and friends. This is especially true of the Ossetians, who are a single people in the fullest sense, sharing a common language, customs, holidays, kinship, contiguous territory and spiritual values.

And I cannot restrain myself from saying how my heart overflows with happiness when I consider how Russia showed so much sincere empathy for the pain and suffering of the Ossetian people in this crisis. Humanitarian aid has been coming in from all across Russia. Moreover, South Ossetian refugees who fled the war zone have been received with sincere compassion and warmth in Dagestan, Krasnodar, Kabardino-Balkaria and other regions.

We are also very pleased to see that Tskhinvali has been transformed into a huge construction site and that selfless people from all over Russia have come to help rebuild the city. This support will never be forgotten. Ossetia is eternally grateful to all those who responded to our distress. It rejoices the soul to see how the Russian nation and people have embraced us, and how they have greatly mitigated the wounds of war.

After violence devastated South Ossetia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more than 25,000 people fled their homes and became refugees throughout the southern Caucasus. Of those, many never returned to their ancestral home. The Georgian conflict in August resulted in even more refugees. But after Russia's victory in the war against Georgia, it is clear that only Moscow can guarantee our safety. Refugees by the thousands can now return to their homes and believe in a future without war.

Ludwig Chibirov served as the first president of South Ossetia from 1993 to 2001.