Georgia used to possess two regions in the North Caucasus. The “used to” part is no surprise. There are quite a few territories that were once controlled by Georgia but no longer are. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are the obvious ones, but there is also Sochi (Russia), Lori (Armenia), Saingilo (Azerbaijan), and Tao and Klarjeti (Turkey). What’s remarkable about these North Caucasian territories is just how Georgia came into possession of them. The story, which involves considerable human misery, goes back to World War Two.
Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany‘s first foray into Soviet territory, failed by the end of 1941. It was aimed at northern Russia, the main targets being Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Neither city was captured, so in 1942 the Germans turned their attention southward, hoping to seize the oil fields in Maikop, Grozny, and above all Baku, which alone accounted for well over half of the Soviet Union’s oil production. Baku was initially the primary objective (of a plan called Operation Edelweiss), but German troops became increasingly diverted north as the Battle of Stalingrad raged. Ultimately the Germans made it as far east as North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz (then called Ordzhonikdze, which is mispronounced in the video below), but were unable to penetrate through the mountains into the South Caucasus.
Okay, the Germans didn’t make it over the mountains and Georgia was left untouched. So who cares? Well, German spies and saboteurs were able to make it past Soviet lines, and they were aided by rebels among the local populations. In particular, collaborators included (at least according to Soviet allegations) Chechens, Ingushetians, Karachays, and Balkars (the first two being Northeast Caucasian speakers and the latter two being Turkic peoples living west of North Ossetia). In 1944 all four groups were summarily packed up and shipped off to Central Asia. This left a lot of land depopulated, and it was mostly redistributed among the various North Caucasian ASSRs. But Georgia was also a beneficiary of this process, receiving land formerly inhabited by Karachays and Chechens.
The Karachay territory was called Klukhori (ქლუხორი), and it included Mt. Elbrus, the highest peak in “Europe”. The Chechen territory was called Akhalkhevi (ახალხევი). This included a tiny piece of land that had actually already been ceded by Georgia to Chechnya in 1922. As one would expect, toponyms were changed from local names to Georgian ones. Georgians were moved into both areas, but they were never more than sparsely populated.
In 1957, four years after Stalin’s death, the exiles were allowed to return to their homes. Their districts were reestablished, and Georgia’s new territories were abruptly taken back. That’s about it as far as Georgian involvement in the issue goes, though the resettling of the exiles would lead to violence in 1992 between the Ingushetians and the North Ossetians over the East Prigorodny District.
NOTE: This topic has received very little attention from anyone (I was able to find just one substantial source in English and one in Georgian), probably because it isn’t especially interesting. If you, the reader, have more to add, please go ahead and comment. I myself learned about it only as a byproduct of my obsessive search to find a map showing Tskhinvali under the name “Staliniri” (see Notes on Terminology s.v. Tskhinvali). While browsing through the book A Modern History of Soviet Georgia by David Marshall Lang, I found one:
This map gives a few other old Soviet names besides Stalinir (for instance, Makharadze instead of the modern Ozurgeti). It also features some systematically bizarre spellings (for instance, “Dsiteli-Dsqaro” instead of “Tsiteltsqaro”). But most importantly, it indicates two “areas annexed by Georgia 1944-1957”, though sadistcally these areas not mentioned anywhere else in the book.