One of Russia's smallest regions, mountainous North Ossetia has fallen prey to the spillover from the violent unrest that plagues its neighbours in the volatile North Caucasus.
This was starkly illustrated in September 2004, when armed attackers stormed a school in the town of Beslan. In the violent end to the siege 330 people were killed; more than half of them were children.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the attackers were international terrorists with links to Chechen separatists and funding from al-Qaeda. He accused them of seeking to unleash violence across the North Caucasus in order to strike at Russia's south.
Ousted Chechen separatist president Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed just six months later, condemned the seizure of the school but blamed Russian policy in Chechnya, describing the attackers as "madmen" seeking to avenge the Chechen people for atrocities carried out by Russians.
Remembering the victims: The Beslan siege ended in a bloodbath
The only attacker thought to have survived was later sentenced to life imprisonment. Campaigners continue to accuse the Russian authorities of a cover-up and want further investigation into events leading up to and during the siege.
Attacks blamed on Islamist insurgents continue to plague North Ossetia. Speaking after a bomb blast killed 17 people in the regional capital Vladikavkaz in September 2010, regional president Taymuraz Mamsurov said the authorities were "at war with terrorists" in the North Caucasus.
Ethnic Ossetians and Russians make up most of the population of North Ossetia. Russian influence in the area increased in the 18th century with the founding of a military outpost at Vladikavkaz.
In the early 1920s the territory was part of the short-lived Soviet Mountain Republic - made up of six districts including Chechnya and Ingushetia. Autonomous status was given to the districts in 1924; in 1936 North Ossetia became an autonomous Soviet republic.
North Ossetia fought a bloody conflict with its eastern neighbour, the Russian republic of Ingushetia, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ingush forces, in pursuit of a historical claim to Prigorodny district on the right bank of the Terek river, were repelled in 1992 with the support of Moscow. Hundreds died in the fighting, and many thousands of Ingush civilians fled North Ossetia for Ingushetia.
War broke out in the South Ossetia region of Georgia, just over the border from North Ossetia, in August 2008. Russian forces drove Georgian troops out of the region, which declared independence from Georgia in 1991 and has been run by a secessionist government ever since.
Thousands of South Ossetians fled to the North in the 1990s amid the violence that followed the declaration of independence. North Ossetia maintains strong ethnic links with the territory.
Rich in resources - including unexploited oil and gas reserves - North Ossetia is the most industrialised and urbanised republic in the North Caucasus. It also has tourism potential; plans for a ski resort were announced in 2003.
Territory: North Ossetia Status: Semi-autonomous region of Russia
- Population: 712,877 (2010)
- Capital: Vladikavkaz
- Area: 8,000 sq km (3,000 sq miles)
- Main religion: Christianity, Islam
- Languages: Ossetian, Russian
- Currency: Rouble
President: Taymuraz Mamsurov
Taymuraz Mamsurov was put forward for the leadership by Russian President Vladimir Putin and approved by the republic's parliament after the resignation of Aleksandr Dzasokhov in June 2005.
Taymuraz Mamsurov, regarded as a Kremlin loyalist
He is a leading member of the North Ossetian branch of United Russia and is regarded as a staunch Kremlin loyalist. He had been chairman of the republic's parliament since 2000 and was chairman of its government for two years before that.
Mr Dzasokhov, president since 1998, was heavily criticised in the republic over the North Ossetian authorities' failure to prevent bloodshed in the September 2004 Beslan school siege. As a senior official at the time of the siege, in which his son and daughter were amongst the hostages, Mr Mamsurov has also faced criticism in its aftermath.
He has spoken of the people of North and South Ossetia as an "integral whole" and issued a joint statement with his South Ossetian counterpart on boosting links.
Mr Mamsurov was born in Beslan and was 50 when he became leader. He trained as a civil engineer.
Most media outlets are owned by, or under the influence of, the republic's government. Observers say TV, radio and press news content is dominated by official information.
- GTRK Alania - state-run
- Alania Radio - entertainment-based