Georgian Patriarch Ilia II has addressed Chairman of the Caucasus Muslim Board, Sheik-ul-Islam Allahshuqur Pasha-zade, to mediate with the ‘brotherly nation’ of Azerbaijan to ‘fairly resolve issues’ in David Gareji as current actions by the country [Azerbaijan] regarding two monasteries in Georgia’s 6th century monastery complex David Gareji are ‘absolutely unclear.’
In the letter released by the Georgian Patriarchate, Ilia II says that ‘due to the actions’ of Azerbaijani border guards two monasteries of David Gareji - Udabno and Chichkhituri have been closed to Georgian clerics, the parish and tourists since the beginning of the year.
The action is taking place in a situation when based on the deals signed between Georgia and Azerbaijan in 1938 and 1996 both monasteries are within the territory of Georgia, unlike Bertubani, which is also the part of the monastery complex but according to the deals it is located on Azerbaijani territory. Legally and based on maps everything is clear regarding Chichkhituri and Udabno monasteries,” Ilia II said.
Ilia II also disapproved the construction of a new border post by Azerbaijan on “currently not agreed upon territory, near the two monasteries, which further restricted the movement of clerics and tourists to Udabno and Chichkhituri, which, of course, we will not tolerate.”
David Gareji monastery complex is named after one of Assyrian fathers David Garejeli. Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge.
Ilia II says that before settling border issues with Azerbaijan clerics, the parish and tourists should be allowed to the monasteries.
Without being agreed with another state and taking action to change situation forcibly is unacceptable,” Ilia II said.
Ilia II expressed hope that Azerbaijan will evaluate the situation appropriately and make a fair decision.
A friendly and neighbourly relations has no alternative. Your mediation in the situation [and for the friendly resolution of the issue] is very important,” Ilia II addressed Pasha-zade.
The statement comes shortly after the construction of a new border post by Azerbaijan on the territory of David Gareji.
The Azerbaijani State Border Service told Azerbaijani media APA that the “location of the post on the territory of Keshikchidag’s (David Gareji) historical and cultural reserve along with border protection was also intended to protect the historical and cultural heritage of the Azerbaijani people.”
Georgia and Azerbaijan have not agreed borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1991. The Georgian-Azerbaijani state border demarcation commission renewed work in May 2019.
Azerbaijani and Georgian border police officials after May incident in David Gareji. Photo: Interior Ministry press office.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry has not yet released information regarding concrete outcomes of the meetings.
The situation became more tense at the scene after the visit of Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili in David Gareji back in April 20 2019, where she urged for an urgent resolution of border issue with Azerbaijan.
Shortly after the statement Azerbaijani border guards closed the section of the monastery complex to clerics and tourists for several days.
An incident took place between Azerbaijani border guards and locals in July 2019.
In their earlier statements Georgian Foreign Ministry and the patriarchate have urged people and clerics to refrain from actions which might create problems for the negotiation process on the border issue “with the friendly nation.”
However, the Georgian Patriarchate has stated many times that David Gareji is the cultural heritage of Georgia which must be inside the country.
David Gareji is a complex of 22 rock-hewn monasteries and more than 5,000 cells and cave-cells, located in Georgia’s south-east.