17 May, 2012

‘They must be warned strictly to stop willful actions’

‘Azeri border guard is willfully occupying David Gareja Monastery territory prohibiting movement of the pilgrims’ – the clergymen from Gareja Monastery informed us. We arrived at David Gareja. When approaching the Chichkhituri Monastery we noticed about a dozen of Azeri guards at the mountain crest and tower.

On seing our car, they got agitated; so we decided not to go up there before seeing the monks - we secured ourselves as we

were warned that without the clergymen they would not even allow us to go near the territory controlled by them.

According to the clergymen and pilgrims, last October Azeri border-guard detained Georgian and foreign tourists exactly at Chichkhituri Monastery. The detained did nothing but take photos fo the tower. Timely interference of Georgian guard saved the foreigners and spared Azerbaijan from diplomatic scandal but they couldn’t manage to protect Georgian tourists.
Azeris took the detainees to the base and released them only after three days.
Having arrived there, I too had to speak to the translator who, heavily breathing hurried up the slope from the base. But before this we visited the Laura Monastery where archimandrite Ilarion (Chigladze) accepted us. According to him on May 6 (St. George’s day) at about 12.30 the Azeris occupied both paths of Udabno Monastery leading to Resurrection and Samartvile churches. The liturgy of St. George’s celebration was finished a couple of minutes ago when they heard from the Udabno Monastery about the ‘incursion’ of Azeris.
Archimandrite Ilarion: - 5-men groups stand at the churches. As our border-guard told us they were armed even with machine-guns. It wasn’t only making round or special inspection, it looked like armed intervention. They declared that our Udabno Monastery was their territory and they wouldn’t allow anybody there (?!).
Q. – Has anything like that happened before?
A.I. – This problem has been on the agenda since last century. Several years ago the situation became tense but we achieved agreement – until final approval of borders and demarcation to keep status quo, i.e. the monks, tourists and pilgrims would be allowed to visit the whole territory of the Monastery. The border issue is still undecided so the Azeris’ had no reason to violate the agreement.
They keep saying that it’s a border and movement of people is not allowed. But there is no border at Resurrection Church and the Azeris had no right to be there.
This issue must be settled at the state level. To this end even commissions have been set up but it can’t be moved from the dead point. If we want to retain good neighborly relations this issue must be solved promptly.
An order came from above – only clergymen to be allowed to go up to the Monasteries and churches. Tomorrow they won’t allow even us. We know that Azerbaijan has pretensions about our territory but does the Georgian side still have doubts that it’s a disputable territory and we need proofs? Aren’t the monasteries themselves a proof? And besides, if Azeri guard is at the border, why don’t we do the same? According to the law, nobody is allowed to stand at the border. There is a buffer zone where nobody should stand.

We are monks and monastic elders; we are neither a state body nor police force to adhere to restrictive measures. We can only inform the Georgian nation that we are losing national shrine – the Gareja Monastery.
There were only Georgian border police at Resurrection church. Our attendant told them that we were guests and wanted to visit Udabno Monastery. The guard couldn’t refuse the clergyman’s request and said that they’d accompany us.
To observe the safety measures Georgian border police themselves accompany us to Chichkhitura. Nobody meets us there. We try to take photos and shoot video but nothing comes out without a flash.
We use light and in 10 minutes the sheep-dogs start barking fiercely. ‘They are coming’, says one of the Georgian guards. Soon two out-of-breath soldiers appear in the weathered rock arcs. Neither of them speaks Russian. Our attendants forbid us to talk to them promising to look to everything themselves. I obey not wishing to strain the situation. Soon an interpreter comes – little boy, a soldier. He says that taking photos is forbidden (?!), that their chiefs told ours about it. From the conversation it turns out that when meeting with Georgian side the Azeris tried indeed to restrict movement of pilgrims and tourists, besides they have language problems and they can’t make the tourists understand what are they allowed to do and what – not. Should I believe that the Azeri border services issued the strange order of incursion into the Monastery and restrictions because of the tourists? Should I believe that thus are they trying to put things in order at the border? Unfortunately there is nobody to answer these questions; neither the Georgian authorities ‘hand out’ desirable answers. In the meantime the Azeri border guard believes that Chichkhitura as well as Udabno and Bertubani belong to them.
Q. – Are we, Georgians and Azeris enemies or friends? - I ask the Azeri border guard.
A. – Of course, friends –he answers.
Q. – Then where is friendship? We came to our land to take photos; if you see something dangerous for your country I will destroy everything right away!
A. – Thank you, I’m not interested in photos. It’s a border and I have orders not to let you come close to it – answers the man who has no idea who David Garejeli was. One thing is obvious – it’s obscure why the Gareja problem lingers to be solved till today and why is the sacred place where on Shah Abbas’s order 6000 monks were tortured disputable?


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