Ancient Georgian David Gareji complex reopens as Azerbaijani guards lift several-day ban
Access to David Gareji, a famous ancient cave complex in eastern Georgia, reopened late yesterday after Azerbaijani border guards had blocked entrance to the area for three days, not allowing both tourists and monks alike to pass.
The complex includes 21 monasteries and in total contains about 5,000 individual cells and sanctuaries, the most ancient of them dating back to the 6th century AD. Some monasteries are very small cells, many of which have preserved frescoes from the 8th – 14th Centuries. The main monastery of the complex is St. David’s Lavra.
The Georgian-Azerbaijani border passes right through David Gareji. Most of the complex, including the monastery of Udabno, is located on the southwestern slope of the mountain on territory controlled by Azerbaijan.
David Gareji has long been a subject of discussion between the two countries, since the border in the region is not demarcated – as is about one third of the 446-kilometre border between the two states. A bilateral Georgian-Azerbaijani intergovernmental commission on the delimitation and demarcation of the state border was created in 1996, but since then there has been no progress.
Usually there are few problems with local monks and tourists coming to David Gareji, but on 22 April, Azerbaijan suddenly blocked access to the complex.
There was no official explanation for this situation from Baku. The only information, in fact, came from the archimandrite of the monastery of Kirion (Oniani).
He told the Georgian public broadcaster that the entry into the complex was impossible and said that “Azerbaijani border guards are building paths near the monastery”.
Father Kirion speculates that the unexpected ban from Azerbaijan is somehow connected to the statement of Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili about the need to reach an agreement on the disputed parts of the border as soon as possible.
Zurabishvili raised the matter during her visit to Baku in February 2019.
Father Kirion told Georgian journalists that the passage to the complex reopened on 26 April:
“We can now move freely, and the Azerbaijani border guards have stopped making paths.”
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani told reporters that the problem was solved after he personally spoke with his counterpart in Baku.