The Georgian Orthodox Church hopes that ‘Georgia and Azerbaijan will resolve the territorial issues without harming the two countries’ friendship’
The Georgian Orthodox Church issued a statement on December 9, coming out against the idea of creating a cross-border zone on the disputed border with Azerbaijan near the monastery complex of David Gareji, which has recently become the subject of intense debate between the two countries.
The monastery complex, tucked into rocks and caves that date back to the sixth century, is called David Gareji by the Georgian side, and Keshishdag by the Azerbaijani side.
The site has been a thorn in the side of Georgian-Azerbaijani relations, given the border of the two countries runs through the monastery complex.
Georgia claims that David Gareji is a monument of Georgian culture, while Azerbaijan believes that the complex is part of the ancient Albanian culture in the region and has nothing to do with Georgia.
The most recent aggravation around the monument occurred in April 2019.
Then, Georgian media reported that Azerbaijani border guards had blocked access to part of the complex located on the Azerbaijani side.
Not only tourists, but also Georgian priests could not get to the holy sites for several days. Then Georgian activists held a series of rallies, which even resulted in incidents with Azerbaijani border guards.
Negotiations on delimitation and demarcation of the border between Tbilisi and Baku are still ongoing, with no visible results.
The Georgian Orthodox Church is an important participant in this dispute, since all the churches in Georgia are its property.
“Everyone wants to find a way out of this situation. The creation of a cross-border territory in this geographical area could be positively assessed if the question of who owns this territory would be historically, culturally, legally and cartographically clarified.
“But there is no such problem with the monasteries of Udabno and Chichhituri. Therefore, such a proposal will actually ignore existing documents and will call into question the ownership of this territory of Georgia.
Therefore, the Georgian church will not be able to support the initiative put forward,” the statement says.
The idea of declaring David Gareji the first cross-border protected area is supported by several experts in Georgia.
In particular, at the end of October 2019, a member of the High Council of Justice, civic activist Anna Dolidze, approached the government with the initiative to declare David Gareji a protected territory so that it becomes a heritage monument on an international scale.
She also introduced the Gareji Plan, a 200-page document compiled by scientists in 2006 with funding from the Global Development Fund and the World Bank.
Dolidze calls on the government to look at the document and start working on this issue.