Georgian PM in Baku: fate of David Gareja monastery presumably on agenda
October 9 marks the beginning of Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gaharia’s visit to Azerbaijan, Gakharia’s first official visit as prime minister.
With a high degree of probability, it can be assumed that the main topic of the Azerbaijani and Georgian negotiations will be the situation around the David Gareja monastery complex.
The sixth-century cave monastery, which the Georgian side calls David Gareji, and the Azerbaijani side Keshishdag, periodically becomes the cause of confrontation and incidents between the neighboring friendly countries.
The fact is the state border between Georgia and Azerbaijan runs directly through the monastery complex. Georgia claims that David Gareja is a monument of Georgian culture. Azerbaijan believes that the complex is part of the Albanian culture and has nothing to do with Georgia.
The situation around this cultural monument is aggravated from time to time. In April 2019, Azerbaijani border guards blocked access to the complex’s facilities located on the Azerbaijani side, so that Georgians could not enter. Georgian activists held a number of demonstrations, sparking clashes with Azerbaijani border guards.*
Meanwhile, negotiations on delimitation and demarcation of the border between Tbilisi and Baku have not been completed. They continue to this day, although no concrete results are visible.
The day before Giorgi Gakharia’s visit to Baku, the Georgian Patriarchate published the appeal of Catholicos Patriarch Elijah the Second to the Prime Minister to resolve issues related to David Gareja.
The letter says that since 2019, the Azerbaijani side has “appropriated” the Udabno and Chichkhitur monasteries, which are part of the David Gareja complex, as a result of which “pilgrims, tourists and clergy have lost access to these monuments.”
The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) recalls the bilateral agreements reached with Azerbaijan in 1938, and then in 1996, under which:
“The state border must pass according to maps on a scale of 1: 200000, published in 1936-1938 by the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs.”
A letter from the patriarch to the prime minister says that according to these maps, the Udabno and Chichkhitura monasteries, which are part of the David Gareja complex, are recorded in Georgian territory, and the Bertubani monastery of the same complex is in Azerbaijan.
“Therefore, the actions of the Azerbaijani side are completely incomprehensible to us… It turns out that the reality that has existed for many years this year has been subverted. We will not put up with this, ” the statement of the Patriarch says.
The Patriarch’s appeal also formulated a specific requirement:
The patriarchate requires that prior to the completion of delimitation and demarcation of the state border, the previous order should be restored so that clergy, pilgrims and tourists have the opportunity to freely visit the monasteries of Udabno and Chichhitur.
“It is unacceptable to change the situation around David Gareja without coordination with the second state, especially by force measures,” the appeal says.
“I think that the friendly Azerbaijani people and the authorities of this state will correctly assess the current situation and make a fair decision … I hope, Mr. Prime Minister, the issue will be positively resolved with your participation and the historical justice backed by international standards will be restored,” the Patriarch’s letter concludes with these words.
The delimitation and demarcation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian border has been ongoing for a long time, although it was interrupted for several years. Border issues have been updated since April 2019. A special bilateral commission has been created, which, along with other issues, works on the determination of disputed border sections. In the near future, a regular meeting of this body will be held in Tbilisi.
The David Gareja complex is constantly the focus of media attention in both countries. On October 6, Azerbaijani media outlets reported that the Azerbaijani border service has opened a new border crossing point, Keshikchi Gala.
After a visit to Azerbaijan, the Prime Minister of Georgia will visit Armenia next week. Giorgi Gahariya’s visit to Turkey is also being prepared, which will take place at the end of the month. According to the Prime Minister’s administration, Giorgi Gakharia will make the first visits to neighboring countries, which are Georgia’s most important partners, both in international politics and in socio-economic issues. ”