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Fighting for sanctuaries: Georgians against themselves2011-01-26 12:52
Conclusion of an extraordinary treaty is expected between Georgia and Turkey with Georgia acquiring the right to restore four churches in Eastern Turkey and authorizing construction of four mosques in its territory. Yet, as is usually the case in diplomacy, the path of good intentions is full of hidden obstacles. Turks are ready to comply with the contract while Georgians get stuck failing to settle internal differences. Let's follow the developments.
Dialogue on restoration of Georgian churches in Turkey has been on since 2007 when Georgian government called Turkey's leaders to allow restoration of four monastery complexes in Eastern Turkey. In exchange Turkey expressed a wish to restore and construct four mosques accordingly.
Once, there was Georgian principality of Tao-Klardzheti in Turkish regions of Kars and Artvin, a sort of intellectual center of Georgia in 9-11 centuries. It was the place where the New Testament was translated into Georgian and a home for scholars and poets.
Presently there are only remains of the sanctuaries as traces of bygone grandeur. Their condition deteriorates year after year and Georgian scholars keep demanding access to these churches seeking an opportunity to start restoration works. Churches and monasteries, desolate for many centuries, go to pieces not only because of time, but through human activities. Once richly decorated temples now attract illegal archeologists responsible for devastating tombs of the czar family and removing valuable frescoes.
Without reproaching Turks, it should be remembered that historically these lands did belong to Georgia and were transferred to Turkey only in 1920 - under Kar peace treaty that brought Ajaria, then Islamized, back to Georgia's fold.
Asking Georgia to allow restoration of collapsing churches, the Georgian government was given consent on condition that the Turkish side restored and constructed four mosques in the territory of Georgia in exchange. On the whole, at that moment the agreement could be considered as achieved, only details remained that the parties to the contract tackled in 2008.
As a result, a wave of protest rose in Georgia with the intelligentsia calling to stop "Islamization" of the country. The treaty stipulated construction of one new mosque in Batumi and restoration of three mosques, two in Samtske-Javakhetia on the Georgian-Turkish border and one in Kobuleti district of Ajaria. Not only in Tbilisi, but in Batumi too there were people claiming that restoration and construction of mosques is "crawling Islamization" of the Black Sea region that Turks want to gain control of.