ArmInfo.Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II addressed a letter to the Prime Minister of Georgia George Gaharii in connection with the situation that developed around the monastery complex David Gareji.
In a letter published by the Georgian Patriarchate of Elijah to Gahariya, in particular, it says: "I greet you with respect and address you about a very important issue in our opinion. The case concerns two important monasteries - Udabno and Chichkhituri. Everything is legally and cartographically. Between the leadership of Georgia and On March 5-7, 1938 and June 13, 1996, the Azerbaijani side reached a bilateral agreement, according to which the state border should be drawn in accordance with a map on a scale of 1: 200 000, published in 1936-1939 by the People's Commissariat in According to the bilaterally recognized map, the monasteries of Udabno and Chichkhituri are recorded on the territory of Georgia (unlike Bertubani, which is also an integral part of the Gareji, but ended up on the territory of Azerbaijan), which is why, by Decree No. 315 of the Government of the Republic of Georgia of April 21, 1991 the liberated area of the landfill located on the territory of the Gareji monastery landfill (where the monasteries), together with other land, was transferred to the ownership of the Georgian patriarchate. In the legal sense, this property was further approved on October 14, 2002 by the constitutional agreement concluded between the Georgian state and the Georgian church in which we read: all the churches and monasteries and the lands on which they are located are recognized as the property of the church (7.1). Consequently, the actions of the Azerbaijani side are completely incomprehensible to us, as a result of which, since 2019, we have actually been deprived of the Udabno and Chichkhituri monasteries and worshipers, tourists, as well as clergy, have completely limited access to them. It turns out that before the village, the existing reality this year, outside of any logic, has been changed, with which we cannot reconcile. We demand that before the completion of the delimitation and demarcation process, the previously existing status quo was restored and that there were no problems for clergy and tourists who came to get acquainted with our culture in connection with the desire to visit the monasteries of Udabno and Chichhituri, especially since maintaining the actual situation in such territory binding, and changing the situation without consent from another state, especially through violent action, is completely unacceptable. We think that the Azerbaijani people friendly to the Georgian people and the leadership of their state will correctly assess the situation, so that there would continue to be no alternative to good-neighborly and friendly relations between our peoples. We hope, Mr. George, that through your intervention the issue will be resolved positively and historical justice backed by international standards will be restored. God bless and strengthen you>.
The letter is dated October 1st. Copies were sent to the Ministers of Foreign and Internal Affairs of Georgia, as well as to the State Agency for Religious Affairs of Georgia. Note that in the spring of this year, a serious scandal erupted between Georgia and Azerbaijan over the David Gareji complex. After the Georgian press reported with reference to Archimandrite Kirion (Oniani) that the Azerbaijani border guards began to establish signs prohibiting movement at the Udabno monastery on the territory of the medieval Georgian cave complex, and the access to the desert monastery was blocked by Azerbaijanis for three days scandal broke out.
Recall that David Gareji is a unique complex of Georgian cave monasteries, numbering about 20, carved into the rocks. The main object of the complex is the Lavra of St. David. In many churches and refectories on the territory of the complex, frescoes of the 8th-14th centuries are preserved, including those depicting Queen Tamar. Part of the David Gareji complex controlled by Azerbaijan, including the Udabno Monastery, is located on the southwestern slope of the semi-desert Gareji Ridge. The problem is that Baku considers David Gareji a part of Albanian culture, not Georgian. Hence the ongoing "war" between Azerbaijan and Georgia over the monasteries. Flared up now, before Easter, the scandal seems to have been able to quickly stop. A few hours after the appearance of information on the actions of Azerbaijani border guards at the Georgian Foreign Ministry, they stated that the problem was resolved and priests, flocks and tourists would be conveniently let into the monastery. Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani said that he personally spoke with his Baku counterpart, after which the Azerbaijani authorities decided accordingly. In turn, the head of the presidential administration of Georgia, Lasha Zhvania, said: "Such facts suggest that the issue of delimiting the border between countries is very important. It is necessary that, according to the existing agreement between the presidents of Georgia and friendly Azerbaijan, the commission temporarily resume work, so that borders between the two friendly countries are finally established and there is no longer any place for artificial tension>.
This position was supported in Baku. A spokeswoman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Leyla Abdullayeva, said that her country was "ready to complete the delimitation process of the Azerbaijani- Georgian border in the near future". At the same time, she clarified that the Azerbaijani border guards laid walking paths to David Gareji for several days, because of the work, the road leading to the Udabno monastery was closed to tourists and pilgrims, as well as to clergy. But if this is so, why didn't the Azerbaijani border guards inform the cave complex ministers in advance about this, which would avoid a scandal? There are questions to Tbilisi. Archimandrite Kirion linked what is happening with recent statements by Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili about the need to agree on disputed sections of the border as soon as possible and complete the delimitation process, although Georgian Catholicos Ilia II forbade clergy to make political statements. The issue of the border was raised during the visit of Zurabishvili to Baku in February 2019.
Note that a few days earlier, the Azerbaijani side announced the opening of a new border post at David Gareji.