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Presidents discuss Davit Gareji issue during NATO summit

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, May 21
The difficulties related to the Davit Gareji monastery complex were one of the topical issues the Georgian and Azerbaijani presidents spoke about in Chicago, the Georgian foreign minister reports.

“I want to underline that this problem is not new, it arose during the communist period, when intentionally or unintentionally the administrative line was fixed in that way 2% of the monastery complex was found on Azerbaijan territory. I want to underline that on the day of Georgian president's arrival, we demand the assembling of border commissions to carry out work on the issue with a doubled effort,” the Georgian Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze , said .

Despite such statements from the Georgian foreign ministry side, Georgian society- including spiritual figures, consider the Georgian government’s statements concerning the issue are "inconsistent and anti state." Several demonstrations are planned inside the state to protest the reality created around the monastery complex. One such demonstration was held on May 20, where hundreds of Georgians gathered and organized a march to the Georgian Parliament building. Initially it was voiced that the protesters would also stop in front of the Azerbaijani embassy. However, as the organizers explained, they had no negative attitude aimed towards Georgia's neighbour.

Georgia kept to their position during the negotiations with the Azeri side, demanding the protection of Georgian territory, the emptying of the monastery complex of armed people- both from Georgia and Azerbaijan- and making all documents public. Georgia sided with the Azeris concerning the monastery, and the restoration of the situation that existed prior to May 6. The demonstration was organized by the Georgian Martial Art Federation Shavparosnebi.

Similar demonstrations will be held on May 21, in which spiritual leaders and representatives of Georgian civil society will take part. The demonstrations will start at the Trinity Cathedral and conclude at the Davit Gareji Monastery.

Conflict issues analyst Malkhaz Chemia told The Messenger, the Davit Gareji problem cannot be discussed one-dimensionally, as it is part of a more complex matter. During the Shevardnadze era the [monastery] was not high on the agenda. The Azerbaijan side recognized that the Davit Gareji monastery was a Georgian cultural monument, and spoke of a future perspective that would be in the interest of both states. Concretely, the whole Davit Gareji monastery should be inside Georgia. When the definite border section was settled with a small Azeri population within Georgian territory, it was to be exchanged with Azerbaijan as commercial monastery area. However, as a semi-desert, it was less profitable for our neighbour." Chemia underscores that raising the Gareji issue was one aspect of the Georgian government’s incorrect approach (politically) with the Azeri side. "Azerbaijan needs Georgia especially in the context of Armenia, and needs Georgia as its ally and supporter. On April 14, the Georgian government permitted Armenians to hold demonstrations in the state concerning the genocide. It was not broadcasted by Georgian television and it was not a large-scale protest. However, the fact remains, it caused Azerbaijan irritation, and some statements concerning this fact were made within the Azerbaijani legislative body. The recognition of the Cherkissian genocide might become a threat and the Armenian’s would also demand the same. Thus, I want to state that the Georgian government’s unsupportive Azerbaijan policy imposed several complications in the relationship that was manifested in several directions. The Nabucco project is under question, statements are being made about Armenian lobbyists within the state... the Davit Gareji situation is complicated … these and some others are the outcomes of recent unbalanced neighbouring policy,” the analyst states and underscoring the fact that the problem will not be solved by the current Georgian leadership, as solving it requires the authorities to be interested in the issue, as well as a multi- party parliament.

A different attitude was voiced by fellow analyst, Nika Chitadze, for whom "the state authorities' actions concerning the problem are right; the problem lies in the past, when several anti-state decisions were made and part of Davit Gareji- meaning the Udabno Monastery- was found on Azeri territory . There are political groups which are trying to blame the government and strain the situation with political motivation. The negotiations are ongoing and the authorities’ statements and reactions are understandable,” the analyst told The Messenger and outlined the speculations made by some that Georgians not permitted to enter the entire Davit Gareji area are far from reality, as only one area is problematic and such kinds of statements are in the interests of some opposition groups.

Currently, Georgia only has a secure border agreement with Turkey, while the process with Armenia and Azerbaijan is still ongoing. Disputes relate back to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the internal republic borders dictated by Moscow. There are three important cultural and historic Georgian monuments situated on disputed land between Georgia and Azerbaijan - Chichkhituri, Udabno, and the Bertubani monasteries, all of which are part of the Davit Gareji monastery complex. That land was given to Azerbaijan in 1921.