The messenger logo

Georgia artifacts in Abkhazia in danger, experts warn

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, January 25
Improper rehabilitation activities at Bedia Cathedral in the breakaway region of Abkhazia have endangered medieval Georgian ornaments and icons, historians worry.

Lia Akhaladze, who has worked on the restoration of the Cathedral during 1980s, spoke of the recent shoddy work completed by the Russian Tektonik Company, which badly affected the state of Georgian cultural artifacts built by King Bagrat III in 999 AD. The King’s icon, his only fresco known to scientists, has been washed down along with other Georgian ornaments and ancient inscriptions.

Rehabilitation carried out by Tektonik from 2010 was greatly criticized by Georgia. “The fresco of King Bagrat, which we took care of so tenderly, doesn’t exist anymore,” Akhaladze said, doubting that Tektonik deliberately damaged the church. “If we consider the fact that the dome of Ilori Church [also in Abkhazia] has been changed with a Russian dome, the same will probably happen with the Bedia,” she said, stressing the necessity for engaging Georgian specialists in the restoration process, in order to preserve the interior of the Bedia, one of the most unique Georgian Cathedrals.

A report prepared by Russian experts also confirmed post-rehabilitation damage to the Cathedral. Suggesting that the work process should have been more careful, the report stressed the necessity for inspecting the level of damage, comparing photos before and after rehabilitation activities, as well as eradicating scratches tourists have made in the Cathedral.

Nika Rurua, Georgian Minister of Culture and Monument Protection, spoke of the impossibility of entering the occupied region, “which is under the Kremlin control”. Calling it a “vandal act” Nika Vacheishvili, Head of Georgia’s Cultural Heritage Preservation Agency, said the Georgian government would use all options available to inform the international community about the issue, confident that international pressure would put an end to the vandalism.

The fate of medieval Georgian churches has united both government and opposition MPs behind one cause, prompting them to ask the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other related organizations for support in saving Georgian cultural heritage.

Representatives of the Georgian delegation to the Council of Europe have promised to use the international platform of the parliamentary session in Strasbourg to plead their case. It was approximately one week ago that Rustavi 2 released exclusive footage from Abkhazia where another medieval church, Ilori, was defaced.

As ruling United National Movement member Goka Gabashvili stated, the Georgian government has active contact with UNESCO representatives. According to Gabashvili, the process of damaging Georgian cultural heritages became intensive after the Georgian-Russian War in August 2008. Hoping that UNESCO, as a neutral organization, would be allowed to send in experts to Ilori, Christian-Democratic Movement member Magda Anikashvili addressed Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on behalf of the Georgian delegation.

But Russian ruling party MP Andrey Klimov spoke of Abkhazia as a sovereign country which has to solve its problems independently. “If UNESCO officials think of entering Abkhazia as [though it is] part of Georgia they won’t be let in,” Klimov said, emphasizing that UNESCO has not attempted to initiate relations with Abkhazia so far.