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Azerbaijani border guards took icons out of Davit Gareja monastery

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, July 16
Azerbaijani border guards took out icons from the Udabno monastery of the Davit Gareja monastery complex in South –Eastern Georgia on July 14, at the conditional border between Georgia and Azerbaijan, which caused a dispute between locals and the border guards, Georgian media reported based on guides and public groups on Monday.

The Georgian Interior Ministry confirmed the “minor incident,” on the next day, saying that the situation was calmed shortly with the involvement of law enforcers.

Local clerics and guides say that they are unable to enter the Udabno monastery, located on the disputed section.

“Speculations that problems regarding Udabno monastery emerged in the Soviet times is wrong. We have faced complications regarding Udabno monastery starting from 2010, under the United National Movement leadership. Since the time, from time to time, we were unable to enter the monastery. As of now, we are not allowed there,” one of the clerics, Erekle told the IPN.

Leader of the Power is Unity public movement Davit Katsarava says that the Georgian government did not involve when Azerbaijani border guards took out the icons and handed them to the Georgian border guards.

“Locals were irritated by the fact, both by taking out of the icons and that the Georgian government did not suspend the action. Locals were also irritated by the fact that Azerbaijani border guards use several of the monk cells as restrooms,” Katsarava said.

He stated that the Georgian and Azerbaijani representatives were holding a meeting on July 15 in Gareji, which was not confirmed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Georgia but was confirmed by the Interior Ministry the same day.

The Interior Ministry urged the public to allow the State Border Demarcation Commission, which is composed of Azerbaijani and Georgian officials, to work without pressure and agree upon on the border.

Georgia has not managed to agree on borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The border is agreed only with Turkey from the neighbors.

On 23-24-25 April, Azerbaijani border guards prevented clerics and tourists from entering the section of the monastery complex, which caused tension.

The tension was eased after the involvement of top state figures from both sides.

However, as local clerics say, the number of Azerbaijani border guards increased to 17-18 men from then, while “only two have been patrolling the area previously.”

Clerics say that the situation at the site has complicated after the visit of Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili early in April, who urged for the “timely resolution of the border issue with Azerbaijan.”

The Georgian Foreign Ministry says that the “border issue is specific” and such topics should be settled calmly and in a friendly environment.

Azerbaijani border guards also closed the 6th-century site back in 2012 that was protested by the march of hundreds of Georgians to Davit Gareja, which ended by the re-opening of the site.

Davit Gareja monastery complex is composed of 22 rock-hewn monasteries and more than 5,000 sanctuaries and cave-cells.