(Civil.Ge) — Following talks between Azerbaijani and Georgian Presidents in Chicago, heads of the border guard services of the two countries met on May 20 and agreed that a status quo would be restored on the disputed section of border in the area of David Gareji monastery complex, meaning that visitors from Georgia will be able to access all parts of the complex, according to Georgian officials.
Zaza Gogava, head of the Georgian border police, met his Azerbaijani counterpart Elchin Guliyev on the border between the two countries on May 20 to discuss recent controversy, which was caused after repositioning of Azerbaijani border guards on May 6 in a disputed border section running through the monastery complex, no longer allowing visitors from Georgia to access some of the sites of the complex.
“The agreement has been reached, that before the complete resolution of [the border] issue, everyone will have access to this part of Davit Gareji without any restrictions. The Georgian side takes a commitment that no one, going to that part of the Gareji complex, will access Azerbaijani territory from this part of [the monastery complex],” Giga Bokeria, secretary of the Georgian National Security Council, told the Georgian public broadcaster’s weekly program Accents on Sunday.
Portion of Davit Gareji complex with its cave monasteries is one of the major stumbling blocks in border demarcation talks ongoing for many years already between Georgia and Azerbaijan. During the Soviet times the monastery complex was split by administrative border with major part of the complex falling within Georgia and another portion within Azerbaijan. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the two countries have been trying in vain to agree on the border demarcation.
The monastery complex, construction of which started in 6th century, is located in Gareji semi-desert about 70 kilometers southeast of Tbilisi and is one of Georgia’s important cultural and religious heritage sites and home of Georgian Orthodox monks.
Until May 6, 2012 visitors from Georgia were able to freely access part of complex, including the Udabno monastery, made up of caves cut into the rocks across the ridge, which has strategic importance as both Georgian and Azerbaijani territories can be easily monitored from that high ground.
From May 6 Azerbaijani border guards redeployed, no longer allowing visitors to access the area. Local Orthodox monks, however, were still able to move unhindered.
After the news about it first broke in the Georgian media on May 11, the issue was picked up on by opposition coalition Georgian Dream, whose one of the members Zviad Dzidziguri of Conservative Party traveled to the area on May 13. Next day he alleged that the move by the Azerbaijani border guards was probably not unilateral decision and accused the Georgian authorities of having a “secret” deal with Azerbaijan.
The issue drew more controversy internally in Georgia after its Deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze, said that the portion of the monastery complex in question was not in fact “a disputed territory”, because during the Soviet times it was within the Azerbaijani borders. Similar remarks were made by Minister of Culture and Monuments Protection Nikoloz Rurua. The remarks came as a surprise, triggering wave of criticism, including from the Georgian Orthodox Church. Later Kalandadze said she was misunderstood; she, however, also acknowledged that misunderstanding could have possibly been partly caused by her failure to articulate position properly.
On May 20, before a deal on restoring of pre-May 6 status quo was announced, hundreds of people marched in downtown Tbilisi to protest against developments surrounding part of the David Gareji monastery complex. Participants, holding banners with slogan “David Gareji is Georgia!!! Defend You Share of Georgia!!!”, marched towards the Foreign Ministry, calling for sacking Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze and the Culture Minister for making, as they put it, “irresponsible” statements.
National Security Council Secretary, Giga Bokeria, said in his televised interview on May 20, that opponents’ reactions to the issue, including creating “myths about as if someone is ‘selling the Georgian lands’” was a demonstration of “complete irresponsibility and immaturity”. He said that such reaction in some cases was probably a result lack of information.
“But in some cases, I mean on the part of politicians, it was an attempt to deliberately harm Georgia’s national interests,” Bokeria said.
He said that when Georgian churches in the occupied territories were defaced, there was mainly muted reaction from those political forces, which were now calling for, as Bokeria put it, “almost declaring war against Azerbaijan and demanding carrying out aggressive policies”.
“Difference between an enemy and a friendly state is that when there is a problem between friends, they try to solve it through negotiations and that’s what we are doing; enemies have an intention to overturn our state and our society knows very well how to call those people who want to make concessions before the enemy, while demanding launching war against friends,” Bokeria said, adding that it was in the interest of “our northern neighbor” to stir tensions between Georgia and Azerbaijan.
He also said that 66% of border between Georgia and Azerbaijan was agreed and expressed hope to complete negotiations on border delimitation and demarcation soon. Bokeria said that it was the goal of the Georgian side to have entire David Gareji monastery complex within the Georgian territories.