Martyrs of Adjara, Lazeti and Tao Klarjeti
Introduction. Land of the Martyrs
The country of mountains and sea, sun and fruits, the country of Caucasian hospitality and original cuisine, the country of shingle beaches and the ruins of ancient monasteries - this is how we usually imagine Georgia. However, foreign tourists do not know everything about Adjara, a southwest coastal part of Georgia in particular, which has become the center of beach tourism in this Caucasian country.
Batumi is the center of Adjara, along with the capital of Georgia Tbilisi, is one of the main goals for millions of tourists who visit Georgia annually.
However, behind the facade of casinos and hotels, tourist routes and restaurants of Georgian cuisine, there is a completely different and invisible Georgia. The inheritance of the Holy Mother of God, the land of the seventeen-century Orthodox tradition, stained with the blood of martyrs, who accepted death for Christ. The Arabs, Persians, and Turks alternately tried to deprive Georgia its foundation the Orthodox faith during its ancient history. Throughout its history, the regions of Georgia have undergone a series of persecutions against Christianity from various conquerors. And most of all, perhaps, the land of Ajaria was stained with martyr blood being under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire for longer than 300 years.
"By the early centuries of the first millennium BC two large cultural areas were identified on the territory of Georgia - the eastern and the western, which corresponded to the two main tribes that united the Georgian nationalities, west, and east. Western cultural area, in particular, included Western Georgia, the Chorokhi river basin and a significant part of the southern coast of the Black Sea.
Reports about Adjara are found in written sources of the 7th-6th centuries BC.The name Batumi and Batum are often mentioned in the Byzantine written sources of the 4th century BC.
According to Dmitry Bakradze, the territory of Adjara stretched from Samtskhe to the Black Sea, it bordered with Shavsheti from the south, the border ran along Mount Bakhmaro in the east, reached the Sarpi village from the southwest, and reached the Supsa River in the direction of the northwest.
It should also be emphasized that in ancient historical sources Adjara is often mentioned as the country of Adjara. As a clearly defined administrative unit of Georgia, Adjara has existed since the 4th-3rd centuries BC. This, in particular, is confirmed in the writings of the ancient Georgian historian Leonti Mroveli and the description of the life of King Parnavaz, who lived in the 3rd century BC. in the days of which Adjara represented one of the six administrative units of the Georgian state.
By geographical location, Adjara is traditionally divided into two parts: seaside and mountain, which together or separately at different periods of history were parts of various Georgian kingdoms. In particular, at the end of the second millennium BC Adjaran cities, Batumi fortress, Apsari (Gonio) and others, were included in the Kingdom of ancient Colchis. The Colchis Kingdom occupied a vast territory that began from modern Abkhazia and continued far to the south and west along the Black Sea coast. During the Eastern Roman Empire, the Colchis Kingdom was called Lazika. It began from the Bzybsky gorge (Abkhazia) and extended to the Chorokhi river. On the border of Lazika, a new fortified city named Petra was built by the order of Justinian. The walls of this city that were built on a high cliff, have survived to our days (in Tsihisdziri, between Kobuleti and Batumi). According to the idea of Justinian, Peter was to serve as the main base of the Roman military forces in Lazika and the residence of the strategist. This fortress was repeatedly used for military purposes. Therefore, it is not surprising that in 542 the Persians struck at the Roman garrison in the fortress of Petra exactly.
Soon Colchis was subordinated by the Kingdom of Pontus, which was formed as a result of the split of the Seleucid Kingdom. The population of the Pontine Kingdom itself, in its overwhelming majority, was Georgian. In turn, the Romans have done a crushing blow to the Kingdom of Pontus.
In V century Colchis-Lazika turned into an arena of fierce military clashes between Persia and Greece, in which the Greeks won. By that time, part of the territory of Adjara has fallen into the Iberian state that was headed by Vakhtang Gorgasali. Together with Samtskhe, it formed a separate administrative unit of Iberia. In the 7th century, Adjara was a separate administrative unit, according to the famous Armenian geographer A. Shirakatsi. In the 8th century, Byzantium was fighting with Georgia, in alliance with the Khazars. Then there was the Arab conquest, and by the beginning of the 8th century, the Arab garrisons were already in the capital of Lazika Tsikhe Goji. By the beginning of the 9th century, the Arabs succeeded in destroying the Kingdom of Kartli. Following the Arab conquest, Turks begin the devastating and bloody military acts. Their acts against Georgia in 1065 and 1068 ended in vain, and since 1080 the attacks and wars of the Turks against Georgia have taken on a large scale.
With the creation of the Tao-Klardgetian Kingdom in the beginning of the 11th century, Adjara found itself in the center of feudal Georgia. From the second half of the 12th century to the end of the14th century Adjara was a part of Meskheti, being its separate principality (in the 13th century, Meskhetia was renamed Samtskhe-Saatabago).
From the second half of the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire seized Chanetia (Lazistan) and fought for the acquisition of Samtskhe-Saatabago and the whole Georgia. In 1461 the Turks conquered the Empire of Trebizond. Fortified on the left bank of the Chorokhi river, they undertook robbery attacks on Batum and all Adjara. By that time the situation of the Georgian state had worsened, as long as it had to confront two aggressive neighbors: the Ottoman Turkey and the Safavid Iran. The Safavids were Shiites, the Turks were Sunnis. At the very beginning of the 16th century, a war broke out between Iran and Turkey and lasted fifty years. During this entire period, the warring parties fought fierce battles or prepared for them. The arena of the Iran-Turkish war was the territories of Iraq, Shirvan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, including Adjara.
The strengthening of the Turkish empire coincided with the period of feudal disunity of Georgia. By the beginning of the 16th century, Samtskhe-Saatabago, which included Adjara, emerged victorious from the struggle that it waged with Georgian kings. By that time the Samtskhe Atabag had turned into an independent state. However, Samtskhe-Saatabago was less protected from attacks by Turkey than the rest of Georgia. In 1526-1547 the Turks led a constant war for the mastery of Batum. The Turks managed to gradually seize Tsihisdziri with the territory to the Kintrishi river in 1550-1552. Under the Turkish-Iranian treaty of 1555, Georgia was divided between them, with Kartli and Kakheti-Kartli (Kartaliniya), the Kingdom of Kartli (Iberia), Kakheti (Kakheti), the Kakhetian Kingdom retreated to Iran, while the Kingdom of Imereti with the principalities of Guria and Odishi retreated to Turkey. As for Samtskhe Saatabago, it was divided into two parts. Most of them retreated to Iran. However, Turkey soon tore away the whole western part of this region from Iran (Tao, Shavsheti, and Klarjeti). Turkey had actually established its authority in the territory before the Choloki river, where there was a historically administrative border of Adjara with Guria which was the neighboring administrative unit of Georgia in 1564.
Thus, as a result of the conquest of the territory of Adjara by the Turks, it was separated from the rest of Georgia for a long time. Turkey intensively conducted a policy of violent Islamization of the Christian population of Adjara. The Turkish language became the official language in Adjara.
The taxes imposed by the Turkish authorities in Adjara were exhausting. The population had to pay for the use of land in kind and money, for growing bread and for various agricultural products. They also paid for the maintenance of livestock, for the use of mills and pastures. The population kept the ministers of religion at their own expense. A separate payment was established for civil status records (marriage, birth, death) and for legal services. An additional fee for the maintenance of pigs was also applied.
The seized Adjarian territory was administratively divided into Batumi and Adjara sanjaks¹. Batumi sanjak entered the Trebizond Vilayet, and the rest of Adjara into Akhaltsikhe pashalyk. After Akhaltsikhe joined Russia in 1829, Adjara remained in the possession of the Ottoman Empire and administratively entered the Lazistan Pashalyk. There were times when part of Adjara was part of the Erzurum or Childir vilayet, and part of it, for example, Machahela, was outside the administrative limits of Adjara sanjak.
Such a condition caused a discontent among the population. Therefore, the period of Turkish domination in Adjara is marked by a lot of unrest, clashes and battles. The national liberation movement of the Adjarian population set itself the goal of liberating Adjara, seized by Turkey, and restoring Samtskhe-Saatabago under the name of Gurdzhistan², along with Adjara, Akhaltsikhe and other territories of South Georgia ... "³
The fate of the ancient Georgian land of Tao-Klarjeti, located south of modern Adjara, on the other side of the present Georgian-Turkish border was even sadder. Today's Turkish muds (areas) - Kars, Ardahan, and Artvin, are located on the lands previously occupied by the ancient Georgian state of Tao-Klarjeti that was found in the 8th century. Until now, it was possible to find monuments of Georgian Orthodox architecture, and in some villages, people still speak Georgian. And this all despite the centuries of persecution, the killings of those who did not want to renounce Christ, the prohibitions on the Georgian language and the destruction of churches. These lands were liberated from the Ottoman yoke in 1877 by Russian troops and entered the Russian Empire under the Treaty of San Stefano, which then included the rest of Georgia. However, according to the Brest Peace, these regions again became part of Turkey, as well as the Batumi region in 1918. After many military upheavals in 1918-1921, Artvin, Ardahan and Kars were assigned to Turkey by the Treaty of Kars in 1921, while Batumi and the territory of today's Adjara became part of the USSR. This is how the power of the Muslims returned to the southern Adjarian lands and Tao-Klarjeti lands, while the north-Adjarian lands came under the domination of other persecutors of the faith of Christ that were called the Bolsheviks.
The fact of the existence of the Adjarian autonomy is a consequence of Islamization, which took part on this land, inhabited by ethnic Georgians. According to the Treaty of Kars in 1921, Turkey was forced to cede the original Georgian lands of Adjara, having bargained for one condition - the preservation of the autonomy of this land, autonomy on the religious sign - at that time the majority of the population of Adjara were already Muslims. The term "Georgians-Muslims" was used to refer to Adjarians. It can be assumed that if the Georgian lands that remained on the other side of the Turkish border were part of Georgia, then their population would also be considered Adjarians.
However, today the term "Adjarian" does not mean "Muslim" at all. This changed thankfully to what is now commonly called the "Adjarian miracle".
After experiencing the Turkish yoke, the collapse of the Russian Empire, and, after it, the atheistic Soviet Union, the Adjarian miracle began in Adjara when tens of thousands of Adjarians responded to the call of the Georgian Orthodox Church and began to return to the bosom of their native faith by accepting holy baptism.
This is what was told by Metropolitan of Batum and Lazsky Dimitri:
"In general, the Christianization of Iberia has gone from our diocese. Our diocese is the apostle Andrew, I am only his deputy (smiling.). Here, in Upper Adjara, there are preserved ruins of the temple of the Archangels, built by the Apostle Andrew. This is the first temple in Europe! The apostles Simon and Andrei went to preach to Iberia through Adjara. Then they were here with Simon the Canaanite and Matthew. The first martyr died near Sukhumi, and the second near Batumi (his relics are saved in the Gonio fortress, and after the excavations, we want to build a temple there).
But from the 16th century, Adjara became the object of continuous Turkish aggression. The invaders gradually turned the population into Islam, destroyed all the churches, except for the Shtalts church. One old man tried to cross its threshold three times but fell on his back, struck by a powerful blow of the stone. The temple of the Turks was known as the "local Shaitan" and finally, it was left alone.
According to travelers, in the 17th-19th centuries, there were secret Christians in Adjara. But, unfortunately, they, in the end, became Muslims.
In 1878, as a result of the Russian-Turkish war, Adjara was freed from Turkish domination and was annexed to the Russian Empire. Bolsheviks came instead of Turks and they were much worse than Muslims. Among others, they blew up the church of St. Alexander Nevsky that was built in honor of the victory over the Turks, however, the hotel "Intourist" was built on the very same spot.
And so, when I came here in 1989, then with the blessing of our Patriarch we slowly began. His Holiness often came to Batumi himself. We went up to the mountains, to the ancient Shalta temple, which was opened in 1989. At the same time, we baptized about a thousand of local Adjarian Muslims. In the same year, by the grace of God, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was opened in Batumi. This is the same temple in which Tengiz Abuladze's filmed "Repentance".
And then mass baptisms took place all over Adjara. On May 13, 1991, we baptized 5,000 Muslims and atheists in Batumi. His Holiness the Patriarch, recalling Georgian history, said: "Georgia should not convert Adjara to Christianity, but Adjara us."
Now we are finishing the construction of the St. John the Theologian Church right on the Turkish border. There are 4 women's monasteries in the diocese and we are building 2 more. There are also male monasteries. There are no historical churches, everything is new, except Shalta. In the Kintrishi canyon, there was a ruined Hino temple, a former cathedral. The Turks blew up this temple during the Russian-Turkish war. We opened a monastery there and rebuilt the church. There was another women's monastery opened 2 years ago in the same canyon. Also, there was a very beautiful temple built in honor of St. Andrew on the border ... We are building the laurel of "All Georgian Saints" Next to Batumi. We opened an orphanage, a charity house for the elderly, thank God for everything! "
(From the interview to the website http://www.pravoslavie.ru/)
However, despite the huge missionary success of the Orthodox Church in Adjara, today its mountainous areas, remote from the sea and tourist areas, continue to remain Muslim, calling what was previously imposed by fire and scimitar by the "faith of ancestors".
The history of the martyrs of Adjara and Tao-Klarjeti has survived to the present day only in small pieces. Unfortunately, it is often a mystery for the heirs themselves who gave their lives for Christ - both modern Adjarians and those Georgians who live on the lands of Tao-Klarjeti today. Most sources have not reached our days.
But even thanks to the crumbs of the information that has come down to us, it is possible to lift the veil of the past and see the history of the martyr people who became a living shield on the way of Islamic expansion in the 16th-18th centuries, barring its way to Europe through the Caucasus. This story will tell you about the destruction of temples and monasteries, how hundreds and thousands of people who denied to betray Christ were executed in villages, as mountain rivers became red from the blood of martyrs, like the earth, like cancer, concealed the remains of innocently murdered ones. For more than three centuries, the Ottomans have tried to secure a reliable rear for their advance northward. The rear without Christians, the rear that was populated by the co-religionists of the Ottomans, in whose loyalty there would be no doubts. By alternating eviction of Georgians to other occupied lands, with bribery, intimidation, assassinations, and murders.
Thousands and thousands the well-known names of Georgian saints began to shine in the heavenly book. Their memory was glorified by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2003. And it is quite likely that the very Adjarian miracle that crowned the missionary works of Metropolitan Dimitri and the priests of the Batumi diocese took place thanks to the prayers of the unknown martyrs in Adjara.
Georgia is a holy land. On a small piece of land placed on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, there are many common Christian shrines - the chiton of the Lord, the robe of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the relics of holy ascetics and enlighteners. The Apostle Andrew, the Apostle Matthew (whose grave is located in Batumi, in the Gonio fortress), Saint Apostle Simon the Zealot (Kananit), brought the good news here. According to the concentration of shrines, Georgia is second only to the Holy Land of Palestine and the former Byzantine Empire. And, probably, it could not be different. It was the ancient Colchis, by lot that was abandoned by the apostles, fell to the Mother of God herself, becoming Her inheritance forever. After the Ottoman yoke, not so many shrines are indicated on the map of Adjara. However, this exact part of Georgia has to be indicated as a solid shrine - a land impregnated with martyr blood.
According to the amazing Providence of God, the memory of the Adjarian and Clartzian martyrs was saved among those who did not follow their example - the Georgian Muslims. The legends and the memory passed through the generations of those who were stronger in faith and spirit, giving their lives for Christ were saved in their villages.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, the Georgian enlightener Zakhariya Chichinadze collected legends about how the Islamization of this land was taking place while visiting Adjara and conducting educational work in it. The stories that he collected became the book "Islamization of Georgia", which today is one of the most significant sources of historical data about the Georgian martyrs in Adjaria and neighboring lands, endured a death for Christ.
The Hieromartyr Theodor Acharuli (Adjarian)
¹Sanjak - Sandzak - administrative district in the Ottoman Empire, Vilayet - area, Pashalyk - region.
²Gurdzhistan is the Persian, Arabic and Turkish names of Georgia.
³A. Kh. Abashidze "The seizure of Adjara by the Ottoman Empire".