10. Evidence of the Islamization of Georgian lands and the destruction of churches
EVIDENCE OF MARTYRS AND CONFESSORS COLLECTED BY ZACHARY CHICHINADZE 10. Evidence of the Islamization of Georgian lands and the destruction of churches
In addition to direct evidence of the feat of the martyrdom of Georgian Christians, Zachary Chichinadze also collected numerous testimonies about the Islamization of Georgian lands. In these stories, there is no direct mention of the martyrs who accepted death for Christ, but it is clearly indicated that the adoption of Islam was violent. The feat of confession suffered by the faithful Christians of these lands is evident from these stories. Just like the facts of renunciation of the faith of the ancestors of those who turned out to be weaker in spirit. The lines describing the destruction of Christianity in these places conceal the undoubted feat of martyrdom incurred by those who refused to leave their native land and renounce the faith of the fathers. Direct evidence of it did not reach our days, but knowing from the earlier testimonies, how the Turks planted Islam, anyone can understand that there is not a single ancient village in these lands that would not have been sanctified by the blood of martyrs.
Chichinadze mentioned one characteristic of the Islamized Georgian lands: the historical memory of Georgians even converted to Islam. Namely, the preservation of Christian traditions, the veneration of churches, the use of Christian prayers and other prints of Christianity in the people's memory.
Of course, such practice of the double faith looks far from Orthodoxy from a doctrinal point of view. However, it shows that although Christianity was scorched by fire and sword, it nevertheless left its indelible mark on the people's soul. This trail the people of Adjara will carry through the Ottoman yoke, and the yoke of atheistic Soviet power that followed it. Later, in the 20th century, this track will be one of the ways in which Christianity will return to Adjara. It will return when, in the 90s of the twentieth century, the famous Adjara miracle, the mass return of Adjarians to the Orthodox faith of their ancestors will take place and Batumi will see the mass baptisms of thousands of Georgians in one day.
Having lost the experience of the Christian God-communion, the experience of the Eucharist and Orthodox prayer, the experience of communion with the saints, the Muslim Georgians will not be able to correctly perceive and transmit Divine miracles, which are God in this land. Signs and miraculous signs, sometimes frightening persecutors and apostates, are fixed by people's memory. Sometimes their descriptions, in the form in which they have reached our days, sound very strange. They say stones and temples, and not the Lord, not Angels, not saints, which sounds very strange. We do not know the true nature of such a description of these miracles: the folk rumor could be so distortedly transmitted through the centuries (it is fraught with persecution in Islamized lands to transmit the testimonies of miracles from Christ and His angels) that have already departed from the faith of his ancestors and was not ready to perceive them otherwise. In any case, we quote them the way they were told by the old residents of Zachary Chichinadze, without making any adjustments.
The Islamization of the Shalta Gorge¹
The story is told by Shultin Usup Kara-Mehmed Bolkvadze, who lived in Borchha:²
"In this gorge, Georgians have maintained Christianity for a long time but in the end, they were tired of fighting and embraced Islam. Many villages were secretly Christians for a long time. Then the Ottomans greatly increased the number of their hojis and mullahs in this region. In each village, there were two hojis and mullahs, who taught the former Christians the sanctity of the Muslim faith, and said that one who accepts Islam will necessarily go to heaven, and all his sins will be forgiven since he stopped praying to idols³ and accepted the holy faith. Faith, which is from God, who recognizes the only God and Muhammad.
Soon, who was voluntarily taught, who was scared and frightened, all Christians were converted to Islam, Georgians became Muslims, Christianity died here. At first, the priests were asked to convert to Islam too, saying that they have to accept the faith of Muhammad, and then they should learn prayers, and then they will become hodjas. The priests refused, but some still accepted Islam.
From all the villages, only one village remained Christian. It was Kinchauri⁴, which is located in the Shtalta gorge. The Kinchaurians remained Christians for a long time, the reason for this was the priest of the village of Kinchauri, a very bookish one, a preacher and a strong Christian. This priest strengthened his people and was their leader. He spoke against the Ottomans, he said that everyone must firmly stand on his faith. He, unlike other priests, did not obey the Ottoman laws and the orders of local authorities. He, besides his rural parishioners, preached Christianity in other villages, to other newly converted Georgians. He shamed them for betraying their own faith, for apostasy, because they listened to their betrayers and changed their faith: "A normal Georgian can not betray his faith, no one can frighten you, and if they kill, it is better than betrayal faith of their ancestors ". Under the influence of this priest, many converts of Muslims began to return to the faith of their ancestors and secretly began to pray in the Christian way. Many prayed in both Muslim and Christian ways at the same time. But some time passed, the spies reported on the activities of this priest to the races of this Khimshiashvili gorge, telling that he meets and talks to people not only in the village of Kinchauri but in other villages, among the newly converted Muslims, that he tells them about the old faith and lured them to Christianity. Khimshiashvili people were very angry with the priest and with the people who followed him. Secret Christians made the last warning, sent a hodja and mullah there, built a Jama and began to gather people there for prayer. The priest, however, was warned, that he can pray only in his church, and to not preach to people, otherwise, his had will be chopped off. At that time the priest was already an old man, he no longer had strength, he stopped preaching and did not leave the church, he lived in the church, prayed and looked after the temple. When he became very ill, the newly converted Georgians were afraid to approach him because of fear of the government. When the illness became incurable the priest called to him the Kanchauri hodja, the hodja came to him, and the priest said: "Since we all died, and no one here is from our people, and nobody comes to me from the local people, then I ask you to bury me humanly after my death". Soon the priest died, hodja came and buried him on a Muslim rite in a Muslim cemetery. Personal things of the priest and things belonging to the church people shared among themselves. Soon the church was destroyed too, so that now in Kinchauri only the ruins of the church remained, on the orders of the Ottoman authorities this church was destroyed.
Some people said in the old days that the bells of the Shalta church and some church things were buried in the ground, since at the time of the invasion of Islam, they were not taken to Imereti and Kartli, and the local secret Christians hid them in the ground so that the Ottomans would not be able to capture or destroy them. They said in olden days that Khimshiashvili people knew this secret place, where all the property of the Shalta church was hidden, they also said that they dug out everything from there.
The treasury and values of the destroyed churches should be buried next to them, in the neighborhood. In olden days, many old men and women knew this place, but they did not tell anyone because they worried that the Ottomans will find out and unearth them and then take them away. They also hoped that someday Christians will return and they will need those things, so why Muslims will need those things...But the time passed, the Christians did not come back, and Islam strengthened, there was no hope for their return, and the old people did not tell anyone about it, they could not even trust their children. So they took with them to the grave the secrets of the hidden church things. Armenians often found such things, they happily bought different things from Georgian Muslims, often our women changed some old things to them for various items needed in the household. "
The story was told by the elder of the village of Pachkha⁵ Suleiman Murad (Geladze), and by others:
"In the time of our Christianity, there was a ruler in Georgia, called Queen Tamara. She was very fond of visiting our places. Once she traveled in our places and stopped for the night in the place where the church stands today. There stood a huge, pear tree, which covered and shaded a large space with its branches. The queen wanted to spend the night under this tree. She dreamed of this pear tree at night. The next day she ordered to build a church on this place. Soon preparations for the construction of the church began. It was necessary to cut down this large pear tree. No matter how hard the workers tried to cut the tree down, it stood whole and unharmed the next day. Everyone was surprised at this miracle. One wise man advised leaving axes stuck in the tree for the night. The next day the tree was felled, and the builders began to build the church. Church doors fell exactly on the place where this tree stood, the pillars on which the doors were hung were made of a pear tree.
That's why this church is called Shalta. When the construction started, the population of all nearby regions heard about it, people who did not know where the church was being built were asked those who knew: "Where do they build a large church?", To which they were answered: - At a large pear tree (Mskhaltan) Many people have heard about this tree, little by little the word has lost its letters and remained of Shtalta. First, who started celebrating were people fro, Shalta, Mirat and the Tbet gorges. The locals were very hardworking, they all had their own vineyard and wine cellar (marani). New Muslims invited their relatives to Christians and they offered sherbet instead of wine when they had a holiday, since Islam forbids making and drinking wine, even forbidding the growing grapes. "
said Dervish Bezhanidze:
"Near the villages of Tsablan⁶ and Pachkha, at the foot of the mountain, where there was a flat place, there was the church built a long time ago. After the adoption of Islam, this church was destroyed, and its stones were scattered around the neighborhood, and some of the stones were taken away by local people. One of the large stones rolled down to the river. The stone was very big and there was the crucifixion of Christ painted on it⁷. Local women came to this stone, brought linen, sat on it and rinsed the laundry in the water. One day a local woman brought her laundry, stood on a rock and began to rinse it. At this time, from the village of Pachkha, from a large rock a loud voice was heard: "Get up woman, finish soon and leave, otherwise, I will come!!". The woman thought that someone is playing a trick and answered "What are you shouting at me, fall and roll then! As soon as she finished her speech, at the same instant a huge piece of rock broke off from the mountain, rolled and fell to the place where the woman stood on a rock. It pressed her down and all her underwear. It must have happened because this stone was from the church, and it depicted a cross and saints, and women stood on it with their dirty shoes and washed their dirty laundry. Then the women were still new converts and could not strictly wear a veil and did everything without embarrassment. Women were afraid to wear linen and rinse it in the place until 1850. Everyone remembered the history of that woman. No one remembers this story now, there is only the proverb left "Why are you screaming like Pachkha rock".
How was the church destroyed in Khulo⁸?
The story was told by the 75-year-old Kadi Bolkvadze:
"There was a big and beautiful church in Khulo. The whole church was built of a hewn stone. I did not see it but my father said that it looked like a Tbet church even better than Shalta. The priests in this church were the people of our family, Bolkvadze. When the Ottomans began to make the Georgians Muslims, our ancestors accepted Islam. The Muslims of Bolkvadze were given the title of kadi (Shariah judge), so their descendants bear the surname of Kadi. Although my ancestors accepted Islam, the Khulo church was guarded and looked after. When Ahmed-Pasha Khimshiashvili decided to destroy the church of Shtalta, nobody knew the reasons for the destruction, he called my grandfather and told him:
"The church in Khulo needs to be destroyed and I order to urgently call people for this."
-How can you do it Pasha! Our ancestors, Muslims or Christians prayed in it. Those and those are Georgians, how can you destroy the church?
"It is necessary to destroy," said Ahmed-Pasha Khimshiashvili.
"We will turn it into Jama, it is difficult to destroy it," answered Kadi Bolkvadze.
-Nevertheless, this is a strong stone church, today or tomorrow Georgians will come, they will go to this church, they will start fighting us from here and we will be expelled, then we will not stand against them. We do not need Jama made of stone, said Ahmed Pasha.
- Pasha! The wooden Jama will rot but the stone remains. We will not do this - we will not destroy the church.
-No, it is not possible, we should destroy everything, I said so - decided Pasha.
After a while, people followed the order of Ahmed Pasha and destroyed the Khulo church. They destroyed it in the way that only a foundation was seen. All people from Khulo carried stones from the church. The main part was taken by Ahmed Pasha, from which he built a sauna and sheds for himself in Khulo. Some stones were used in the construction of fences for the family cemetery of Khimshiashvili. Some stones were used for the facing of the spring, which is still flowing near Jama. The remaining stones were used by the villagers in the construction of their own houses. On the remains of the basement was built a wooden Jama. After a while, this Jama decayed. They destroyed it and built a new one. Then the house and shed of Ahmed Pasha collapsed. Not much time passed after that, as an enemy came to Khulo⁹ and subordinated everything. The coming of the enemy did not prevent the destruction of the church, nor other actions. The old people said that Ahmed Pasha had angered God by destroying the church, he did a bad thing. The people say that because his house-estate collapsed. It really happened, and on the site of his house now there is only a pile of stones that locals use when needed. "
After this story, Chichinadze adds his observations:
"I inspected the foundation of the Khulo Jama and the fence of the Khimshiashvili cemetery. I also examined the spring near Jama. There were many stones with the ornament on the ruins of the house of Khimshiashvili, which clearly indicated that they were once part of the church wall."
The adoption of Islam in the Euphrates and Imerhevi 10 . Queen Tamara and the Euphrates church.
The story is told by someone named Tsetskhladze from the Euphrates:
"Queen Tamara rode from Shavsheti11 to the Karchkhal12 mountain. The Euphrates and the Machakhelians asked the queen to visit the Machakhel Gorge13, to which the queen agreed, saying that she will stay on this mountain for some time, and then, on my return, I will arrive in Machakhel.
The people really liked the decision of the queen. By the order of the queen at the top of the Karchkhal mountain, one equal place was called "tavkalo", on this place people made a lake and placed pavilions, for the very same queen Tamara built a beautiful residence, which was decorated with deer horns. After solving state affairs, the queen accepted visitors. At the reception, the guests had to be dressed in proper clothing. In the village of Euphrates, there was a special house where people who wanted to dress in royal clothes and with their head uncovered went to the Karchkhal mountain to see queen Tamara. Then they came back and changed into their clothes back. By order of queen Tamara, from the Karchkhal mountain to the village of Euphrates, the road was made, so people and carriages could move freely.
One evening, when queen Tamara was in her palace, she surveyed the surroundings and suddenly noticed some amazing shining brilliant light in the distance, near the Euphrates church. She demanded to be taken to the place where this wonderful light coming from. Upon arrival in the village of Euphrates, she surveyed the place where she saw the light. She did not particularly like the village church and she ordered: "At my expense, I will build a good church in the village of Khertvisi, in honor of my arrival and my stay on the Karchkhal mountain. A few days later the construction of a new church in Khertvisi began, at daytime the workers built it, in the evening they have put tools near the church and rested, in the morning the workers came and did not find their working tools. With surprise, they found their tools eight versts near the Euphrates church. Similar incidents happened several times, to which people were surprised and did not know what to do. The wise queen Tamara though and decided the following: Leave the construction of the church in Khertvisi, and let the church of the Euphrates be the main one. Although it is built poorly, I will decorate it in a royal way. On the third day, the queen herself came to the Euphrates, donated expensive treasures to the church, clergymen served prayers, and then returned to Machakhela road in Libani. At that time, good roads or carriages were laid along the entire Machakhel gorge. After a while, this church was decorated and the place where the queen saw a wonderful light, that wall was curtained with expensive brocade with pearls. After that, a curse was imposed on those who, at any time, will dare to destroy this church. If the church itself, someday falls apart, then this wall and then it would be necessary to repair and not let it fall. At the same time, under the order of Queen Tamara, two stone bridges were built in Khertvisi, near the village of Chkhutuneti and one large watchtower above the village of Adzharis Agmarti, on the banks of the Machakhela River, the walls of this fortress are still standing. If the enemy had come from the side of the Machakhela River, he could have reached only this fortress, and then could not make a single step, since on the way he would have met a closed gate.
After the queen Tamara, several centuries passed, and the Ottomans conquered Georgia. The Islamization of the Georgians began, the last who accepted Islam were Adjarians, only the Machakhal Gorge and Imerhevi remained. But even there militant Islam got there, and they began to force them to accept another people's religion. Imerhevi and Shavsheti obeyed the Ottomans, Machakhela fought for a long time, resisted the Ottomans, but the forces were clearly unequal, and after the death of the main forces of the Georgians, others were forced to become Muslims. People began to build Jamas and mosques, hodjas incited people to destroy churches, leaving no stone. Converted Muslims asked the Ottomans not to destroy the Euphrates church, they said that the curse has been left from their ancestors for the destroyers of this church. The Ottomans listened to the request and did not destroy this church, they only put the lock on the door. Although the people accepted Islam, at first they continued to celebrate Christian holidays, did not forget to go to church, light candles and pray. Local mullahs and hodjas reported to the Istanbul government about this. A strict order to destroy the church, to warn people, and strictly forbid even to approach the church came from Istanbul. When people were gathered and reported about this order, they answered:
-This covenant was left for us by our ancestors: no one can destroy this church until it collapses.
-This is impossible, the order was received and it is necessary to fulfill it - the Ottomans answered.
-If someone either touches the church with a shovel, his hands become will petrify, the Karchkhal mountain and the mountain of the Pats will scream, the Georgian devas are buried there, and there is the grave of Queen Tamara in the "Tavkalota". They will rise and descend from the mountains to shame us, and we will be petrified by shame. The Ottomans still persisted and forced the people. They wanted the church to be destroyed by the hands of Georgians and the Georgians made sure that nothing would happen after the defeat of the church. They infringed upon people, used force, and tortured them. Many converts Muslims, old men, and women sobbed and cried: "The Euphrates is destroyed, Oh God! God, the Euphrates is destroying! ". At that time this church was called the Euphrates, not just a church. Because of the refusal to destroy the church, many people died, some even ended up with themselves, not wishing that the lot fell on them and they would have to break the church. The latter could not stand it and with such a request appealed to the Ottomans: we are faithful to you, we are faithful to Muhammad! We will act as faithful companions and execute your order, destroy the church. But just ask to leave a small piece of the right wall intact, where our ancestors saw a divine miracle. The Ottomans agreed, and the Georgians destroyed the Euphrates. They left only that part of the wall where Queen Tamara saw a wonderful light. This wall still stands. At one time they decided to demolish this wall because the old people often gathered there and then cried, they prayed. Young Muslims who did not know the history of their ancestors looked with amazement at the bitter moaning of old people. 30-40 years ago, old people were still alive, who remembered those times well. 30 years ago, the old mother of the Euphrates Chichinoglu (Chichinadze) died, who remembered those times well and who herself often prayed near this wall. After the destruction of this church, Georgian Muslims laid a curse on anyone who would ever take a stone from this place, and use it in the construction of their house. The descendants kept this word firmly and never took anything from the ruins of the church. The bell tower of this church was not touched, it stood near the eastern entrance, and under it, there was a passage. The bell tower was destroyed during the last war, in 1877, as they thought that the Georgians who came would start to convert to Christianity. They say that then a few people took advantage of the moment and took a part of the stones to their homes, one of them immediately fell ill and died, his children took out the imported stones from the house and brought them back to their place, besides, they stabbed the sheep and gave alms to people. Several stones were taken by the elder man Tkiboridze and during the construction of his house, he put them into the foundation. There were Georgian inscriptions on one stone. This person is alive and now, he says that on some stones there are inscriptions, they lie next to the church, however, they are under the weight of other stones. In 1893 some people wanted to take the stones from here, but because of fear, there were no volunteers.
The church was built according to the plan of the Anchiskhati church in Tbilisi. You can still see its basement walls. People they say that in the old days there was a tradition: the values and money belonging to the church are buried here, in the ground under the church. Our ancestors hid them there because they feared that those who came to Ottomans will take away all the treasures. Near the church in the old days, a lot of houses were built, the walls of many houses and are still visible. During the last war, there were about 80 houses of Georgian Muslims. After the war, 72 families moved to Turkey, and only 8 families remained. Now there are already 14 families here. There is a mountain that is called Ninotsminda on the Karchkhal plateau. People know that somewhere in this place once in ancient times there was a church or a monastery called Ninotsminda. This church was completely destroyed, leaving no stone unturned during the first Ottoman invasion. Today this place is called by the Georgian-Muslims Inatsminda, and they know that there was a church and people lived there, some of whom were killed during the Islamization, some of the survivors moved to different villages. In the folk tradition, it remained that queen Tamara loved to live on the Karchkhal mountain, therefore, she could build a church in any of these beautiful places, in honor of any Georgian saint. It can be seen that either queen Tamara, or any of the other Georgian kings, built here the Ninotsminda church or monastery, from the Ninotsminda mountain one road through the Karchkhal mountain passes to Shavsheti and the other in Libani. "
¹The Shalta Gorge is located along the banks of the Shtalta River. The latter flows into the Adzhariczkali River. To observe the merger of these rivers is possible near the road Batumi-Akhaltsikhe in 73 km. drive from Batumi. If you do not reach this confluence of rivers, in the village of Zamleti, turn south, on the road Zamleti-Khaykhadzeri, then you can get to the Shalta Gorge. You can find yourself in the village of Shalta and see the unique Shalta monastery approximately 10 kilometers following this route.
²Borçka is currently a Turkish city (historically Georgian), located 74 kilometers from Batumi (if to follow through Hopa). Refers to the Artvin region.
³Under idols, Muslims probably meant holy icons, not understanding the essence of their worship. Perception of honoring icons for Muslims is extremely difficult, since Islam completely prohibits the image and considers it to be god-forgiving.
⁴Kinchauri is located next to the Shalta Monastery.
⁵The village of Pachkha in in the Shalta Gorge. It is located to the east of the Zomleti-Khikhadziri highway, 9 km. from Zomleti.
⁶Tsablana village in in the Shalta gorge. It is located on the east of the Zomleti-Khikhadziri road, 11 km. from Zomleti.
⁷Perhaps it is a stone that was the throne in the altar of the temple.
⁸The village is located 81 km from Batumi along the Batumi-Akhaltsikhe highway.
⁹Probably, we are talking about the Russian army.
10 Imerkhevi is one of the territories of Shavsheti, a medieval Georgian patrimony in the upper reaches of the river Imerkhevi or Bertha, east of Nigali, west of the Arian Range (Yalnızçam) and south of modern Adjara. After these territories were conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, Imerkhevi (in the Turkish sound of İmerhev) became known as Sanjak and its population is gradually being translated by the Ottomans into Islam. This territory was included in the Russian Empire as a result of the Berlin Treaty in 1878. Shavsheti and Imerkhevi became Shevsheti-Imerkhevi district of the Batumi region. After the turmoil of the First World War (1914-1918) and the brief independence of Georgia (1918-1921), Imerhevi became part of Turkey in accordance with the Moscow and Kars agreements.
11This is from the Turkish side of the border, 137 kilometers from Batumi, in the direction of the Turkish town of Ardahan, is the Georgian village of Shavsheti. Today it bears the Turkish name Shavshat. Shevsheti and the fortress of the same name in the period from the reign of Ashot I Kuropalat Bagrationi (IX century), the Georgian king of the state of Tao-Klarjeti, was the center of the area, also called Shavsheti.
12Karchkal, in English Karcal is a low mountain located in the northeast of Turkey, near the Black Sea coast, near the Georgian border. Coordinates: 41.05 ° north latitude, 42 ° east longitude. The mountain is part of the Pontic ridge. The mountain rises to three thousand four hundred twenty-eight meters, or eleven thousand two hundred forty-seven feet. Historically, it was part of Georgia.
13Machakhela is in Machachal Gorge, located in the southern part of Adjara, historically was the cultural and economic center of the Colchis kingdom. The gorge is located along the Makaklistskali River, which flows into Chorokhi. To get to the ravine and the Machahela National Park, you can drive from Butumi along the route Batumi-Akhaltshekhi to the village of Acharistskali, located 14 km. from Batumi and turning to the south.