6. Martyrs and secret Christians Murguli
EVIDENCE OF MARTYRS AND CONFESSORS COLLECTED BY ZACHARY CHICHINADZE 6. Martyrs and secret Christians Murguli
Christianity is a phenomenon that has become part of the history of
the Church along with persecutions. The most famous of them was
precisely because of persecutions in the Ottoman Empire, primarily as
a result of persecutions against Greek Christians. This phenomenon
usually refers to the external concealment of signs of belonging to
Christianity and its confession in secret from the authorities and/or
society. Sometimes adherents of secret Christianity could outwardly
show adherence to another religion (usually Islam), secretly
participating in Christian ordinances and rituals. This practice,
which arose in a difficult period for the Church, is ambiguous. Some
authors consider it the only accessible form of piety, others
criticize it, considering an external demonstration of adherence to
the other faith as a form of compromise with the Christian
conscience. Without knowing God's will, it is difficult to make up
your mind about this issue. The more difficult it is to endure it to
someone who has never experienced persecution never found himself not
only on the verge of life and death but his relatives. Therefore, we
will refrain from judgments and assessments of this practice, trying
to objectively bring those testimonies that have come down to our
time thanks to Zachary Chichinadze and other authors. However,
describing the events of the Turkish persecutions of Orthodox
Georgians, we would like to mention one very important thing: we do
not think that anyone who appreciates the practice of secret
Christianity can, in our opinion, cast doubt on the holiness of the
deed of death for Christ. Regardless of whether the martyr had
previously confessed Christ in his life secretly or explicitly.
Marveling at such a feat, we can bow our knees with reverence at his
holiness and utter the words of prayer.
If you cross the Turkish border and move towards Artvin, and from the city of Borcka, turn south by going along the river of Murgul - the inflow of Chorokhi, there is the city of the same name as the river – Murgul which is 60 km. from Batumi. Murgulia is the Georgian name of this ancient city, formerly part of the Georgian principality of Tao-Klarjeti and Adjara. Local old Muslims told Zachary Chichinadze about bloody Islamization of this city and the adjoining lands located in the Murgul gorge, which took place from the 16th to the 19th century.
"When the Ottoman conquerors approached Murguli, the Murgulians did not allow them, they closed the approaches to the city and handed over to the Ottomans: you attacked Murguli to no purpose, you can not take the city, and if you take, the people will not surrender.
The Ottomans answered: "We will take the city and seize the people."
The Murgulians said that their country belongs to Queen Tamara, and no invader could defeat them. No one is allowed to break their tenacity. The Turks said they knew how to take the city, despite the resistance, even if queen Tamara helped them...However, before attacking the city, the Ottomans decided to bribe the noble and prominent people, for this they invited them to the negotiations and exposed them the following conditions: offered gold, high ranks, and all the benefits that were possible at that time. But the Murgulians refused: we will not betray the people who trust us, there will be no betrayal.
Then the Ottomans began to threaten them: they said if those do not fulfill their conditions, they will be captured and killed after. Even the best people of Murguli did not get scared and told the Turks: "Kill us and others will turn against you, even better than us, they will fight against you, do whatever you want with us." The Ottomans seized them and started torturing them in the most terrible way but they could not convince them, so they hanged everyone. They thought that an intimidating execution would scare the defenders, that only the bravery of these people is a city, but the result turned out to be the opposite. The defenders became even stronger in the faith, seeing what a terrible fate waiting for them from the fierce enemy. The war continued and the defenders of freedom and faith resisted the Ottomans for a long time. The Murgulians managed to destroy the best part of the Ottoman army and at the bishop was the head of the defenders of the city. In the end, the defense weakened, many defenders spilled much blood and finally, the Ottomans occupied the city. But seeing the courage and valor of the defenders of the Ottomans told them the following: stop resisting us and trust us, we will not force you to accept Islam, as we did in other Georgian gorges, you just pay us tribute.
Murgulians had to agree, and they obeyed the force...The Ottomans began to strengthen and put their people and their military garrisons. Slowly bribing some notable people and enticing them to their side, they declared to those who still defended the Christian faith: Murguli is an Ottoman territory, hence the entire population, and Georgians including, are the Ottomans. You all must accept the true Muslim faith. The Murgulians indignantly refused. Then the Ottomans threatened war. The people again stood firm on their own. Soon the Ottomans started the war: at first, they were not lucky, but fresh army units from Trabzon and Erzurum approached and the combined forces attacked the insurgents. Murguli fell, many died, many were taken as prisoners and wearing shackles, the Ottomans demanded them to accept Islam. All priests were killed or expelled in this area. Bishops were also expelled. The churches and monasteries were soon destroyed. The Georgian population was destroyed, Georgian blood was spilled, churches were destroyed with particular cruelty. Georgians surprised the Ottoman Turks by their steadfastness and courage, the struggle for the preservation of the Christian faith continued until the 1790s. Christian faith was preserved in many villages before that time. Christians were not afraid of the Ottomans and fought the conquerors how they could.
However, after some time, there was no longer any strength to resist, and the entire region became Muslim. The Ottomans calmed down and appointed the Murgul Georgians mullahs and hodjas from Chaneti¹. Soon the people learned prayers and began to pray in a Muslim way. Soon, having succeeded in zeal for Islam, many young men expressed a desire to learn Islamic laws and rules. Many of them turned out mullahs and hodjas. New hodjas started teaching people Islam and continued spreading Islam among the remaining Georgians. When Islam became stronger, the Ottomans appointed subordinate Georgians of their viceroy (mudarris), who had their own "majlis", a circle of advisers and who fully controlled the life and affairs of the Murgul people. In other conquered regions, the other subordinate Georgians had no deputy (mudarris), since the Ottomans were still afraid that secret Christianity and veneration of churches were spread among the Murgul Georgians. But this foresight did not lead to anything, if some part of the Murgulians accepted Islam, then the other part did not break.
In 1840, after a long search, the Ottomans found out that forcibly Islamized Georgians secretly profess Christianity, and these secret Christians strengthen all the Murgul gorge in the faith and the secret Christians are mullahs and hodjas. The Christians were the inhabitants of the villages of Gevle, Thilazori, Zanzul, Tasmalo and some other villages. After the investigation, it turned out that the inhabitants of these villages fought for their Christian faith for a hundred years against the Turks and secretly professed Christianity for a hundred years. They were both Muslims and secret Christians at the same time. Islam performed in the daytime and so skillfully that no one could think the opposite, they celebrated Bairam, Ramadan, all the prescribed holidays and fasting, read the Sunnah in their homes, so a stranger considered them real Muslims. They celebrated Christian traditions at night: a special room was arranged, usually, this room was under a residential house in a basement. They gathered together and prayed in a Christian way at the appointed time. Thay also had a priest who was ordained by a Greek bishop in Trabzon. This priest was an ordinary Muslim during the day, however, at night he was a Christian clergyman. He wore ordinary clothes among the people but he put on chasuble at night. The priest had a son who was preparing to continue his father's work, and after that, he had to be ordained a priest. Members of this family have been priests for many years. The priest kept the church utensils, the cup for the sacrament and other church vessels, also them made candles but slowly so no one could notice. They used incense. They also kept very old icons, which were stored in a specially camouflaged wall cabinet, invisibly embedded in the wall of the chapel, so that a stranger who accidentally entered could not notice anything. In addition to secret prayers, secret Christian Georgians practiced Christian customs in everyday life: for example, the Georgian boys gathered together and sang "Alilo" on Christmas Eve, went to visit each other and welcomed all with this song. Ottoman hodjas and mullahs believed that the boys were singing their songs but could not understand that the songs are Christian. Georgians tried not to work but to rest during all the great Christian holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Baptism. One Chaneti hodja and mullah revealed the life of secret Christians. He secretly watched the Georgians with great skill until he was convinced of their true Christianity. They immediately informed the Ottoman government about the Georgians. The Ottoman clergy sent a special group of people to investigate this case. After some investigation they managed to reveal the truth by asking children, previously intimidating them. They also spoke with adults, they had to admit the truth, there was no sense to hide it.
... The Turks threatened to execute all those who did not give up the faith of Christ. But the stubborn followers of Christianity refused to obey them, deciding to accept their fate as it is.
After the investigation and explanation of this case, the secret Christian Georgians were sentenced to death, they were all taken and executed on the appointed day, some were hanged on the gallows, some had their heads cut off, and some were slaughtered with sabers. But none of them succumbed to the temptation and did not abandon Christ.
After the execution of Christians, the Ottomans reached the secret prayer room, where they found all the church books and utensils: they burned books, took away and sold gold and silver vessels with icons, gave other things to Muslims. The room was completely destroyed. The Ottomans, therefore, punished them so mercilessly that they had weighty suspicions about other Georgians, it was implied that many Muslim Georgians could be secret Christians. This terrible punishment set an example for many, and if anyone is a secret Christian, he will be afraid and abandon Christianity. In addition to the aforementioned Georgians and other villages and villages, there were those who secretly adhered to the faith of Christ. People abandoned Christianity and gradually all became Muslims being frightened by such a terrible and ruthless punishment...This is how the Ottomans blew Christianity in Murguli. Although many traditions and vestiges of Christianity were encountered in this territory later. For example, one Greek told that some Christian traditions were observed among the Murgulian Georgians-Muslims until 1870. For example, congratulations on Christmas Eve, when at night people visit those families where this prayer was accepted and liked, dyeing eggs and so on. But even this did not last long before the First World War all these traditions were banned and brutally suppressed. At the moment, there is no trace of past Christianity in Murgul, the Murgul people have become real fanatical Muslims who hate Georgians and all Christians. They all joined the Ottoman army and were distinguished by ardent fanaticism during the First World War... ".
¹Chaneti is one of the names of Lazistan. The area is located on the Black Sea coast from the Chorokhi River to the modern Trabzon (the former Greek Trapezund), populated by lazs (in the Georgian historical name - chans). Subethnos, close to the Georgian Megrelians but Islamized by the Turks.