9. Adjarian Hieromartyrs
EVIDENCE OF MARTYRS AND CONFESSORS COLLECTED BY ZACHARY CHICHINADZE 9. Adjarian Hieromartyrs
The lives of many holy martyrs, such as Saint Aviv Edesky or Antipas of Pergamum, who are widely known in the Orthodox world, show us an example of a voluntary Christian deed, in which the saints, knowing about the imminent reprisal over them, gladly accepted this cross, and went to their tormentors themselves.
Such a feat, only much less well-known, was committed by the Orthodox priests of Adjara who stood up for their people before the Ottomans.
The history of this feat was told by the Muslims Devadze, the villagers of the village of Agara, that is located near the village of Thilnari, today's suburb of Batumi to Chichinadze:
"The Ottomans entered Lazistan and completely subordinated these places, they captured and established in the Fortress Makriyal. From there, military operations began against Adjara in order to seize it and make people Muslims. The Adjarians found about this and were greatly frightened. The people gathered to meet and asked their eminent representatives what to do next. The sergeant-major and noble people said that they did not have the strength to fight the Ottomans, for goodness sake, that they well fold our heads in vain. Therefore, it is better for us all to send an embassy to the Ottomans and ask them, in exchange for accepting Islam, not to ruin these places and not to destroy the peaceful population. But most people were categorically against it: we will not surrender to the Ottomans, they are enemies to us, and even if they defeat us, we will not betray our faith. They agreed that the embassy will give the Ottomans such an offer: we will surrender to you, we will be your loyal supporters, we will pay you a tax that you yourself will appoint, fulfill all your laws, but do not force us to change our faith and become Muslims. This decision no one dared to convey to the Ottomans, all were afraid. In the end, two priests were taken to the Ottoman-occupied Makriyal Fortress. This decision was created by the people's assembly. There, the Ottomans listened to them and said that this was impossible. All those who are on the territory of the subordinate Ottoman, all must be Muslim, that they cannot remain Christians. This decision was passed by the Ottomans through their people because the priests were immediately executed. After that, other priests went for talks, but they were immediately seized and executed too.
At that time Sultan Selim arrived at the Makriyal Fortress. Hearing this news, the happy elders gathered people and began to talk about how we are supposed to obey the Sultan Selim, give him an oath of loyalty in accepting Islam, and he will free us from persecution. We will stay here, and he will go back to the capital and take his army with him, and then we will do as we please. The main adviser in this issue was Abashidze, who fled from Imereti because of the murder of a man, hid from vengeance, and called himself a prince. It was he who went to the Sultan Selim, and several people went with him. Abashidze came to the Sultan Selim, bowed to him and said: I am Prince Abashidze, I want to accept your faith, and all Adjara wants to accept Islam with me. Very well, the sultan rejoiced and agreed. Abashidze became a Muslim and he was appointed a Sanjak, he was given control over the whole of Adjara, Kahabery, and Batumi. Since then, the genus of Abashidze has become stronger and he became the true master of this land. Abashidze returned home from Makriyal and brought with him hodjas and mullahs, distributed them among the villages and said that the Sultan had fulfilled their request. Since they adopted Islam, they will now have constant hodjas, even if the Ottomans are gone. The people were delighted with such a peaceful resolution of this issue: we will accept Islam and will remain secret Christians. At first, many remained secret Christians because they thought Islam was bad. However, when they saw that Islam is pure and holy religion, purer than Christianity, then they abandoned secret Christianity and became real Muslims. The priests were told to leave these villages, they were told that now they will be replaced with hodjas, mullahs, and imams. The priests were offended and said to the people: "You are nasty!" You are godless, apostates, Christian sellers! Shame on you!
For these words sanjak ordered to gather all the priests, to tie them all together with one rope and drown everyone in the Black Sea.
Sanjaks did many good things: those who accepted Islam, they helped and made various gifts, gave places or something else. And those people who did not profess Islam, they were sent to hodjas and mullahs first, so that they would advise and teach Islam, who would continue to persist, were arrested or executed, but were not left without attention.
Here we would like to add to the aforementioned narrative that Sultan Selim reigned in 1780-1815. "
The fact that this story is told by Muslims who positively assess Islamization and were inclined to approve the murder of priests, justify these atrocities, accusing the priests themselves, only adds reasons to take the story about the exploit of the clergy as authentic. Without a doubt, it is also important to mention the other Christians who were in the worldly rank. The phrases "And those people who did not profess Islam, they were sent to hodjas and mullahs first, so that they would advise and teach Islam, who would continue to persist, were arrested or executed, but were not left without attention", without a doubt reveals that thousands of Adjarians accepted death for Christ in order to preserve their loyalty to Him. From the seizure of Adjara by the Turks and until its liberation in the 19th century, the list of Georgian martyrs that shone in Adjara continued to replenish.
This is evidenced by the story of the old man Kadi Jijavadze from Chakvistavi¹:
"The Islamization of Adjara was difficult. Many old men and women stood firm for Christianity and often entered into a dispute and discussion with Ottoman mullahs and hodjas. These old people spoke about Christianity everywhere. They pointed out to young people saying that maybe they will someday return to the faith of their ancestors. There were so many old people like these in Adjara. They strongly interfered with mullahs and hodjas. In the end, the government ordered to make these old people Muslims forcefully and if they resist, then execute them. They gathered such old people from the whole of Adjara and put them in jail, where they sent hodjas to read prayers to these old people. Some turned to Islam, some did not. Those who did not become Muslim were driven to the bed of the Adzharickhali River near the Chorokhi River, where the bridge of Queen Tamara is located until now. The tools of execution were already on the bridge. Old people had their tongues and heads cut off. The heads were sent to the Pasha, and the bodies were dumped into the river. It was around 1790. "
This place is located 13 kilometers from Batumi along the route Batumi-Akhaltsikhe, where at the junction of the two named rivers anyone can worship the martyrs who endured for Christ to the end.
Holy Martyrs and Martyrs of Adjara, pray to God for us!
¹Chakvistavi is located on the river Chakvistkali. It is about 25 km from Batumi to this village. The route passes from Batumi first to Chakvi, and from Chakvi to the east towards Mtirala Park. The village is almost completely surrounded by the Mtirala National Park.