To the south of modern Adjara, there is the land of Klarjeti. Klarjeti is an ancient cradle of the Georgian statehood and culture. Until now, this beautiful land is decorated with monuments of Georgian Orthodox architecture, some of which are protected by UNESCO.
Klarjeti is sometimes considered to be a coastal seaside south of Sarpi, together with the town of Hopa. The Black Sea borders Klarjeti from the west and the Arsan Range from the east. There are now the Turkish cities of Artvin, Artanuji, Borchha, Hamamli, Khandzta, Hopa in modern territory of Klarjeti.
According to some reports, the ancient Georgian settlements on Artanuji arose even before our era. In the 5th century, Georgian king Vakhtang Gargasali built a castle to ensure gold mining in local mines. The castle survived the Arab invasion and was destroyed by the Arab conqueror Mervan nicknamed "Deaf" in 734, who came with troops from Baghdad. The castle was restored by the Ashot Kurapalat from the Bagratid dynasty that came from Tbilisi and a city was built at the foot of the castle in 800.
Sumbat Davitisdze writes in the 11th century:
"Is was ruined by Deaf from Baghdad. Ashot restored it and rebuilt the fortress, and built a city in front of the fortress at its foot. He built up a church of the holy apostles Peter and Paul inside the fortress. There he built his own tomb, and settled in that fortress ".
The city, located on the Great Silk Road, becomes the capital of the Georgian state, then called the principality of Tao-Klarjeti. It will be called Georgian kingdom at the end of the 9th century. Later, the capital of Georgia will be moved to Kutaisi, and then to Tbilisi. The main population of this area was Georgians and Chalcedonians (who adopted the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, ie, the Orthodox Armenians).
The Monk Archimandrite Gregory Khandztsky, the founder of Klarjeti monasteries has beamed here in the late 8th-early 9th centuries.
The whole life of the Monk Gregory proceeded in constant prayers, in tears, abstinence, patience, meekness, deepest humility and tireless labors. He deservedly gained the glory of a pious and zealous minister of the Church of Christ and was elected under the reign of Ashot Kuropalata as hegumen of the Khandzti monastery. Distinguished by the deepest obedience to the will of God, St. Gregory saw the meaning of earthly life in obedience, which gives the highest fertile freedom of all creation. He laid the obedience to the spiritual father to the basis of the whole way of monastic life, strengthening the community monasteries throughout Klarjeti, and later, as an archimandrite throughout Georgia. While in Byzantium, after the iconoclastic cathedral of 815, Orthodoxy was strongly crowded, Georgian monasticism, spiritually nurtured by the Monk Gregory of Khandzt, defended and affirmed the purity of the Orthodox faith while at the same time fighting against Monophysitism.
In 1551, the Ottoman Turks invaded these lands. This is what the descendants of Georgians who survived the Turkish persecutions, whose testimonies are collected by Zachary Chichinadze, tell about this:
"The Ligan Valley today is known as the Lebanese. It starts from the confluence of the Chorokhi and Adzhariczkali Rivers and stretches towards Artvin. Klarjeti begins after Artvin in the direction of Berta. All these places belonged to Georgians from ancient times. Many Georgian tribes lived here, these people were known for their diligence and craft. They were masters, scribes, theologians ... Since ancient times magnificent churches and monasteries have been built, the ruins of which are still here and there. Local Georgians were cheerful and brave, famous for their love of their country and faithfulness of religion, they were ready for self-sacrifice for the benefit of their country, which proves our history. They fought for a long time and resisted the Ottomans, but they themselves could not stand the constant wars, they were forced to become slaves to numerous conquerors. Entry into the rule of the Ottoman Turks was accompanied by a general Islamization of the population, for refusing to accept Islam, people were expected to be persecuted and tortured. In the absence of foreign aid for some time, all the Georgians adopted Islam. After Islamization of these places, the Ottomans went to Bert. The monastery of Berta was a stronghold of Christianity in Klarjeti. Mentioning Berta inspired Christians to exploit and fight against the invaders. Realizing the importance of Berta for Georgians, the Ottoman invaders looted the monastery, dispersed or killed monks and priests and turned the church into a mosque. This church turned into a mosque, still, stands on that land. The struggle against the invaders became stronger as the persecution of Georgians for Christianity became more brutal. They fought bravely, but gradually villages and towns were depopulated, churches and monasteries were destroyed or burned, the population was exterminated or intimidated, and the Ottomans themselves went on to another tactic of Islamization. For example, they surrounded twenty or thirty villages and drove the people to one place, put the Turkish soldiers around and required people to convert to Islam.
The Georgians say: "We will not accept Islam, do whatever you want."
"We'll kill everyone, we will not leave anyone alive," answered the Turks.
"It is your wish, do what you want.
"It is our wish ours but you should accept Islam."
- No, we will not do it, you can kill us.
"It is not a long time to kill you, the main thing is to become Muslims, we took these places to make all Georgians Muslim but not kill them. We spread Islam in the world, and we want this great religion condescended to godless Georgians. We will teach you everything we know.
Hard days came for the Georgians of Klarjeti, surrounded by innumerable hostile enemy soldiers who began to persecute and arrest Georgians. A great crying and groaning rose among the Georgian old men, women lamented loudly, mourning the dead people.
The captured people were put in rows and led to the Artvin bridge across the Chorokhi River, where they were lined facing the bridge, on which the main icon of the art church was placed, very revered and beloved by the Georgian people. Nearby there out wooden plaques and beside them stood grinning executioners, with sharpened tools of execution. They tied Georgians and led them to the bridge by three and offered to accept Islam.
Those who refused to accept Islam immediately felled their heads, and their bodies were dropped into the Chorokhi River. Others, seeing the sad fate of their brethren, agreed to accept Islam in the hope to avoid death. Then the insidious Ottomans, suggested they spit on the holy icon, in order to completely humiliate the Christians. They said this will be the best proof of their voluntary and faithful Islam. All excuses ended in a painful death and their bodies were also dropped into the waters of the river. The death of these martyrs was seen by many. A lot of people were frightened of mortal terror, so they spit on the icon and became Muslims. They were immediately released and taught Islam. About 800 Georgians were killed and their bodies were thrown into the Chorokhi River within two days. According to other sources, their number was up to 1400 people. These were those who refused to desecrate the holy icon and spit on it. So, many people who fought against the Ottoman rule, against Islam, against the religion alien to them were executed near the Artyn bridge. Among the murdered were both women and clergymen. The rest accepted Islam and being scared to death of executions became Muslims. Many Georgians declared themselves Catholics, some Grigorian-monophysites in order to avoid death because the Turks did not apply force in relation to these religions. The Pope who received a promise from the Sultan to not disturb Catholics guarded Georgian Catholics. The Ottomans did not care about Armenians, therefore, were not interested in their faith. Only Georgians were considered enemies and were destroyed so that there would be no alliance with the rest of Georgia and the Georgian people. Although Georgians became Muslims in these places, the secret Christian ministry continued. When the Ottomans found out about the secret Christianity, they forbade the Liban and Klarjeti Georgians to speak Georgian. Many Georgians tried to secretly move to the territory subject to the Georgian kings. Then the huge Ottoman army brutally suppressed the dissatisfaction of the Georgians once again. This time many disgruntled people were forcibly relocated to Egypt, and the real Ottomans settled in their place. This explains the fact that even now in many villages of the Liban gorge the population speaks mostly Turkish, and does not understand Georgian at all. Even the descendants of the remaining Georgians lost the language of their ancestors, which is what the Ottoman invaders craved. It should be mentioned that there are many Georgian villages where everyone speaks Georgian beyond the Liban gorge. Many settlers were sent to Egypt, Syria, and Kurdistan from the Liban gorge. Huseyn Khabaz Kavzharadze, a folk storyteller, who had been a robber in these places for 20 years, told me about this before. This is one of the main reasons why the Georgian language completely disappeared in some villages in the vicinity of Artvin. " (Recorded by Zachary Chichinadze from the words of the Klarjeti Georgians, Muslims, and Catholics).
Today the land of Klarjeti remains on the Turkish side of the border. Ancient Georgian churches stand as living monuments of Orthodoxy in this land.
"It is known that in the territory of the Tao-Klarjeti there were four main cathedrals of the diocese: Oshki, Ishkhani, Artanuji and Otkhta Eklesia (this means the Church of Four). The cathedral in Oshki, that was founded in 978, which is now under discussion, is known for the fact that the so-called Oshka Code was created here (the first complete translation of the Bible into Georgian). This is surprising because many modern democratic European states have translated the Bible into their native language in the last centuries. The translation of the Bible was in Georgia in 978. In addition, we know that George Svyatogorets translated some other sacred books into Georgian. It is known that the apostles preached, and the grace of the apostolic ministry exists in the Tao-Klarjeti, as well as throughout Georgia." says Metropolitan Seraphim (Jojua) of Borjomi and Bakuriani -"Unfortunately, the condition of these churches became deplorable over the years, especially over the last century. There are temples, towering just a meter or two above the ground, they are almost completely destroyed, only fragments are visible. The temple in Bana is a famous cathedral, built in the form of a circle, and destroyed now almost to the ground. Some of the temples are in a half-destroyed state, they have only walls and a dome. However, some survived, since mosques were opened there; for example, Parhali, Dolis-Khan, Khakhuli, Urta. "
The cathedral in Oshki that was built in the 9th century particularly distinguished from others.
Another monument of the early Georgian kingdom is the Castle of Artanuji (Gevhernik Kalesi in the Turkish writing) stands as a silent witness to the former glories of Klarjeti, preserving the memory of both its greatness and heavenly glory, crowning its citizens faithful to Christ, who folded their heads for the Orthodox faith.
But it is there, from that side of today's Turkish border.
And from this side, from the lands of Klarjeti to the land of Adjara, there is the Chorokhi River, the very river that was lit by the blood of the Klarjeti and Adjara martyrs. Walking along the New Boulevard and the sea in Batumi towards the Turkish border, you can come to its shore. Here on the bank of this river, you can pray to those who are in heaven today facing the Almighty, praying for him about Georgia and the entire Orthodox world: "Holy Martyrs of Klarjeti, pray God for us!"