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Several hundred civic activists and local residents gathered in the premises of David Gareji Monastery on May 5 to protest against developments surrounding the medieval Orthodox monastic complex sitting on the border with Azerbaijan.
Participants, holding national flags and chanting “Long Live to Georgia,” formed a human chain above the ridge overseeing the rock-cut Udabno Monastery, one of the parts of the complex, which was closed for visitors and monks by Azerbaijani border guards on April 21-26.
Video footages from the area show that the protesters were allowed to move unhindered to the Udabno caves, although in presence of Georgian and Azerbaijani border guards. Some participants also managed to reach the Chichkhituri Church further along the mountain ridge, which, according to local guides, had been long closed for visitors.
Protesters said they gathered to protect the country’s historical heritage and territorial integrity, and to call on the authorities to address the problem promptly, in dialogue with the Azerbaijani officials.
“Azerbaijan is our neighbor and a friendly country. We want nothing but friendship, but our government should assume responsibility and enter into dialogue to solve this problem,” said writer Davit Turashvili.
Davit Katsarava, leader of the anti-occupation Strength in Unity movement, was present at the rally as well. He said the anti-occupation movement will launch patrolling in the monastery. “We will defend our land, our historical heritage in a calm and peaceful manner, as we have neither luxury, nor any right to hand it over to anyone else,” he noted.
David Gareji, located about 70 kilometers southeast of Tbilisi, has been one of the major stumbling blocks in the border demarcation talks. Azerbaijani officials have been periodically closing off access to the parts of the monastery during the past decades, although most often the interruptions were temporary and lasted for one or two days.
The most recent one occurred on April 21-26, when Azerbaijani border guards repositioned, no longer allowing visitors and convent members to access the Udabno caves. Restrictions were lifted on April 26, with Georgian MFA saying that the status quo will be restored on the disputed section and that the two countries will resume delimitation talks.