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Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II sent a formidable letter to Azerbaijani top cleric Sheikh-ul Islam Allahshukur Pasazade and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia ahead of his 9 October visit to Baku to meet President Ilham Aliyev and other top officials weeks after he was named the new prime minister.
In the letter, the Georgian patriarch accused Azerbaijan of actually cutting off the monasteries of Chichkhituri and Udabno for visiting pilgrims. It is noteworthy that this letter was published ahead of the state visit of the new Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia to Azerbaijan on 9 October.
In his letter, the Georgian patriarch claims that according to the treaties of 1938 and 1966, as well as on the map prepared by the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), the monasteries of Udabno and Chichkhituri fell to the Georgian territory.
“Today, the claims of the Azerbaijani side are completely incomprehensible, since in 2019, they actually deprived us of the monasteries of Chichkhituri and Udabno, near which, on yet an uncertain venue, they built the border sector and completely cut off these monasteries from visiting pilgrims, tourists and even clergymen, with which, of course, we we’ll not put up,” the letter says. (Novoye Vremya newspaper, 10 Oct 19)
The Georgian patriarch calls on the Azerbaijani side to restore the status quo and resume access to Udabno and Chichkhituri for clergy, pilgrims and tourists. Recall that on July 14, a group of Georgian citizens attacked a border post near the Kesikcidag monastery complex in Azerbaijan, insulting an Azerbaijani outfit on duty.
Georgian media, citing one of the guides of the Kesikcidag complex, reported that local residents were displeased because the Azerbaijani border guards removed the icons from the cells of the Resurrection Church and handed them over to their Georgian colleagues. After the incident, the entrance to the territory of the Kesikcidag monastery complex was temporarily closed.
Nevertheless, though the incident on the Azerbaijani-Georgian border was fortunately already resolved, it still leaves an extremely unpleasant aftertaste, demonstrating the presence in Georgia of forces tending to escalate relations with Azerbaijan. This incident is not the first. Recently, a series of targeted and organized provocations at the state border has been undertaken by the Georgian side.
The scandal that the head of the Labor Party of Georgia, Shalva Natelashvili, who came to the border with provocative accusations against Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani people, slamming them for “aggression and occupation of the original Georgian lands”, can be called the components of this “cycle”.
But Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia in Baku tried to resolve the situation. “My first visit to Azerbaijan as the prime minister is not accidental; we are confident that with this visit, we will once again prove to our friends and enemies that there are no problems between Azerbaijan and Georgia insoluble in brotherly, friendly way,” the Georgian prime minister said this on October 9 during a meeting with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. (Xalq Qazeti, 10 Oct 19)
According to the Georgian side, the attention of the parties was focused on the main areas of strategic partnership between the two countries and joint projects of regional importance. “Azerbaijan and Georgia are closest friends and partners. Our partnership has truly gone beyond the framework of regional significance and has become a topic at the international level, especially in the economic dimension, in the areas of energy, transport and trade. Georgia and Azerbaijan strongly support each other in international formats. Of course, this is fundamentally important and I thank for supporting the territorial integrity of Georgia,” said the prime minister. (Azarbaycan newspaper, 10 Oct 19)
In response, Ilham Aliyev said that his first visit to Azerbaijan as the prime minister testifies that Georgia and Azerbaijan are close friends and partners. “For us, Georgia is the closest friend, neighbor and partner.
We are connected by history, geography and these are important factors for the development of our relations. We support each other’s territorial integrity and successfully cooperate within the framework of international organizations. Azerbaijan is one of the largest investors in Georgia. Our cooperation in the field of oil, gas and transport has risen to the international level,” Aliyev said. (Novoye Vremya, 10 Oct 19)
Indeed, it was Azerbaijan that extended a helping hand to Georgia when, 10 years ago, it found itself in cold and darkness. It is Azerbaijan that accounts for the lion’s share of investments in the Georgian economy.
It was Azerbaijan that committed to cover the costs of natural gas consumed by all churches and monasteries in Georgia. Azerbaijan made tariff concessions to Georgia in the “pipeline issue”. Speaking specifically about Kesikcidag, adhering to the principles of good neighbourliness, Azerbaijan did not enclose this territory with barbed wire until the completion of the delimitation process, but as an exception, it allows Georgian citizens to freely cross the border and visit the monastery complex.
But this does not mean that they have the right to shout at us hysterically and violate the border and attack the border outfit of the neighboring state. Indeed, if it were not for the iron restraint of the Azerbaijani border guards, then this gross provocation could have entailed a completely logical and, it is worth emphasizing, reaction generally accepted in world practice in such cases. And who would then be responsible for the consequences?