???????? ???? | PAKISTAN LEDGER | ???????? ????? |Aug 21, 08 | Moin Ansari | ???? ??????? |
Georgia was a Muslim Emirate with most of the people of the Islamic faith.
GEORGIANS OF FERIDUN, IRAN
In the 1970s, the descendants of Georgians who had been deported to Iran’s Feridun region at the beginning of the seventeenth century began to return to Georgia. Despite having converted to Islam centuries earlier, the Feridun Georgians managed to preserve their traditional language and customs. From 1972–74, eighteen large families returned, but reintegration into Georgian society proved difficult, and as a result many returned to Iran within a few years. Today about 120–130 Feridunis live in Kakheti and Tbilisi.59 While some are still Muslim, most have reconverted to 20 Christianity. In either case, however, the Feridunis are typically not very religious.
It is worth noting, however, that the newly and forcibly “Christianized” often continue to perform Islamic rituals as part of their religious practices. Many, for example, visit Christian Churches, where they light candles, even as they perform namaz (Muslim prayer) and celebrate navruz, the Persian New Year, at home.
In June 2004, the new Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, visited Iran’s Feridun
region. Feridun’s Muslims, who still speak Georgian and adhere to many Georgian traditions, gave Saakashvili a warm welcome, which included waving of the new Georgian national flag with its five crosses.
For mostly strategic reasons, Russian imperial authorities attempted to change the demographic balance in some of Georgia’s border regions in the nineteenth century by encouraging emigration of Christians. The attempt was only partially successful, however, and was soon abandoned. By and large, Russian imperial authorities were tolerant of Georgia’s Muslims.
By the end of the imperial period, the population of Georgia was some 20 percent Muslim.
Soviet authorities were considerably less tolerant. The militantly atheistic Soviet state
launched a campaign against religious institutions and ecclesiastical authorities in the 1920s and 1930s. A measured accommodation was reached with the USSR’s traditional religions during the Second World War, including Islam, at which point the Soviets established four Muslim Religious Boards (dukhovnoe upravlenie) to oversee Muslim affairs in the USSR. The one for the 5 entire South Caucasus region was based in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.8 Thus both official Islamic institutions and unofficial practices and religiosity survived the Soviet period. Georgia, like other parts of the Soviet Union, witnessed a notable “Islamic revival” in the Gorbachev era and the early post-Soviet periods.
The centrality of Orthodox Christianity in the Georgian national consciousness, however,
has increased in recent years, indeed to the point where the national flag was changed after the “Rose Revolution” of November 2003 from the secular design of the first independent Georgian Republic (1917–1921) to one with five crosses, a change that the new authorities hoped would underline Georgia’s place in the Christian (that is, “Western”) world. Nevertheless, the Georgian national narrative celebrates the country’s traditional confessional diversity and tolerance, and its post-Soviet constitution provides for a secular state and freedom of religion. Today, the country’s “traditional” confessions (Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, Armenian Gregorian Christianity, Sunni and Shiite Islam, Judaism) are widely accepted, even by most Georgian nativists, as legitimate elements of Georgian society and history. There is, however, considerable popular
hostility toward non-traditional confessions, such as the increasingly active Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is, Seventh Day Adventists, and Hare Krishnas. Nevertheless, Georgia, unlike Russia, has not adopted a law on religion, although one has been under consideration by parliament for eight years. The law, particularly its provisions on non-traditional confessions, has been a topic of considerable controversy.
The size of Georgia’s Muslim population is difficult to estimate. The last Soviet census,
which was conducted in 1989, gave the following breakdown of traditionally Muslim nationalities in the republic: Azeris (308,000), Abkhaz (96,000, although only a portion of Abkhaz were traditionally Muslim), Kists (12,000), Avars (4,200), Tatars (4,100), Kazakhs (2,600), Uzbeks (1,300), and Tajiks (1,200).9 There are, however, significant numbers of Muslims among other nationalities in the republic, particularly among Georgian-speakers in the Autonomous Republic of Ajaria in Georgia’s southwest.
The 1989 Soviet census did not inquire into religious identity or practices, and while a census was conducted in 2002, its results are considered unreliable 6 given the extent of disorder in the country. In short, the number of people who consider themselves
adherents of Islam, whether among traditional Muslims or Georgians, is unknown.
Moreover, it is inherently difficult to classify individuals as believers or non-believers,
since there are degrees of religiosity, and the distinction between believer and non-believer is to a degree an arbitrary one. In general, it is possible to distinguish four groups of Georgian Muslims on the basis of religiosity. The first consists of those who execute all religious rituals and believe that the non-observance of the religious prescriptions of Allah will mean severe punishment.
For them, fasting, the ritual of sacrifice (qurban), and recitation of religious passages
(mevlud) mean that God will forgive their sins, which will allow them to enter Paradise upon their death. Second are those who believe in God but pray or visit mosques only intermittently.
Third are those who believe in God but observe religious rituals as a family or in the name of national tradition only. Finally, some are agnostic with respect to faith but nevertheless consider themselves to be “Muslim” in the sense that Islam is seen as part of their culture.
With these caveats in mind, Georgian scholars have estimated that the number of “Muslims ” in the republic in 1989 was as high as 640,000, or 12 percent of Georgia’s population at the time (then some 5.4 million). Today, most estimates are considerably lower, at around 400,000, a decrease that results in part from emigration and, in part, from a more considered distinction between believer and non-believer.10 The percentage of Muslims in the total population appears to have changed little, however, because the total population has declined by over one million (the 2002 census identified some 4.4 million Georgians).
Kvemo Kartli (Lower Kartli, Georgian: ????? ??????) is a historic province and current administrative region in southeastern Georgia. The city of Rustavi is a regional capital. The population is mixed between Azeris (45,1%) and Georgians (44%), who constituted a majority of the population.
Adjara (Georgian: ????? — ach’ara; Russian: ???????; Turkish: Acara), officially the Autonomous Republic of Adjara (?????? ??????????? ?????????? — ach’aris avtonomiuri respublika), (also known as Ajaria, Ajara, Adjaria, Adzharia, Adzhara, and Achara) is an autonomous republic of Georgia, in the southwestern corner of the country, bordered by Turkey to the south and the eastern end of the Black Sea. Formerly it was known as Acara under the Ottoman rule and Adjarian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Adjar ASSR) under the Soviet Union.
After a temporary occupation by Turkish and British troops in 1918–1920, Ajaria became part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1920. After a brief military conflict in March 1921, Ankara‘s government ceded the territory to Georgia due to Article VI of Treaty of Kars on grounds that autonomy is provided for the Muslim population. The Soviet Union established the Adjar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1921 in accord with this clause. Thus, Adjara was still a component part of Georgia, but with considerable local autonomy.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ajaria became part of a newly independent but politically divided Republic of Georgia. It avoided being dragged into the chaos and civil war that afflicted the rest of the country between 1991–1993 due largely to the authoritarian rule of its leader Aslan Abashidze. Although he successfully maintained order in Adjara and made it one of the country’s most prosperous regions, he was accused of involvement in organised crime – notably large-scale smuggling to fund his government and enrich himself personally – as well as human rights violations. The central government in Tbilisi had very little say in what went on in Adjara; during the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze, it seemed convenient to turn a blind eye to events in Adjara.
This changed following the Rose Revolution of 2003 when Shevardnadze was deposed in favour of the reformist opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili, who pledged to crack down on separatism within Georgia. In the spring of 2004, a major crisis in Ajaria erupted as the central government sought to reimpose its authority on the region. It threatened to develop into an armed confrontation. However, Saakashvili’s ultimatums and mass protests against Abashidze’s autocratic rule forced the Adjaran leader to resign in May 2004, following which he went into exile in Russia. After Abashidze’s ousting, a new law was introduced to redefine the terms of Ajaria’s autonomy – a measure which some[who?] have criticised as an effective elimination of most of the region’s autonomous powers.
For many years, Russia maintained the 12th Military Base (the former 145th Motor Rifle Division) in Batumi. This was a source of great tension with Georgia, which had threatened to block access to the facility. Following talks in March 2005, the Russian government proposed to begin the process of withdrawal later the same year; Russia returned the base to Georgia on November 17, 2007, more than a year ahead of schedule.
In July 2007, the seat of the Georgian Constitutional Court was moved from Tbilisi to Batumi
This is the html version of the file http://www.thomhartmann.com/index.php?option=com_fireboard&Itemid=104&id=250241&catid=69&func=fb_pdf.
Google automatically generates html versions of documents as we crawl the web.
Is this the First War between Russia and a Former Soviet State?
The world is looking to the Caucasus region with dismay. President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia has sent his country’s. forces into the breakaway region of South Ossetia, and its protector, Russia, has retaliated by sending in tanks and aircraft. Is a region that is home to all of 75,000 people about to become the scene of a hot war?
The South Ossetian coat of arms depicts a snow leopard raising its paw in a threatening gesture, against a backdrop of impregnable mountains. The warlike South Ossetians’ most famous son was a man whose name alone instills fear: Josef Stalin.
But none of this was enough to deter Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili when he ordered his army to invade
Tskhinvali, the capital of separatist South Ossetia, a region in the center of Georgia, on Thursday night. Skirmishes had been going on for weeks, and on Thursday evening Saakashvili had even announced a ceasefire. But then, at around midnight, Georgian forces attacked in an effort “to reestablish constitutional order,” as a high-ranking Georgian general described it.
Within hours Georgian units, using rockets and fighter jets, had apparently demolished entire streets of Tskhinvali. The “president” of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, a former freestyle wrestler, said on Friday evening that an estimated 1,400 people had died and characterized the Georgian invasion as ethnic cleansing. Saakashvili, however, announced the mobilization of 100,000 reservists.
POPULATION: According to the 2002 census, the population of Adjara is 376,016. The Adjarians (Ajars) are an ethnographic group of the Georgian people who speak a group of local dialects known collectively as Adjaran. The written language is Georgian.
The Georgian population of Adjara had been generally known as “Muslim Georgians” until the 1926 Soviet census which listed them as “Ajars” and counted 71,000 of them. Later, they were simply classified under a broader category of Georgians as no official Soviet census asked about religion.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the re-establishment of Georgia’s independence accelerated re-Christianisation, especially among the young, a process allegedly encouraged by the governmental officials. However, there are still remaining Sunni Muslim communities in Adjara, mainly in the Khulo district. According to the 2006 estimates by the Department of Statistics of Adjara, 63% are Georgian Orthodox Christians, and 30% Muslim, while according to the BBC, “nowadays about half the population professes the Islamic faith”. The remaining are Armenian Christians (0.8%), Roman Catholics (0.2%), and others (6%).
Islam in AJARA:
Muslim Ajaria was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the early seventeenth century and was fully a part of of the Ottoman Empire in 1820s. The Ottomans ceded Ajaria to Russia in 1878, some 6,000 Muslim Ajarians fled the region in search of refuge in Turkey.
Orthodox Christian missionaries also began actively proselytizing in the region in the late nineteenth century. The long-standing Christian presence in the region remains as such today.11
The Muslims of Ajaria are, virtually without exception, Sunnis. Sufism, however, is rare,
despite its widespread presence in Turkey to the west and among other Muslims of Georgia.
Moreover, in general Islamicization in Ajaria competed with Georgian Christianity.
For the most part, Ajarians have traditionally thought of themselves as “Georgians” (their
native language was Georgian). Turkish was spoken in the region, particularly after the 1860s.
There were no religious institutions of higher learning in Ajaria under the Ottomans.
Instead, the children of the Ajarian nobility were often sent to religious schools in Turkey and other Muslim countries, and as a result, the clerical elite tended to have a pro-Turkish orientation.
Most Ajarians had only limited opportunities to learn Turkish or Arabic, thus most continued to speak Georgian. In Batumi, the Ajarian capital, there was one madrasa that combined primary and secondary schools and where instruction was conducted in Arabic and Ottoman Turkish. In Ajaria’s second largest city, Kobuleti, where at the end of the nineteenth century the population consisted almost entirely of Georgian-speakers, there was another madrasa, where again teaching was conducted in Arabic and Turkish.13 Even so, Arabic was incomprehensible to most of the madrasa’s students, who typically memorized religious texts without knowing their meaning. The recitation of prayers and reading of holy texts in Arabic in mosques was not understandable even to many mullahs, let alone to lay worshippers.
The first mosques appeared in Ajaria in seaside regions when the Turks began to deploy
military garrisons in the early nineteenth century. Over the years, their numbers gradually increased, although relatively few were built in mountainous regions, where Christianity maintained a strong presence.14
Tensions between Muslims and Christians in Ajaria appear to have increased in the
second half of the nineteenth century. In 1855, during the Crimean War, most Ajarians fought on the side of the Turks. During the Turkish-Russian war of 1877–78, Ajarians held a number of top positions in the Ottoman armed forces, and some 6,000 to 10,000 served as soldiers.15
During World War I, Ajarian muhajirs (emigrants to Turkey) formed a division within the Turkish army.16 An anti-Russian terrorist organization known as “The Avengers” appeared in Ajaria after the Turkish defeat in 1878. Financed by both the Ottomans and the British, the organization attempted to kill Russian officers and officials, along with Ajarians who collaborated with the imperial presence.17 Nevertheless, many Ajarians during this period continued to identify politically with Russia, indeed to the point where some advocated unification with the tsarist state.
During the war of 1877–78, the Russian general Komarov informed the commander-in-chief of the Transcaucasian army that the “disposition of Ajarians towards Russians is perfect, and the region is waiting to connect to Russia.”18
Ajaria was incorporated into Russia under the terms of the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, at
which point Batumi was made into a free trade zone.19 Article 6 of the earlier Treaty of San Stefano was left unchanged, according to which the population living in areas conquered by Russia was forced to sell property and immigrate to Turkey. As a result, many of the Muslims of the region were forced to emigrate (the muhajiroba), a process that continued through the end of the 1880s.
Russian sovereignty proved a hardship for many. Previously the Turkish border played an
important role in the economic life of the region, as Ajarian men left for Turkey seeking seasonal work. After accumulating savings, they would typically return to their native villages. With the establishment of Russian border guards and tariff posts, however, movement across the border 9 became difficult. These and other restrictions proved a heavy burden. At the same time, because they feared that local Muslims would prove disloyal to the Tsar, the authorities attempted to populate the region with peoples—mostly Christians—from other parts of Russia. They also used both official and informal means to encourage the emigration of Muslims to Turkey. Members of the feudal Muslim nobility who were emigrating forced dependant peasants to leave with
them, while the local Muslim clergy encouraged emigration on religious grounds. (Eventually many reconciled themselves to Russian rule, however, calling on their congregations to cooperate with the new authorities.) The burning of Ajarian villages by departing Turkish troops also promoted Muslim emigration.20
It is difficult to estimate the number of refugees during this period. Our best guess is
around 10,000—6,000 of whom were Ajarians (many of the rest were Abkhaz—see below). 21 An indicator of the extent of the decrease in the Muslim population can be found in demographic data from Batumi. Of the 4,970 inhabitants in 1872, approximately 4,500 were Muslim (Georgian-speakers, Turks, Circassians, and Abkhaz). By the time the census of 1897 was taken, the city’s population had grown enormously, but now the Orthodox Christian population was 15,495 (mostly Slavs). Muslims numbered only 3,156, some of whom were citizens of Turkey.22 A similar picture comes from data for Georgia as a whole. According to official sources, a total of 150,000 individuals left the country for Turkey during the muhajiroba.23 By the beginning of the twentieth century, as many as 200,000 to 250,000 Georgians lived in Turkey.24
Today there are 242 villages in 15 vilayets (provinces) of Turkey with residents of Georgian heritage, 158 of which are populated by Georgians only.25 Georgians live mainly in the Artvin, Rize, Kars, Samsun, and Sinop vilayets, but they are also present in significant numbers in Bursa, Izmit, Istanbul, and Ankara. Most are Sunnis of the Hanafi madzhab (school of Islamic law), although there are a small number of Georgians in Turkey who are Christian (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant).26
At the end of the nineteenth century, Russian officials began to try to win the loyalty of
Georgia’s Muslims, one consequence of which was an end to the policies that had spurred
10 emigration. The Russian state financed the construction of mosques and the opening of madrasas in Ajaria and elsewhere. Some 400 mosques were built in Ajarian villages as a result. Batumi had three mosques, two of which belonged to Turks and one to Georgians. (Interestingly, the trustees of the Georgian mosque were members of the Abashidze feudal family, ancestors of the recently removed strongman of Ajaria, Aslan Abashidze).27
State officials also began to reach out to the Muslim clergy in the hopes it would “operate
in accordance with the interests of the government, and the government in turn could supervise its actions and have constant control over it.”28 As early as 1870, imperial authorities issued regulations specifying the rights and duties of the Islamic clergy, and as time passed, the government made additional efforts to bring the clergy under its control. It created a special administration to oversee the Islamic establishment; formed educational religious centers at the local level; and prohibited study in Muslim countries. In addition, it opened a special school in Tbilisi for the training of the both Sunni and Shiite mullahs, mullahs who presumably would serve the interests of the state. Finally, Muslim khojas (teachers) were appointed by the government and received state salaries—for example, a certain khoja, Limon Efendi Kartsivadze, was given an annual salary of 100 Russian imperial rubles.29
Meanwhile, state efforts in the latter half of the nineteenth century to promote Christianity in the region proved ineffective. Nevertheless, most Ajarian Muslims continued to identify as Georgian. As a result, during the First World War a “Committee for the Liberation of Muslim Georgia” was created in Tbilisi, with Memed Abashidze as its chairman (Abashidze had been the founder and editor of the newspaper Muslim Georgia). The goal of the organization was to “liberate” Muslim Georgia from Turkish rule. For some Ajarians, however, Islamic identity meant loyalty to Turkey. This was true even before the October Revolution, but the establishment of Communist authority in the region, and the threat it posed to traditional religious practices and nationalist sentiments, radicalized pro-Turkish elements in the Ajarian community. A pan-Turkish and pan-Islamist party, Jemiet Islam, was founded in 1921, which advocated Ajarian 11 unification with Turkey. Still others championed Ajarian nationalism, advocating the creation of an independent Ajarian state.30
During the brief period of Georgian independence (1918–1921), a pro-Georgian orientation
prevailed in Ajaria. This was made clear in the final declaration of the special “Congress of
the Ajarian People,” which convened in Batumi during the period of British occupation in the fall of 1918. The declaration asserted that while the people of the Batumi district were Muslim by religion, they were Georgian by virtue of history, origin, language, and culture. It also claimed that territorially and economically the region had always been part of Georgia.31
The establishment of Soviet power and the creation of the Georgian Soviet Socialist
Republic (SSR) in February 1921 were followed by the formation of Ajaria as an autonomous republic (ASSR) within the Georgian SSR in June. Interestingly, it was the only autonomous republic in the USSR that was established on a religious rather than an ethno-linguistic basis (most Ajarians at the time spoke Georgian).32 The reasons were political, particularly the complex relationship between the USSR and Turkey in the early 1920s that resulted from the terms of the 1921 Treaty of Kars. Even to this day, the treaty plays an important role in influencing relations between Turkey, Russia, and Georgia. For example, while signing a Treaty of Friendship and Good Will with Georgia in 1992, the Turkish president demanded that Georgia provide proof that Tbilisi would abide by the treaty’s conditions.33
At the beginning of the Soviet era there were 158 mosques in Ajaria.34 In the years that
followed, the number declined dramatically thanks to the regime’s harsh campaign against
religion. By 1936, only two registered mosques remained.35 The state also undertook an aggressive campaign of propaganda in favor of atheism. A “Union of Atheists” was created in Ajaria in 1925, and two Soviet newspapers were published in the region in the 1920s and 1930s to promote the official line: The Atheist (Bezbozhni, meaning “godless” in Russian), which came out in Russia, and The Fighting Atheist, which was published in Georgian. Islamic law (Sharia) and the muftiate (the religious affairs administration) were abolished in 1926.36 Soviet authorities also tried to force the Muslim clergy to support Soviet rule in their religious vaiazes (sermons/preach12
On January 10, 1930, an accommodation of sorts was reached when Khoja Iskander
Artmeladze called on Muslims to obey Soviet authorities and not fall under the influence of antiregime agitators.37 Nevertheless, as noted earlier, pressure on Islam diminished during and after World War II, and Islamic practices in the region survived. Islam remained depoliticized, however, and Islamic practices were in many cases informal, carried out beyond the purview of the officially recognized religious establishment.
Today it appears that most Muslims in Ajaria have a respectful attitude toward Christians
and Christianity. Doubtless this is partly because Ajarians afford their ancestors great respect, and many of those ancestors were Christians. Moreover, many young Ajarians have embraced Christianity, although it is impossible to know just how many. What can be said is that re-Christianization has accelerated, although a significant number of Ajarians still consider themselves Muslims and carry out Islamic rites. The coexistence of the two religions in a single family (particularly cases where younger members of the family are Christians while their elders are Muslims) is now quite common.
Christianity enjoys substantial state support in Ajaria today. In a move of obvious political
significance, the former strongman Aslan Abashidze converted to Christianity despite the fact that, as noted earlier, he is the descendant of a well-known Ajarian Muslim family that not only strengthened Georgian consciousness among the Ajarian Muslims after the region became a part of the Russian Empire in 1878, but also promoted the strengthening of Islam.38
Islam, in contrast, is not supported by local authorities. During an expedition to the
highlands of Ajaria in September 2003, local authorities went to great lengths to prevent
Sanikidize and his colleagues from contacting Muslims, at one point going so far as to demand that they show them a document signed by Abashidze himself giving them permission to proceed with their research. Similarly, the person in charge of Ajaria’s religious affairs claimed that no mosque had been built in region in the last few years, although the research team saw many new mosques in Ajarian villages.
At least part of the funding for construction of these new mosques comes from Turkish
citizens of Georgian heritage. Most are built using standard plans and have no value as architectural monuments. But there are also old mosques in the villages. Of special interest are those in the villages of Ghordjomi and Beghleti. The mosque in Ghordjomi was built in the nineteenth century, while the mosque of Beghleti dates from the beginning of the twentieth century. Both are decorated inside and out with ornaments. And in both a vine tree is a major ornament—a traditional symbol of Georgian Christianity. In villages without mosques, small chapels or houses of believers serve as places of worship. There are imams at the mosques of Khulo, Ghordjomi, and Batumi (see below), although none has received a classical religious education.
There is only one mosque in Batumi, whereas there are 14 Christian churches (12 Orthodox, one Armenian Gregorian, and one Catholic). The central hall of the Batumi mosque can accommodate about 1,500 believers. According its mufti, Avtandil (his Islamic name is Mahmud) Kamashidze, about 200 believers visit the mosque every day, a number that goes up to 400 on Fridays. He also claimed that as many as 4,000 attend during religious feasts, most of whom assemble in the mosque’s courtyard. However, Sanikidize visited the Batumi mosque twice, and each time there were only 15–20 believers in the courtyard and central hall, which suggests that the figure of 200 daily worshippers everyday is exaggerated. There also appeared to be few foreign or young worshippers at the mosque.
Nevertheless, unlike its counterpart in Tbilisi, the Batumi mosque is open every day.
During the month of Ramadan women have the right to enter it and pray in the women’s chapel on the second floor. The mosque also offers courses in Koranic studies. While there have been rumors about the construction of a new mosque in Batumi, reportedly with funding from Turkish businessmen, it appears that the idea has been dropped because there are so few worshippers in the city. According to the mufti, the existing mosque is more than adequate to meet current needs. However, a new minaret has been constructed for the Batumi mosque, which has been financed by Turks.
Islamic practices in Ajaria today fall into two categories: (1) purely religious rituals such
as daily prayer, the recitation of the Koran, charitable donations (under different forms), sacrifice (qurban), and the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday (mevlud or dhyrk, which in different parts of the Muslim world is celebrated in different ways and on different days, and which in Ajaria entails visiting the tombs of relatives and the celebration of important events in the life of a family); and (2) Islamicized Ajarian traditions such as circumcision (sunat), burial ceremonies (janazah), and marriage contracts (niqah, qalim, mahr), including marriage of underage girls.
Many of these rituals take place outside the mosque, in courtyards, fields, or private homes. An important practice among Ajarian Muslims is the religious pledge. In addition, to
ensure that Allah fulfills the desires of believers, they carry out qurban, celebrate mevlud, and read the Koran. Fasting and special collective prayers (taravi) are recited during the holy month of Ramadan. Taravi offered in mosques is generally considered more pious than taravi in private homes, and as a result many believers come to Batumi at the beginning of Ramadan to attend the mosque every evening. The end of fasting is celebrated by Bairam, when in the Batumi mosque as many as 4,000 believers gather (in Tbilisi the figure is only 400 to 500). Another important festival is Kuchuk Bairam (Feast of Sacrifice).39 In addition to ritual sacrifices tied to national traditions, there are Islamic occasions, such as when sacrifice (qurban) is performed in lieu of the hajj. Ritual sacrifice also takes place when disorder strikes a family or when there is a joyous event to celebrate. And as in much of the rest of the Muslim world, a sacrifice is offered at the
beginning of the hajj.
One of the most popular feasts in Ajaria is Khadir geja, which is usually celebrated on the
twenty-seventh day of Ramadan to mark the day that Allah decides the destiny of believers.
Another is Barati geja, which is usually celebrated during the fall and marks the moment when the souls of believers depart to the other world. Ashura, the feast marking the landing of Noah’s ark that is of particular significance to Shiites, is celebrated as well by Sunni Ajarians, although the ritual is different. Finally, the night of Eli Ekenji is celebrated on the fifty-second day after a person’s death when mevlud is read at the tomb.
The influence of national traditions on religious practices is the result of numerous
factors—historical, national, religious, and psychological—as well as social environment. Young believers who witness religious traditions in early childhood play a particularly important role in preserving religious traditions. Because younger Ajarians have been converting to Christianity in significant numbers, preserving the Muslim traditions unique to Ajaria is becoming increasingly difficult.
Muslim religious practices in Ajaria are also intermingled with Christian ones. A large
number of “Muslim” toponyms, for example, have Christian roots. As the Georgian art historian Ekvtime Takhaishvili noted at the beginning of the twentieth century: “There is a tradition of going to ziareti in Muslim Georgia that corresponds to the Christian feast of the worship of icons. Ziareti are places for prayer, which in a majority of cases are old churches or places where Christian crosses are erected.”40 Another historian, Dmitri Bakradze, who visited Ajaria during the last years of Turkish domination, similarly observed, “Although Georgian churches were demolished a long time ago, the population considers their ruins as sacred … many Muslim Ajarians pray on their former Christian icons.”41 An example of these syncretic practices is the abundance of vine tree ornaments inside and outside Ajaria’s mosques (wood or stone ornaments
or oil painted images). In the mosque of the village of Drvani, for example, images of grape clusters are carved into the minbar (pulpit) and painted on the walls. Again, this is a Georgian tradition linked to Christianity.42 Indeed, Islam forbids pictures and most inscriptions on tombs—only Islamic formulas, names of the deceased, and dates of births and deaths are allowed, and all inscriptions can be in Arabic. But in Georgia portraits as well as inscriptions written in Georgian, Russia, and Azeri can be found in many Muslim cemeteries.43
A considerable number of young Ajarian Muslims received their religious education
abroad during the last decade. The religious administration of Turkey, Diyanet, is especially active in this regard.44 There are frequent complaints in local newspapers that the government has failed to monitor the quality of the education that young Ajarians are receiving in foreign religious institutions. 16 orientation (the more accurate label is “Salafite”).
ISLAM IN MESKHETIA
Islam came to Meskhetia in the sixteenth century with the arrival of nomadic tribes of
Turkish origin. Thereafter, the establishment of the Ottoman landowner system in the region aided Islamicization. To preserve its power and wealth, the dominant feudal family in the region, the Jaqeli, converted to Islam, and a member of the Jaqeli family almost continuously held the title of Pasha until the abolition of the Akhaltsikhe pashalik in 1829. Other Meskhetian feudal families followed the Jaqeli’s lead.45 Nevertheless, according to the Georgian historian Vakhushti Batonishvili, at the beginning of the eighteenth century most Meskhetian peasants were still Christians, while the nobility was mostly Muslim.46
Like Ajaria, Meskhetia is located in southwestern Georgia. In the eighteenth
century the region of inhabited by Turkic peoples, who had over the centuries migrated to region in large numbers.
After the Russian-Ottoman war of 1828–1829, Armenians began to settle in the region, and they became the largest community in Meskhetia by the end of the nineteenth century. The region was incorporated into the Russian empire in 1829, but a census was conducted in the region only once, in 1897. Unfortunately, the census did not provide a clear picture 17 of religious or political identities.47 According to the 1897 census, the population of Meskhetia (Samtskhe-Javakhetia) consisted of 18,664 Georgians, 67,683 Armenians, and 43,367 “Tatars” and “Turks.”48 “Georgians,” however, included Orthodox, Catholics, and Muslims, so the number of “Georgian” Muslims is impossible to determine.49
50 But there were also Georgian-speaking Muslims who regarded religion as their primary political identity and who accordingly would be counted in the census as Tatars or Turks. Indeed, many Georgian Muslims changed their Georgian family names to Turkish ones because they assumed that “Georgian” was synonymous with “Christian.”51
While the number of Muslims in the region is difficult to assess, what does seem clear is
that state-led efforts to Christianize the Muslim population in Meskhetia were generally unsuccessful.
In 1880, for example, there were only 77 baptisms among Muslim Georgians in
Meskhetia, a figure that did not increase notably in later years.52 After the establishment of Communist rule, Georgian-language secondary schools were replaced by Azeri schools in areas with Georgian-speaking Muslim majorities. In addition, official documents increasingly ignored the linguistic and cultural affiliations of Georgian speaking
Muslims. Georgian-speaking Muslims were referred to as Turks, Muslims, Tatars, or
(eventually) Azeris. People of Turkish origin in Georgia typically referred to themselves, however, as Muslims and would only rarely appropriate the label “Turks,” while Christians tended to refer to them as “Tatars.” In 1937, the Soviet state decided that all people of Turkish origin in the South Caucasus would be categorized officially as “Azeris.” The bilingual (Turkish-Georgian) Muslims of Meskhetia, who were of mixed origin, were also identified as Azeris. There was, thus, a dramatic increase in the number of Azeris registered in Meskhetia in the census of 1939.
Likewise, there was a sudden drop in Azeris in the 1959 census because of the deportation of the so-called “Meskhetian Turks,” many of whom were in fact Georgian-speakers of ethnic Georgian heritage.53
The deportation, which took place during World War II, forced all Muslims of Meskhetia
into internal exile, mostly to Central Asia. The number of deportees was on the order of 100,000, although once again it is difficult to establish the exact number. The Meskhetian Turks managed to preserve a high level of religiosity while in internal exile.54 High birth rates also led to rapid population growth.
A second deportation took place in 1989, this time from Central Asia. Currently the redeported live mainly in the Saridabad region of Azerbaijan and in Krasnodar krai in southern Russia. Many hope to return to the homeland of their ancestors in Meskhetia. Most also continue to insist that they are Turks, not ethnic Georgians. They are, therefore, referred to sometimes as “Turks of Meskhetia” rather than “Meskhetian Turks” because “Meskhetian” implies ethnic Georgian to most Georgians. Some scholars prefer an even more precise phrasing: “deported Meskhetians of Turkish orientation” (although some are not, in fact, of Turkish origin).55
Still others distinguish between two groups of deported people—”Turks” and “Georgians.” Finally, the “Meskhetian Turks” themselves distinguish between a pro-Turkish part of the population, which is represented by the movement Vatan, and a pro-Georgian part, which is represented by the movement of Khsna (Salvation). Members of the latter typically consider themselves Georgians.
They are critical of Vatan for being insufficiently aware of the complex ethnopolitical
situation in the region, as well as for what they consider an unrealistic political agenda of
Meskhetian Turkish nationalism. As one Khsna activist explained, what is most important is to return to the homeland of their ancestors, not national orientation.56
The first Muslim Meskhetian returnees arrived in 1969. They were soon forced to leave by
local authorities, however. Between 1982 and 1989, 1,972 Meskhetians returned, but again most left due to fears about personal security, the unsupportive or even hostile attitude of local authorities, isolation from their kin, and economic hardship. Since 1993, the government in Tbilisi has taken measured steps to assist repatriation, and small groups of Meskhetian students have been admitted from CIS countries. In 1994, a Repatriation Service was established under the Ministry of Refugees and Settlement to assist returnees and coordinate efforts for further repatriation.
Nevertheless, Tbilisi has continued to drag its feet in creating a comprehensive framework
for promoting repatriation. The primary reason is that repatriation is extremely unpopular
with the Georgian public. When Georgia became a member of the Council of Europe, Tbilisi
promised to make greater efforts to facilitate repatriation—it wanted above all to demonstrate that it was committed to liberal values and “European” norms. There has also been consistent pressure from human rights organizations to recognize the right of the deported to return. Nonetheless, not a single political party or national politician has been willing to incur the political costs of championing repatriation. On the contrary, most have given in to the temptation to win political capital by publicly opposing it. This is especially true of politicians from nearby Samtskhe-Javakheti, for whom a strong anti-repatriation stance is a political necessity.57 It would be unfair, however, to ascribe the resistance to repatriation simply to populism and selfishness.
There are in fact many serious practical reasons why repatriation must be handled with care. The size of the Meskhetian Turk population increased considerably after the
deportation, and it is, therefore, even more difficult for financially strapped Tbilisi to provide for the returnees financially and resolve property claims.58 In addition, Meskhetia is today an ethnically and religiously diverse region, with significant populations of Georgian Orthodox, Georgian Catholics, Armenian Gregorians, Armenian Catholics, Russian Dukhobors, and Ajarian Muslims resident on its territory. The arrival of an additional ethno-religious community would almost certainly lead to increased political tensions.