“How can something be yours when actually it is not? You have no reason to say so, but it doesn’t matter, be it a monk or a public figure, if they go and start posing in front of the cave monasteries, and then you say “It is mine,” that is not right, it is not yours,” Iveri Melashvili told TV Pirveli regarding the Davit Gareji case.
Later, Melashvili explained that he made the above statement in response to those making “Pseudo patriotic statements regarding the Davit Gareji Monastery Complex.”
For the record, along with Georgian clergymen and public figures visiting the Davit Gareji Monastery Complex on the conditional border between Georgia and Azerbaijan periodically, President Salome Zurabishvili, together with ‘Europa Nostra,’ a pan-European Federation for Cultural Heritage, representing citizens’ organizations that work on safeguarding Europe’s cultural and natural heritage, also visited the site back in April 2019, where she made a statement on the need to restore the monument and establish a state border with Azerbaijan.
“We took a look at the rock paintings and frescoes and everything shows that it is necessary to start the restoration of this monument very quickly. This is why Europa Nostra has declared the monument endangered. It is necessary to start this work immediately. Also, we must urgently address the issue of establishing the border, which can no longer be postponed,” President Zurabishvili said at the time.
Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova, accused of committing actions against the territories of Georgia, indictees in the Davit Gareji Monastery Complex case, were released on 20,000 GEL bail on Thursday.
Based on the court decision, they are not allowed to leave the country before the final verdict.
“This was a politically motivated case. The accusation is absurd, groundless,” Melashvili said after his release on bail.
“The Georgian border has not been changed by a single inch. Nothing harmful has happened,” he added.
He also disagrees with the bail as he is pleading not guilty to the charge.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia launched a probe against Iveri Melashvili, Head of the Service of Georgian State Border Delimitation, Demarcation and Border Relations of the Department of Neighboring Countries at the Foreign Ministry, and Natalia Ilychova, Chief Inspector of the Land Border Defense Department of the Border Police last year. POG accused them of conspiring to cede lands to Azerbaijan.
The POG investigation established that Melashvili and Ilychova hid the 1938 map and used the 1970-80s maps instead. As a result, Georgia lost 3,500 hectares of land. The hidden 1937-1938 original map was found in Natalia Ilichova’s office, the POG noted.
If found guilty by the court, both defendants face imprisonment from ten to fifteen years.
Davit Gareji is a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex located in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia, on the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja, some 60–70 km southeast of Georgia’s capital Tbilisi. The complex includes hundreds of cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hollowed out of the rock face.
Part of the complex is located in the Agstafa region of Azerbaijan and has become subject to a border dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan.
By Ana Dumbadze