(excerpts from the article”Activity of Russian
This variety does not, by itself, lead to conflict. The
variety encompasses common customs, traditions, and the ethnic and
psychological individualism of the Caucasian people. If measured by diversity
and integrity, the most interesting area in the Caucasus could be
The Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji
between the Russian Empire and Sublime Porte on 10 July 1774, in articles
concerning the Caucasus, pronounced
In 1783, Kartli-Kakheti signed the
Treaty of Georgievsk,
continued Russia.s political advance into the
the present analysis, the act established regulations of the two Orthodox Churches (in Russia and Georgia) that made the Patriarch of Georgia a permanent member of the Holy Synod.3 This agreement instituted a new relationship between the Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch and the Holy Synod, giving eight degrees of sanctity to the Georgian Patriarch and ranking it behind the Archbishop of Tobolsk.4 This meant that the Georgian Church lost its independence, coming under the jurisdiction of the Russian Catholicos-Patriarch. Importantly, as the Synod was supervised by a (secular) Ober-Prosecutor who answered to the Empress, the Georgian church became dependent on the Russian state.
The beginning of missionary activity
The idea to use the Orthodox faith to create a common ideology
The Society sent its first missionaries from
The status of the
Following the reforms in the Georgian church, the erstwhile
Clerical Commission of Ossetia was re-established in 1815, now centred in
mountains). The fact that Cossacks were enlisted indicates Russia.s fear of the mountain people.s resistance to the missionary project.
In 1810, the
Abkhazia. Thus, the area of the Commission.s
renewed activity was already much bigger and included territory beyond the
According to the missionaries. reports, they baptised 216 Abkhazians, as well as 2,788 Kists (Chechens and Ingush) living in Georgia, and 43,927 Ossetians between 1817 and 1825.6
In 1857, the Viceroy of the Caucasus, Alexander Ivanovich Bariatinskii, and the
Exarch of Georgia, Isidor
(Nikolskii), reported to the Emperor that, “The
duty of the Orthodox Christian state is to create a Society for the
restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus.
tool of Orthodox Christianity herself”7
The report presented by Bariatinskii
and Isidor was discussed for three years in
The Society declared, as did Bariatinskii,
that the main aim of its work was to spread Orthodox Christianity in the
in a report cited in the Survey of Activity of the
Society for Restoration of OrthodoxChristianity in
“Islam for the Caucasian mountain people is the faith of
patriotism. It is the symbol and flag of independence.
For the entire population of the
As this quote makes clear, for Russian policy makers in the
The establishment of the Society proclaimed the aim of restoring Christianity in the region where the natives had been Christians since ancient times. The main directions of the Society.s activity were:
1) To construct and restore churches, and to establish nearby housing for the clergy;
2) To establish and finance parochial schools for the education of the locals;
3) To translate and publish the Bible and other sacred books into local languages and to compile alphabets for peoples who did not have them;
4) To improve the social position of priests and to improve their training.10
The Russian Orthodox missions in Abkhazia were extremely successful. Building on the activity of the Clerical Commission of Ossetia in Abkhazia, the Society worked to strengthen and spread Orthodox Christianity in the region.
Before examining the main reasons for its success, we must
first examine the form of Islam that was prevalent in Abkhazia.The
establishment of Turkish supremacy over the Black Sea coast of
In 1810, after realizing Russia.s
increasing strength in the Caucasus, the Abkhazian ruler Sapar-bei
Sharvashidze declared his alliance with
The Society reported that despite their conversion, Abkhazian
political interests and religious sympathies still were biased towards
“There is no sign that Christianity is preserved either among the princes or the people”.30
To expand their activity, the missions needed to have detailed
descriptions of different regions and ethnic groups in the
Abkhazia and in the other parts of
The missionaries divided the Abkhazian Muslim population (in accordance with their devotion to Islam) into two groups: fanatics and non-fanatics.
The former, a minority, kept all the traditions of Islam strongly but were not committed to pilgrimages to the sacred Muslim sites nor to praying five times a day.
Non-fanatic Abkhazians, who formed the majority, maintained Islamic traditions by keeping Ramadan and the feast of Kurban-Bairam, and by inviting mullahs to ceremonies. They practised a more syncretic Islam, as they also celebrated Christmas, Easter, New Year, Whit Sunday, and festivities observing the Virgin Mary and St. George. In addition, they worshipped icons and lit candles when praying, dyed eggs on Easter, and poured wine on bread in memory of dead ancestors.31
The missionaries concluded that there was no religious
friction in Abkhazia between Muslims and Christians. The missionaries had
been disturbed by the fact that religious difference did not impede marriage
between Christians and Muslims in the
According to the missionaries’ reports, the two main centres of Islam in Abkhazia were Atsi (in the Gudauta region) and Jgerda (in the Kodori region), where there were two small mosques. The Muslims in Gudauta were more devoted Muslims than their coreligionists in the Kodori region. Nevertheless, the influence of Orthodox Georgians living in Samurzakano (the Gali district of today.s Abkhazia) did not outweigh the influence of Islam on the population of Kodori.
Samurzakano is a territory in Abkhazia where the great majority of the natives are Georgians (Megrelians).
The Society claimed that one outstanding result of missionary activity here was the fact that in 1910 there were not any Muslims recorded among the citizenry. In this situation the missionaries exaggerated the impact of their work, as the great majority of natives in Samurzakano were Georgian Christians even before the missionary activity began.
The reality was that the observance of Christian traditions in the region persisted, albeit weakly, and that the missionaries had simply strengthened existing tendencies. The Society also emphasized that the population tried to preserve and restore Christianity in other parts of Abkhazia.33
The popular Georgian newspaper Droeba mentioned that about 2,875 Muslims and 876 pagans were baptised in 1867, the majority of whom were Abkhaz.34
The real success in baptising Muslim Abkhazians was achieved by Bishop Gabriel (Kikodze, 1869-1885) of Imereti. He sent David Machavariani (as part of the Clerical Commission of Ossetia) to carry out missionary work in Abkhazia.
Although the Commission for Ossetia no longer existed, Machavariani continued his work after 1869 under the
authority of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the
Georgians contributed significantly to the success of Russian
missionary work. in fact, they defined the success
of the Russian Orthodox missions. Their knowledge of local languages,
customs, traditions, and ethnic psychology simplified their task. Tradition
also played important role. Georgians, indeed, had historically beenthe propagators of Christianity among the different
ethnic groups in the
The Society was a pioneer of mass education in Abkhazia and in
many regions of the
The next step to increase the influence of Christianity was to
found libraries at the schools and the churches of the Society,51
to open two parishes in Abkhazia in 1899.52 Special
attention was given to the professional education of the youth. The pupils at
the New Athens Monastery were permitted to continue study for a fifth year to
study agriculture and Psalm teaching.53 The
fruits (lemons) grown at the monastery were represented at the agricultural
exhibition of the
in Abkhazia for cultivating even tender southern plants ... will no doubt bring region a significant profit. To introduce the natives to scientific methods of planting through the help of the New Athens Monastery school’s students ... will result in the growth of economical prosperity in the country”.54
From 1889 to the end of the century, the Muslim population began to increase in Abkhazia: “Many Christian settlements became totally Muslim. Before 1889, not a single village in Abkhazia had a majority Muslim population. Christians lived even in the centres of Islam in Abkhazia (such as Gudauta) and, concerning the birth records, Christian Abkhazians there diligently carried out their Christian duties..55
The Bishop of Sohkumi reported that the inclination of Abkhazians towards Islam was very serious and dangerous for the influence of Christianity in the region. In order to revise and lead the missionary activity in Abkhazia, in 1899 the Society appointed the missionary Tarasi Ivanitskii. His main task was to draft an accurate
picture of the
influence of Orthodox Christianity in Abkhazia. Ivanitskii
reported that the Turks living in Sokhumi, Ochamchire,
and Gudauta were the key factor for the conversion
of Abkhazians to Islam. They secretly kept mosques in Jgerda,
Atsi and even in Megrelia
emphasized that the reason for the weakness of Orthodox Christianity in the
region was its use of Old Church Slavonic for church services instead oflocal languages, and, conversely, the requirement that
the vernacular be used for teaching at schools. He paid particular attention
to the method Ilminskii used in
of Sokhumi, appealed to the Military Governor of
In 1899, the Society relocated the anti-Islamic library from Zakatala district to Abkhazia.
of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianityin
the Caucasus for 1906-1907 (Tiflis, 1909),
.Chart of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the
30 Survey., p. 62.
52 Ibid., p. 48.
53 Ibid., p. 61.
54 Ibid., pp. 61-62.
55 Ibid., p. 80.
56 Ibid., p. 111.
Issue 4 Summer 2003
260 Stephens Hall MC #2304
Manana Gnolidze-Swanson is a senior research fellow at the G. Tsereteli Institute of Oriental
Studies at the