Manana Gnolidze
     Caucasus and Central Asia Newsletter (UC-Berkley) / Issue 4 / Summer 2003






The Caucasus is a region with an incredible variety of ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. The Muslim North Caucasus and Azerbaijan, Orthodox Christian Georgia, and Christian-Monophysite Armenia, together with people of different sects and denominations represent a multidimensional picture of the region.


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 Georgia, where the majority Orthodox Georgian population has always lived alongside people of different ethnic and religious denominations. Religious faith has never caused war inside the country, but the Orthodox Christianity of Kartli-Kakheti (East Georgia), combined with political aspirations, determined the pro-Russian sympathies of the ruling class. This alliance with Russia in the eighteenth century defined the Caucasus. future destiny to become a part of the Russian Empire.


The Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji between the Russian Empire and Sublime Porte on 10 July 1774, in articles concerning the Caucasus, pronounced Russia to be the protector of all Orthodox Christians in the East.1 It prohibited the tribute of young girls and boys from Georgia to the Ottomans2 . a most despised obligation for Georgia. This act began to create real obstacles to slave trade from the Caucasus.


In 1783, Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, which continued Russia.s political advance into the Caucasus. In it, Georgia openly declared its desire for Russian protection against Turkey and Iran. In exchange for relinquishing part of its political independence, Georgia demanded that its protector help conquer and win back Georgian territories occupied by the Ottomans between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Most importantly for

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.


Russia needed to articulate a sound ideological basis for extending its political rule over the newly annexed territories, and the Treaty of Georgievsk allowed the Orthodox faith to serve this purpose.




The beginning of missionary activity 


The idea to use the Orthodox faith to create a common ideology in the Caucasus was not new. Missionary activity in the region had been pioneered in the eighteenth century by two clergymen, Joseph (Archbishop of Sameba Monastery in Georgia) and Nikolai (head of the Znamensky Monastery in Moscow). In 1743 they presented a petition to the Empress Elizabeth, asking for permission to found a missionary society to spread the Orthodox faith in Ossetia. The petition was approved and led to the establishment the Clerical Commission of Ossetia in 1745.


The Society sent its first missionaries from Moscow the next year. The centre of the mission was Mozdok. Nevertheless, despite its energetic attempts, the Commission did not achieve any significant goals. The instability of Russia.s political presence in the North Caucasus led the Empress to abolish it in 1792.


The status of the Georgian Church began to erode in reality after the kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti was joined to Russia in 1801 and lost its independence completely in 1811. The Synod then appointed Varlam Eristavi as Exarch of Georgia (the head of the Georgian Church and a Bishop, ranking below the Patriarch). The Synod obliged him to reform the Georgian church to match Russian Church organisation and also to make Georgia the centre for spreading Orthodox Christianity among the non-Christian population of the Caucasus.5


Following the reforms in the Georgian church, the erstwhile Clerical Commission of Ossetia was re-established in 1815, now centred in Tbilisi. The Synod appointed Dositheos, Archbishop of Telavi and of Georgia-Caucasus, as head of the Commission.The Imperial Treasury distributed the substantial sum of 14,750 rubles annually for the Commission, as well as money for the maintenance of 100 Cossacks and 30 church peasants (the latter served as guides through the

mountains). The fact that Cossacks were enlisted indicates Russia.s fear of the mountain people.s resistance to the missionary project.


In 1810, the kingdom of Imereti (West Georgia) joined Russia. Accordingly, the borders of the Georgian Exarchate expanded to the west to include Megrelia and

Abkhazia. Thus, the area of the Commission.s renewed activity was already much bigger and included territory beyond the Caucasus Mountains. The main new objectives were directed against Islamic influence in Georgia, specifically in Abkhazia and Saingilo (Kakhi and Zakatala districts of today.s Azerbaijan).


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. Russia cannot remain indifferent to the problems of religious education for our younger brothers who have wandered from the Christian church due to Muslim propaganda. Muridism expresses this propaganda. Individuals must play an active role in the preservation of Christianity among the Caucasian mountain people. Orthodoxy is the main tool of Russia, and Russia is the

tool of Orthodox Christianity herself”7


The report presented by Bariatinskii and Isidor was discussed for three years in St. Petersburg. Circumstances for the main ideological attack were suitable after the Russians captured Shamil and ended his holy war against Russia (1834-1859), and the Society for the Restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus was established in July 1860. The Society announced that Empress Marie Alexandrovna would be its official patron.8


The Society declared, as did Bariatinskii, that the main aim of its work was to spread Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus as a counter to extensive Muslim propaganda.


Bariatinskii wrote, in a report cited in the Survey of Activity of the Society for Restoration of OrthodoxChristianity in the Caucasus, 1860-1910, that:


“Islam for the Caucasian mountain people is the faith of patriotism. It is the symbol and flag of independence. Independence means everything for the mountain people, it is their aim in life. Both the laypeople and priests, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, accept such an evaluation of religious faith (from its political point of view).


For the entire population of the Caucasus Mountains, the Muslim mountain people are .their. people accepted with honour anywhere. The non-Muslim is a pariah, a slave, an outcast. [...] For our half-Christian tribes, the prophets of Muridism embody the ideal of the man.s dignity, man.s pride and courage. He is a person who is always ready to sacrifice himself, but not to suffer. He does not understand suffering. He is ready for death with pride in the most unequal battle against the giaours (non-Muslims) for the glory of God. [...] Islam attracts mountain people from all walks of life.9


As this quote makes clear, for Russian policy makers in the Caucasus, being Muslim was incompatible with being a Russian subject.


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


Only Orthodox Christians could join the Society. The Council of the Society was the main authority for missionary activities, with the Georgian Exarch serving as

Chairman of the Council. The Society inherited the property of the Clerical Commission of Ossetia, totalling 238,174 rubles,11 and received money from the government and individuals, which by 1861 had reached 376,339 rubles. 12 The Society received lands, including the Karaiaz steppe, amounting to 100,000 square dessiatinas (approximately 275,000 acres) in all. The property of the Society as of January 1, 1864, amounted to 450,188 rubles.13 In 1862-1863, the finances of the Society were increased permanently, thanks to the attention of the Emperor and the Empress of Russia, and reached a .considerable amount..14


The zeal of the government to finance the Society shows the great importance it gave to the spread of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus.


How did the Muslim population and mullahs react to this activity? In its first report (for 1862-1863), the Society admitted that, .the mere fact of the appearance of the Society caused an awakening of religious fear and enmity towards it and presented a challenge for Muslim propaganda, which uses any means to paralyse the defensive activity of the Society..15


Muslim resistance as well as the Georgian mountaineers’ reluctance to give up their traditional customs,including some pre-Christian elements, presented some difficulties for missionary activity in the Caucasus, which the missionaries identified in a report presented to the Emperor and Ober-Prosecutor for 1862-3.


In response, the Emperor appointed the Viceroy of the Caucasus, Michael Alexandrovich Romanov, as Chairman of the Society. The Emperor also was convinced that the current and future prospects for Orthodox Christianity in the

region lay in the foundation of Orthodox educational institutions and the immediate compilation of local alphabets.


The Society admitted in the same report of 1862-1863 that the compilation of alphabets in the local languages languages was intended to remedy the fact that all local education was conducted by the mullahs. They taught the Arabic language to the local children in order to teach them the in Arabic. The Society thought that if they could provide new schools for the youth, where the teaching would be in native languages using books in the (new) local alphabets, they would win the .battle. for Christian propaganda.


According to this plan, Georgian was to be used at schools among the Georgian mountaineers and Armenian, Turkish, and Georgian would be used in south Georgia, in consideration of the ethnic structure of the region (at least for the beginning classes).


The Society was trying to make the Georgian mountaineers give up the local “pagan” traditions and change the local structure of the communities, where often the head of the community was also the elder, or khevisberi. The khevisberi was also the spiritual leader of the community, leading church service during the festival for the community saint. Regular weekly church service among the Georgian mountaineers was not observed, but they had special celebrations of Christian saints such as St. Mary, St. George, and others when they gathered at a special place called khati (in English, .icon.). A khati, which was not a large church but a small building like a basilica, was built for each saint. The khevisberi would lead the ceremony, praying for community, offering sacrifices to the saint, and switching candles.


This structure apparently seemed dangerous, as it made a single person both a spiritual and community leader and gave him great influence on the local community. At present, this institution has been weakened in Georgia, but among some North Caucasian groups it remains strong and defines the unity of community (such as among Chechens and Ingush).


The Viceroy began his work actively and created the post of Inspector of Orthodox schools in 1864, by the Order of the Society #16, and assigned two inspectors to this position. In 1873, the local government created the special position of Inspector of the Society.s schools under the administration of the Caucasian educational district.. The Inspector was also responsible for some public schools in regions located outside the authority of the Governor.s inspectors in Svaneti and Abkhazia.16 The first Inspector, Streletskii from Moscow University, was very active in arranging the Society.s schools.


Muslim priests opposed the Society.s educational activity, since they had previously maintained a monopoly on education in regions with dense Muslim populations,17 and yet they could not stop the Society.s educational activities.


In 1861, the Commission for Introduction of Literacy Among the Mountaineers was established by the Society to compile alphabets. The Society appointed Ivan

Bartolomei as Chair of the Commission, with a staff made up of Pavel Uslar, Dimitry Purtseladze, Vladimir Trirogov and others.


In 1865, the Commission compiled andpublished an Abkhaz alphabet with translations of Abkhaz aphorisms and stories for children. The book was approved as the textbook for use in Abkhaz schools.18 In 1868, the Board of the Society changed this policy, admitted the “infant” position of Abkhaz language and so Abkhaz language remained undeveloped and all translation

projects were ceased.19


Konstantin Davidovich Machavariani and his seventeen-year old student, Dimitry Gulia (the creator of the present Abkhaz alphabet), continued the work only later after 1892.20 The reaction of Georgian intellectuals to this act was remarkable. Jacob Gogebashvili, the creator of the Georgian textbooks (Deda Ena, Bunebis Kari, and others) noted:


“We Georgians must strive to develop and enrich our literature and the liturgical language. And we have to wish the same for the other nations, including the Abkhaz. [...] Exarch Kirion supported efforts to compile an Abkhaz alphabet and create their literature. He demanded that I take part in creating textbooks in the Abkhaz native language.


Georgians in Sokhumi should work towards this goal, as the awakening of the Abkhaz will change their external unity with Georgians into the internal solidarity and intensive Brotherhood”.21


During 1864-1865, some of the Kists in the Pankisi gorge were converted to Orthodox Christianity, and the Society opened a school in Pankisi. The Society invited two Kists to come to Tbilisi in 1867 to create textbooks in the Chechen language, using an alphabet already created by Pavel Uslar. The Commission for

Literacy published the textbook the same year together with the Chechen alphabet, but soon the work stopped as Russia began mass deportations of Chechens and Ingush (together with other rebellious people from the North Caucasus) to the Ottoman Empire.


The translation of Gospel into Ossetian was finished in 1864 and published in the same year.


The changed political situation after the end of the wars prepared fertile ground for the future missionary activity. Now that it did not have to contend with Murid resistance, Russia was able to reorganize the administration of the region to better integrate the Caucasus into the imperial system, a project in which missionary work played an important role. Following the wars with Turkey, Batumi-Kobuleti pashalik was ceded to Russia in 1878.


Akhatsikhe pashalik (Akhaltsikhe-Akhalkalaki distr.) had become part of Russia fifty years earlier, and consolidating Russian rule involved exiling part of the Georgian Muslims (Meskhs) and settling Christian Armenians in their place.


In 1864, Russia dissolved the Abkhaz Principality, and the last Prince of Abkhazia, Michael Shervashidze, was exiled to Russia where he soon died.


The new territories with compact Muslim populations created some difficulties for the Caucasian governors. Paving the way for the establishment of the new rule was resolved by forcing the native Muslims (ethnic Georgians and others) to immigrate to Turkey, a process known as Muhajirism. The first deportations occurred in 1828, while the next flood of Muhajirs went from Abkhazia to Turkey from 1864-1878 and from Adjaria (1878) as well as from the North Caucasus.


These regions became the main arenas (together with the Georgian Mountain provinces) formissionary activity.




Akhaltsikhe-Akhalkalaki districts, 1861-1885


By 1880, the Society had three schools in Akhalkalaki and two in Akhaltsikhe district,22 and one shelter opened in 1878 at a school in the Akhalkalaki district.23 In 1880, four more parochial schools were opened in Akhaltsikhe district, in Akhaltsikhe, Vale, Safara-Muskhi, and Toloshi.


Akhalkalaki district: Akhalkalaki, Kilda, Baraleti


Society schools were located in three of the four parishes in the district (the village Mushki being the only parish without a school), one school in each. The fourthschool was established in the Muslim village of Khertvisi.24


Georgian served as the language of instruction when the school first opened, but later it was replaced by Russian.


In 1880, the Assistant Commander of Civil Affairs in the Caucasus, S. N. Trubetskoy, and the Head of the Society.s Office at the Georgian Exarch, Michael Smirnov, inspected the Society.s schools in the Akhaltsikhe-Akhalkalaki districts.25 They agreed that it was good to teach in Georgian, but that later Russian language instruction should be instituted. In order to increase the number of the students at the Society.s schools, and also to break down some barriers in teaching because of the ethnic diversity in the region, it was useful for the instructor to be fluent in Turkish, Georgian, and Armenian.26


The most remarkable development was the establishment of a school in Khertvisi in 1870 where the majority of the population was Muslim. About twenty young men graduated from the school, and in 1880 five Muslim students studied at the Caucasian Teachers Seminary. Four young Armenian men also graduated from

the school.27


The attempts to use education to spread Orthodox Christianity in Akhaltsikhe-Akhalkalaki districts did not yield the anticipated results. The report of the Society for 1885 shows the disastrous position of the newly converted Christian population in the region.28  For 1880, there were only 77 cases of baptism into Christianity among the Muslim Georgian (Meskhs),29 and this number did not increase considerably in future.




Abkhazia, 1860-1885 


The situation in Abkhazia was different. The Russian Orthodox missions in this region 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 Georgia between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries was the main impetus for the spread of Islam in the region. The rulers of Abkhazia (as well asthe rulers of Adjara and Samtskhe [Ahkaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki]) were converted to Islam, largely in response to the Muslim law that prohibited non-Muslims from owning land. Actually, in the Muslim countries the ruler of the country owned the land, and he distributed it to his servants. In practice, land ownership was hereditary but the ruler needed to approve it.


In 1810, after realizing Russia.s increasing strength in the Caucasus, the Abkhazian ruler Sapar-bei Sharvashidze declared his alliance with Russia and converted to Orthodox Christianity together with his nobles.


The Society reported that despite their conversion, Abkhazian political interests and religious sympathies still were biased towards Turkey:


“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 Caucasus. The Society did this work in

Abkhazia and in the other parts of Georgia and Caucasus, and reports were submitted by the Society.s missionaries.


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 Caucasus, and this was most common in Abkhazia. They decided that the only difference that the Abkhazians recognised was based on social status and not on religion.32These and other facts led officials to conclude that the great majority of Abkhazians (the so-called nonfanatics) were Christians, despite the influence of Turkey in the region.


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 Caucasus. In October of 1879, 700 Abkhazians were baptised. Machavariani organised the mission and divided the region into two parts, Bzipi and Kodori. Mokvi (Samurzakano) was chosen as the centre of the mission for Bzipi and according to the reports eighty percent of the population was baptised.35


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 Caucasus.


The Society was a pioneer of mass education in Abkhazia and in many regions of the Caucasus. Machavariani opened the first school in Okumi (Samurzakano) and as of 1885 the Society.s schools were the only educational institutions in Abkhazia.36 The Society founded the new school in 1876 at the New Athens Monastery where about twenty Abkhazian young men studied.




Reorganisation of the Society in 1885


1885 marked a turning point in the history of the Society, when the Emperor ordered its reorganisation. The Chairman of the Society became the Exarch of Georgia, and the Assistant Commander for Civil Affairs in the Caucasus was appointed as Deputy Chairman of the Society.37


The reorganisation was initiated by the Ober-Prosecutor of Holy Synod and the Commander for Civil Affairs in the Caucasus, Dondukov-Korsakov (the former Chairman of the Society). The Society was brought into accordance with the Orthodox Missionary Society and passed under the authority of the Holy Synod.38 The Society transformed its schools into parochial schools, though they still remained dependents of the Society.


 The report on the state of Christianity for 1885 counted 170 churches under the auspices of the Society. There were 143 parishes in the region:


East Georgia - 64, Vladikavkaz - 26, Sokhumi (Abkhazia) - 37, Guria-Megrelia (West Georgia) - 15, Imereti (West Georgia) - 1.


The Society also had a number of churches in the regions of Georgia and North Caucasus:


Vladikavkaz bishopric - 29, Sokhumi bishopric - 54, Guria-Megrelia bishopric - 14, Imereti bishopric - 1.


In 1885, the Society spent over 281 rubles to repair the Muslim mosque in village Samovat (Karsi district).39 This flexible policy in regions where the majority of the population was Muslim guaranteed local assistance for the foundation of the missionary schools there. The priests of the Society received generous salaries of about 200-700 rubles annually. The total amount for the maintenance of the clergy increased to 64,687 rubles in 1885.40 The Society also granted scholarships to successful pupils to continue their education at the ecclesiastical schools of Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Gori, and other high educational institutions of the Russian Empire. For 1884-85 academic year, the Society granted 30 scholarships to successful students.41


The outcome of the missionary activity during the period of 1860-1885, according to the Society.s reports, was not impressive except in Abkhazia and in parts of modern-day Azerbaijan (Zakatala district). The reasonsfor failure in Akhaltsikhe-Akhalkalaki and Pankisi were, according to the Society, the influence of Muslim culture on neighbouring Christians; the poverty of those newly converted to Christianity; and reliance on poorly qualified missionaries.42


This evaluation of immediate causes was correct, but the main reason for local resistance to Christianity was defined by resistance to Russian political rule.




Akhaltsikhe - Akhalkalaki districts, 1885-1910


The most poverty-stricken converts were the Christians in Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki. The authors of the 1885 report stated:


“The prospect of such a poor life restrains even those Muslims who sincerely wish to become Christians. ... Muslims are afraid of Christian priests and try to avoid the meeting with them. Naturally, it is difficult to speak of the possibility of successful missionaryactivity, let alone of success achieved”.43


The missionary activity of the Russian Orthodox Church also focused on Georgian society, as expressed on the pages of Georgian newspapers and magazines such as Tsnobis Purtseli, Shroma, Droeba, Iveria. In assessing

the Society.s activity, the press was mostly critical of the Society not only for its lethargy in spreading Orthodox Christianity but also for its passive educational work.44


The period of 1885-1910 can be considered the second stage in the history of the Society. The political tides in the Caucasus had finally turned in Russia.s favour.


The migration processes in newly acquired territories had ended. Colonization of the Black Sea coast and the Akhaltikhe-Akhalkalaki districts had finished or was being carried out successfully.


In 1888, Tsar Alexander III visited Georgia and was met by representatives of the Abkhazian nobility returning from exile in Turkey as Muhajirs. The meeting was held in Sokhumi, and the nobles presented a petition requesting the return of lands the Muhajirs owned before deportation. The Tsar approved the petition but as of 1898, the local government had not fulfilled the order.45


The missionaries and the native Muslims improved their relations by the end of the nineteenth century:


”The Muslims, who not a long time before were full of enmity towards their Christian neighbours, at present express not only religious tolerance but also allowed their children to receive education at Christian schools ... In the year of this report (1896) there were five Muslim young men and one young woman at the Toloshi School (Akhaltsikhe Distr.) They make up one seventh of the total number of pupils there”.46


Beginning in 1901, the situation turned against Christianity. Muslims in the village Muskhi who had previously agreed to send their children to the Society’s school suddenly changed their minds for fear that they would be converted to Christianity. The number of mullahs was increasing. They were coming from Turkey, and had been educated in Istanbul. Turkey understood the danger posed by a restored Christianity on its borders and contradicted by Muslim propaganda.


The report of the Society for 1898-1901 shows that the missionaries were concerned with possible attempts to inspire enmity between Muslims and Christian Georgians. The situation did not encourage peace and friendship, and eventually there were signs of growing hatred because of religious differences.


The Society suggested that the government not give permission to mullahs from Turkey to come to Georgia and accordingly to appoint less fanatical, native mullahs to these positions.47




Adjaria, 1889-1910


Beginning in 1889, the Society took a step forward in the restoration of Christianity in another region of the Black Sea coast of Georgia: Adjara. Here, in Batumi, the Society established a Missionary Section, chaired by Bishop Gregory of Guria-Megrelia. The members also included the assistant to the governor-general of Kutaisi (West Georgia), and the assistant to the head of the Batumi district (Adjara).


The foundation of this Missionary Section came as a result of a report by Ambrosi, the leader of the Shemokmedi monastery (Guria, in West Georgia), who was sent as a missionary to Adjaria by the Exarch in 1888.


Ambrosi explored the current position of Islam in the region and concluded that many Christian traditions survived in Adjara. He thought that it proved that the Batumi-Artvini districts could be fertile ground for reviving the ancient faith of the natives . Orthodox Christianity.48


The Missionary Section did not produce any results, despite the active efforts of the Society. The Society itself recognized the reasons for its lack of success: the death of Bishop Gregory, who had much influence among the Muslims in Adjara, and the significant distance between the residency of the Bishop in Guria-Imereti and Batumi.


It should be recognized that these reasons were not the primary causes of their failure. The main cause was the strong influence of Islamic propaganda in the region:


“Mullahs have a great influence among Muslim Georgians. These mullahs are fervent fanatics, Adjarians constitute a tightly united body at their disposal, and each member of Muslim society is expected to work equally hard towards its preservation and prosperity. The Muslims strove to preserve the faith among their brothers... The most malicious in this field are the mullahs who arrived from Turkey. They try to erase any memory of Christianity from the soul of Adjarians”.49


The restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus became the main objective of the Orthodox Christian Empire. The Society and the Russian Emperor made this a central theme in their policy.


On October 21, 1896, the day when Tsar Nicholas II ascended to the throne, the annual assembly of the Society took place in Tbilisi and conducted a liturgy in honour of the new Tsar. The Council of the Society discussed the Tsar’s order to the Military Governor of Kutaisi (West Georgia) to support the Society.s missions in Batumi and Artvini districts, where the natives “had been converted to Islam because of Turkey.s influence. This support would be an appropriate remedy for bringing up the natives with a love and devotion to Russian state and throne”.50




Abkhazia, 1885-1910


The next step to increase the influence of Christianity was to found libraries at the schools and the churches of the Society,51 and 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 Caucasus. The authors of the 1898.1901 report admitted, “Favourable conditions

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 (Tskhenitskali). Ivanitskii 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 Kazan to return native Tatars to Christianity, including the use of Tatar in teaching the Bible and in the church service. The teachers and the priests were required to know the local languages.


Arseni, Bishop of Sokhumi, appealed to the Military Governor of Kutaisi to exile the mullahs from Abkhazia or at least to forbid Muslim propaganda. The Governor arrested the mullahs, but soon he had to release them.56


In 1899, the Society relocated the anti-Islamic library from Zakatala district to Abkhazia.



Zakatala district, 1885-1910


The Zakatala district was settled by Georgians of Sunni Islamic confession. The Society expended great effort to restore Orthodox Christianity in the region and

partly achieved its goal.


Ingiloes, natives of Zakatala, lived in compact villages: Kakhi, Alibeglo, Koragani, Tasmalo, Zagami, Marsani, Lala-pasha, Musuli, Engiani, etc. Missionaries

reported that Muslim Ingiloes remembered their Christian heritage, respected Christian churches, and kept some Christian traditions. At the beginning of the 20th century,

the Society had five parishes (in Kakhi, Alibeglo, Tasmalo, Koragani and Ketuklo)  with four schools (including one for girls) in Alibeglo, Koragani and Ketuklo.


In 1899, E. Maminaishvili was appointed to the post of Inspector of the Zakatala district, replacing the aforementioned Tarasi Ivanitski, who had carried out some of the most important missionary work among the Ingiloes and was now transferred to Abkhazia.


The activity of the missionaries was met with resistance by the mullahs. Ivanitskii reported that the mullahs forbade the Ingiloes (Georgians living in Azerbaijan in Zakatala/Kakhi districts) to speak in Georgian even for everyday usage.57  The same fact was reconfirmed in 1915 by Kavkazskoe Slovo.58 The newspaper mentioned that after 1860s, when the war with Shamil was over and the North Caucasus finally was joined to the Russian Empire, Ingiloes began to lose their native language. Kavkazskoe slovo linked this loss with the persistent efforts to restore the Orthodox Christianity among them. It acknowledged that, “missionary

work had almost no positive result, except for four villages which really turned back to Christianity. All others not only did not express any interest in Christianity but withdrew even further into their religious fanaticism, and hated anything Georgian as a reminder of despised Christianity”.59


The Georgian newspaper Sakartvelo stated that, “many of the villages resolved that mothers would not speak Georgian with their children. To hasten the disappearance of the Georgian language, Ingoloes began to marry women from the Nukhi and Kazakh Districts, which, as known, are settled by Tatars [that is, by Dagestanians and Azeris. The term .Tatar. was often used as a synonym of Muslim. M. G-S.]. Children whose mothers did not speak Tatar were sent to Tatar villages to learn the language and to forget their native Georgian. Ingiloes stopped visit Georgian sacred places [i.e., churches M. G-S.], which they had worshipped until now. They dug up the vineyards, accepted Tatar customs, and

voluntarily went towards total denationalization”.60


Kavkazskoe Slovo also mentioned that, in Georgian newspapers, intellectuals began to devote much attention to the restoration of the Georgian spirit among the Muslim Georgians after the last Turkish invasion of Adjara.


Georgian intellectuals supported their Muslim brothers during this hard period morally and financially, and the interest in Georgian Muslims is increasing among Georgians. The newspaper mentioned that it should immediately begin hard work in Zakatala to restore this lost region to its native culture.61


The same newspaper in October admitted a similar situation among Abkhazians and Meskhs.62 It is noted that, “in the western part of the Sokhumi district, Georgian culture is disappearing. Abkhaz culture, which for many centuries was close to Georgian culture, is today almost totally detached from the Georgian family. It isperhaps strange, but this voluntary denationalisation (as seen in the Muslim parts of Georgia . Akhaltsikhe,Batumi) took place recently, mostly during Russian rule”.


I do not think that it can be explained by a lack of interest from Georgian intellectuals in their Muslim brothers, or by the role of Orthodox missions in weakening the position of Christianity. The reality is that Islam began to serve as the flag against Russian supremacy among all independent people of the Caucasus.


Opposition to Georgians, who were joined to the Russians by a common faith and also who led the Russians to enter the Caucasus, was also a natural feeling among Muslims Georgians and non-Georgians.


Prince Alexander of Georgia allied with Muslims to fight Russians after Georgia was annexed by Russia in 1801. Of course the newspaper could not mention the true reasons. It mentioned the anti-Georgian, but not the anti-Russian reaction among Muslims.




The Society, 1885-1910


The reorganisation of the Society marked increased engagement in different fields of missionary activity and also some revision of its methods. Monies allocated for the restoration and construction of the churches was doubled, reaching 200,000 rubles.63


The Inspector of the Svaneti-Batumi-Artvini regions examined the Society.s schools and assessed the state of Christianity in Abkhazia for 1894-95. His sudden death ended the review, but in 1896 Society appointed a new missionary, Evtikhi Maminaishvili, who worked successfully under the Society.s authority in Zakatala (Azerbaijan).


The Society reported in 1896 that its schools consisted of: 21 for young men, 8 for young women and 19 coeducational institutions in different regions of Georgia.


It had forty schools in Muslim districts: four in Zakatala, four in Akhaltsikhe-Akhalkalaki, seven in Abkhazia, eighteen in North Ossetia, six in South Ossetia, and one in Pankisi (among Chechens and Ingush).64 The number of students at the schools were:


30 boys in Pankisi (Chechens and Ingush);

72 boys and 9 girls in the Zakatala district;

237 boys and 52 girls at the schools of Akhaltsikhe-Akhalkalaki districts;

289 boys and 13 girls in Sokhumi district schools;

1,157 boys and 367 girls in North Ossetia;

263 boys and 26 girls in South Ossetia.65


The hardest task was to improve teaching methods. Using the vernacular in teaching and preaching would assist in the victory of Orthodoxy, according to the Society.s resolutions. It was decided to use the Georgian clergy in organizing missionary work. .A Khevsuri, or Svani, or mountaineer ... who is familiar with local conditions, is educated... and who is appointed to the post of priest or teacher would not hesitate [to go] and never would request to be reassigned to another location. Besides, he will be content in his native country among his countrymen, with the customs and traditions he is already familiar with. He will have a stronger influence than a priest or teacher who would need some time to study the native culture..66


To proceed with this plan, Society granted scholarships to the most successful students from the region for graduate study at the St. Petersburg and Kazan Theological Academies, the Tbilisi and Kutaisi Theological Seminaries, the Kutaisi Theological School, the Tbilisi Diocese Women.s School, and St. Nino Women.s School at the Bodbe Convent.


The Society discussed the missionaries. reports on different parts of Georgia with majority Muslim populations and concluded that the main obstacle to their conversion was the animosity towards those new converts of their relatives and neighbours. They killed them, burnt their houses, and their lands were expropriated by their family members if they did not bequeath them before converting. The Society considered it expedient to move the new converts from dense Muslim areas to regions settled by Orthodox Christians or to give them fields from fiscal (state) lands. The Chair of the Society Council and Exarch of Georgia, Flabian, petitioned the Main Commander of Civil Affairs in the Caucasus, Gregory Golitsyn, to make land available for this project. The Exarch based his request on the fact that there were free state lands in the Caucasus, as well as lands given on short-term rent.67


Why had the success of Christian education not led to the success of Orthodoxy itself in the Muslim regions of Georgia (except in Abkhazia, Ossetia and partly

the Zakatala district)?


The Society reported that the difficulty was due to the multi-religious societies of the Caucasus - the huge pantheon of religions and ethnic groups:


“Nowhere else are the universal ideas of Christian enlightenment embodied ... as in the church schools of the Caucasus. If it one were to ask where and in what circumstances we find Orthodox Christians are praying together with the pagans, Muslims, Jews etc., you would conclude: at the church schools of the Caucasus.


The church school has not been an unusual entity for the non-Orthodox population, even for the Muslims. The latter are the neighbours of Russians and, when given the opportunity, the Muslims send their children to church schools. ... If a missionary was skilful, any missionary institution could have a great influence on the wide-scale Christianization (mostly of Muslims) at the school. Muslims are afraid of the missionary but don.t fear the mission school, and this in particular is the way to draw in Christianity without force and to bring Christian and Muslim

customs in contact”.68


The Society acknowledged that it should recognize the role of its schools as institutions of public education and assist in the conversion of the natives into Orthodox Christianity.69


The Society.s schools used the same teaching methodology as throughout the Russian Empire. The textbooks used at the schools were the best textbooks at the time, such as the .Reader in Russian Literature.(by Ushinskii), .Arithmetic. (Grubbe), .Deda Ena. (Georgian language), .Kartuli Anbani. (Georgian alphabet), and .Bunebis Kari. (Biology, Gogebashvili). Textbooks, notebooks and other necessary school things were free for the students and teachers.


By 1910, the society managed 53 parishes and 83 educational institutions in the Caucasus. The Viceroy of the Caucasus, the Emperor, and the Empress made donations that helped them flourish. A special publication, “Survey of the Activity of the Society for the Restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus 1860-1910” was published in Tbilisi, and analysed the results of the Society.s activity in

the region. It stated that 2,063,795 rubles totally were spent only for the education of the natives. Correspondingly, 2,761 rubles were spent in 1860, and 75,498 rubles in 1909.70 The number of the Society.s donors varied between 30 and 158. The Society had 53 parishes and 83 schools. The number of those converted from Islam were:


North Ossetians        3,303(between 1865 - 1893)

South Ossetians        815 (1862 - 1879)

Ingiloes                       162 (1869 - 1903)

Kists                           161 (1864 - 1868)

Meskhs                       96 (1880 - 1895)

Adjarians                    23 (1888 - 1899)

Abkhazians                21,336 (1866 - 1902)

Assyrians                   3 305 (1867 - 1902)71


The Survey concluded with the statement:


“Instead of the crescent of the mosque, many of mountaintops of the Caucasus are capped with the cross of the world’s saviour. Where the wild passions rule, where the customs were created on the basis of Islam and paganism, ... [n]ot everywhere do the rows of rivers meet the din and the wild cries of the crowd seeking revenge. For the voices of singing children at the temple come to meet them and the school admiring Jesus is coming with love into the soul of the sullen mountaineer instead of Mohammed or Dzuara”.72






As the result of the missionaries. activity among the Muslim natives of Caucasus, we can conclude that the methodology of cultural conquest in the Caucasus was based on the Orthodox faith. Russia regarded itself as the main bearer of this faith in the world and used it as a tool to expand the borders of the Russian Empire.


The main difference with the British missionary activities was that the British Empire expanded via the East India Company, which focused more on business than the souls of the natives. When it began, the East India Company even opposed religious activity in its territories (mostly on the Indian peninsula).


In contrast, Russia expanded into adjoining territories and promoted missionary activity so that the Russian Orthodox Church would also be supreme among the people in the newly adjoined territories.


The Orthodox Georgian priest served as the best means to accomplish this aim.


The non-Christian (Muslim) population began using Islam as their tool against Russia.s expansion. This medium was used many times in 19th and 20th centuries.


The current situation in the Caucasus, with increasingly religious shape of national struggle of the Caucasians (Chechens, Dagestanis and other Caucasian nations) is a reminder that religious and national relations remain undecided in today’s Russian Federation.






1 Imperial Russia: A Source Book (1700 . 1917). Ed. Basil

Dmytryshyn (Hinsdale, Ill.: Dryden Press, 1974), Chs. 7, 8, 23.

2 Ibid., Ch. 23.

3 Full Collection of Regulations and Ddecrees concerning to Orthodox Faith of the Russian Empire, v. II. (Petrograd, 1915).Reg. #1186, October 25, 1784 (in Russian).

4 Ibid., Al. Khakhanov, Anniversary of Joining of Georgia to Russia (Legislative documents), p. 116 (in Russian).

5 Report of Synod to the Emperor of Russia from 21 June, 1811, p.8 (in Russian).

6 Survey of Activity of the Society for Restoration of OrthodoxChristianity in the Caucasus, 1860 . 1910 (Tiflis, 1910), p. 85 (in Russian).

7 Ibid., p.92. For the full version of Bariatinski.s report, see pages 91-98;); Bishop Kirion, Short View of the History of Georgian Church and Ekzarkhat for 19th Century (Tiflis, 1901), p.106 – 107 (in Russian).

8 Ibid., p. 101.

9 Ibid., pp. 92-93.

10 Report 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 Caucasus,. p. 7 (in Russian).

11 Dudko, A. P.. From the History of Schools in Abkhazia before the Revolution, 1851-1917 (Sokhumi, 1956), p. 25 (in Russian).

12 Report of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianityin the Caucasus for 1862-1863 (Tiflis, 1864,), p. 2 (in Russian).

13 Ibid., p. 4.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., pp. 6-7.

16 Survey., p. 194.

17 Report. for 1862-1863, p. 7.

18 Bartolomei, I. Abkhazian Alphabet (Tiflis, 1865).

19 Survey., p. 157.

20 Uslar, P. Abkhazian Language (Tiflis, 1885) (in Russian).

21 Gogebashvili, J. Selected Works, v. III (Tbilisi, 1990), p. 135 (in Georgian).

22 Report of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus for 1880 (Tiflis, 1884), p. 62 (in Russian).

23 Ibid., p. 193.

24 Ibid., p. 51.

25 Ibid., p. 69.

26 Ibid., p. 77.

27 Ibid, p. 82.

28 Report of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus for 1885 (Tiflis, 1886), pp. 30 -31 (in Russian).

29 Survey., p. 172.

30 Survey., p. 62.

31 Survey., p. 64.

32 Survey. p. 71.

33 Survey., p. 70.

34 Droeba, no.5, January 30, 1869, p. 1 (in Georgian).

35 Shroma, no.2, September 2, 1881, p. 4 (in Georgian).

36 From the History of Schools in Abkhazia., p. 25.

37 Report.for 1885, pp. 3, 10; .Chart of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus,. Ch. 2 (in Russian).

38 Report . for 1885, p. 7.

39 Ibid., p. 16.

40 Ibid., p. 17.

41 Ibid., p. 18.

42 Ibid., p. 27.

43 Ibid., pp. 31-32.

44 Droeba, no. 67, March 29, 1881, pp. 1-2; Droeba, no. 104, May

1881, pp. 1-2; Droeba, no. 35, February 15, 1881, p. 1 (in Georgian).

45 Iveria, no. 100, May 14, 1898, p. 3 (in Georgian).

46 Report of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus for 1896 (Tiflis, 1899), pp. 170-171 (in Russian).

47 Report of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianityin the Caucasus for 1898-1901 (Tiflis, 1903), p. 184 (in Russian).

48 Survey., pp. 145-146.

49 Ibid., pp. 40-41.

50 Report . for 1896, p. 15.

51 Report . for 1898-1901, p. 19.

52 Ibid., p. 48.

53 Ibid., p. 61.

54 Ibid., pp. 61-62.

55 Ibid., p. 80.

56 Ibid., p. 111.

57 Ibid., p. 147.

58 Kavkazskoe slovo, no. 210, September 18, 1915, p. 4,.Concerning the Question of Georgian-Ingiloes. (in Russian).

59 Kavkazskoe slovo, no. 210, September 18, 1915, p. 4.

60 Report . for 1989-1901, p. 147.

61 Kavkazskoe slovo, no. 210, September 18, 1915, p. 4.

62 Kavkazskoe slovo, no. 236, 1915, p. 3.

63 Report . for 1896, p. 18.

64 Report . for 1896, .Register of the Society.s Schools,. pp. 62-


65 .Statement of Inspection of the Society.s Schools for 1896,. pp.

62-102 (in Report . for 1896).

66 Report . for 1898-1901, p. 29.

67 Ibid., pp. 15-16.

68 Report of the Society for Restoration of Orthodox Christianity

in the Caucasus for 1906-1907 (Tiflis, 1909), pp. 76-77.

69 Ibid., p. 77.

70 Survey., pp. 196-197; 199.

71 Survey ., pp. 170-174.

72 Survey., p. 201




Caucasus and Central Asia Newsletter

Issue 4 Summer 2003


University of California, Berkeley

Caucasus and Central Asia Program

260 Stephens Hall MC #2304

Berkeley CA 94720-2304



Manana Gnolidze-Swanson is a senior research fellow at the G. Tsereteli Institute of Oriental

Studies at the Georgian Academy of Sciences