Persecution of the Georgian Church in the Interests of Echmiadzin during the Russian Empire: Did the Albanian Church Have a Chance to Survive?

12.01.21 21:25

The ancient independent and autocephalous Albanian Church, with the annexation of the khanates of Northern Azerbaijan to the Russian Empire, had no chance of resisting the complete absorption by the Armenian Church - the Echmiadzin Catholicosat - is proved by the dramatic fate of the independent autocephalous Georgian Orthodox Church, after the Russian rule was introduced in Georgia.


Initially, the accession of Eastern Georgia to the Russian Empire was perceived positively by its population, since formally Russia was also an Orthodox power. However, alas, the Russian elite and the top in fact have moved away from Orthodoxy. Among Russian officers and officials, a significant percentage were generally non-Orthodox, of German origin. They were considered “Russians” because they spoke Russian, but they were deeply alien to the Orthodox Church, especially in the “wild Asian country”, which they considered Georgia. These people did not have any reverence for Orthodox shrines.


And the Russian nobles, who were formal of the Orthodox faith, also did not feel religious zeal. It is no coincidence that the “Decembrist revolt” arose in 1825 among such officers, who were in Masonic lodges, incompatible with Christianity. The "Decembrists" exiled to the Caucasus, all the more, did not share any sympathy for the Orthodox faith.


Ordinary Russian soldiers were sincere believers, reverently for the Georgian Christian relics, but they did not determine the policy.


Therefore, unfortunately, the first thing the Russian administration in Georgia started, in fact, was the persecution of the independent Georgian Orthodox Church. The autocephaly of the Georgian Church was abolished in 1811, and the Exarchate was formed, subordinate to the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg. Beginning in 1817, exclusively Russian bishops became exarchs of Georgia, absolutely alien to the Georgian people, who did not know the Georgian language and set a course for the complete Russification of the Georgian Church.


Much more terrible was the policy of closing monasteries, dioceses, churches, and reducing the number of clergies, which the Armenian settlers took advantage of "100%" to appropriate Georgian churches.


The fact is that in the Russian Empire itself, the size of the Orthodox diocese usually coincided with the size of the provinces. That is, according to "Russian norms" all of Georgia should have been one, maximum two or three dioceses. Although before joining Russia in Georgia there were 23 active dioceses united into two independent Catholicosates: Mtskheta in Eastern Georgia and Abkhazian (Abkhaz-Imereti) in Western Georgia.


With the abolition of the Mtskheta Catholicosate in 1811, in Eastern Georgia, instead of 13 dioceses, 2 were established: Mtskheta-Kartala and Alaverd-Kakheti, which were subsequently merged. In Western Georgia, where there were 10 dioceses (on the territory of which there were 15 monasteries and 618 active churches), only 3. The abolition of dioceses was accompanied by the massive closure of monasteries and parish churches.

The church organization itself in Georgia before its accession to the Russian Empire differed significantly from the Russian one. Let us recall that in the Russian Empire, where, after the secularization reforms of Peter the Great and the abolition of the Patriarchate by him and the creation of the Holy Synod (whose chief prosecutor might not have been Orthodox at all!), The Russian Orthodox Church, in fact, turned into a state institution completely dependent on the state. Under Catherine II in the Russian Empire, all landholdings were taken away from the Orthodox Church, a huge number of monasteries were closed, and the monks were dispersed. Monastic churches have been turned into parish churches at best, and many are simply closed.


For centuries, the pious Georgian people have striven for the service even in the smallest and poorest churches to never stop. As a result, often in the village there were not one (as was usual in Russia), but two or more churches, and in each, there was not one, but several priests. There were practically no villages with an Orthodox population without "their own" churches in Georgia, in contrast to the same Russia (whereas in Russia often residents of small villages did not have their own churches and were "assigned" to a parish in the nearest large village).


After the annexation of Georgia to Russia, the Russian authorities set themselves the goal of reducing the number of Orthodox clergies, closing poor and “unprofitable” churches, and especially closing monasteries “unnecessary” from their point of view. At the same time, the Russian administration did not set such goals in relation to the Armenian Church, heretical from the point of view of Orthodoxy.
Echmiadzin could found (or rather seize Albanian and transform them into "Armenian") monasteries anywhere and in any quantity, contain as many clergies as he wanted, conduct nationalist propaganda among the flock. Nothing of the kind was allowed to the Georgian clergy.


Paradox: while formally remaining an Orthodox country, the Russian Empire in fact in the Caucasus did everything to “limit” Orthodoxy and vice versa to help the Armenian Church, heretical from the point of view of Orthodoxy, in every possible way. Claiming the possession of the Ottoman and Qajar empires, Russian emperors formally proclaimed the goal of "protecting Christians." But since by 1810 all the lands where Orthodox Georgians lived were annexed to the Empire (only the lands where Muslim Georgians lived outside of it remained), and in the East, the “ancient Christians” positioned themselves as Armenians, all the “patronage” of the Russian Empire was aimed exclusively at Armenians. Including to the detriment of even fellow Georgians.


In particular, a campaign was launched to infringe the rights of the Georgian Church and the Georgian clergy in eastern Georgia after the suppression of the Kakhetian uprising of 1812. During the suppression, it was the Armenians who acted as “Russian agents” among the rebels, in fact, betrayed the Georgians and contributed to the suppression of the uprising.


The elimination of the autocephaly of the Georgian Church led to the fact that all landholdings were taken away from the churches and monasteries, the staff of priests was reduced. A sharp decrease in the number of clergies led to the fact that, as a result, many Georgian churches were closed. The churches left without regular services (and often "without supervision") were quickly taken over by the Armenian settlers.


Armenians sometimes simply bought the land on which the church stood, brought their priest (the wealthy Echmiadzin had enough money to pay the clergy), and resumed services in the church, but already as in the “Armenian” one. Further, in relation to the "tidied up" churches, the Armenian invaders acted according to the standard established scheme: they destroyed, inserted stones with inscriptions. A few years later, the church became Armenian and an Armenian settlement arose around it.


However, the worst "pogrom" of the Orthodox Church with numerous victims took place in western Georgia. In 1817, the independence of the Abkhazian (Western Georgian) Catholicos was abolished by the Russian Empire and he was subordinated to the Exarch of Georgia. The Russian authorities decided here how to drastically reduce the number of bishops throughout the empire, reduce the number and close "unprofitable" churches, secularize church and monastic property, and impose taxes on churches.


Who was the real beneficiary (and possibly the initiator) of such a process is not difficult to guess. The fact is that almost simultaneously with the liquidation of the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Echmiadzin, with the assistance of the Russian authorities, formed the “Armenian Diocese of Georgia and Imereti”. In 1814, Archbishop Nerses Ashtaraketsi, the future Catholicos of Echmiadzin, became the head of the "Armenian Diocese of Georgia and Imereti".
It was Nerses Ashtaraketsi in Tiflis who constantly convinced the governor of the king about the "necessity" of seizing the Iravan Khanate and the formation of the so-called Khanate in its place. "Armenian region". At the same time, Nerses Ashtaraketsi was engaged in educating the growing Armenian generation in an aggressive nationalist spirit. In particular, in 1824 he opened the Nersisyan school in Tiflis, which, in fact, became a center for brainwashing the young generation of Armenians. And at the same time, it was not that teaching in the Georgian language was discussed - in churches, the exarchs forbade worship in the Georgian language, translating it into Church Slavonic, incomprehensible to the people (and the clergy).


The Etchmiadzin Catholicosat and Nerses Ashtaraketsi launched a campaign to resettle Armenians from Turkey to Georgian and Azerbaijani lands. Wealthy Armenians specially bought the lands on which Georgian churches were located (both destroyed or dilapidated ancient churches and churches closed by the same Exarchate) and converted them into "Armenian" ones.


Since Imereti and western Georgia, in general, were annexed to the Russian Empire largely by force, and the legitimate king Solomon was expelled and died in Turkey, Russian officials had even less "trust" in the population of Imereti and Western Georgia than in the population of Eastern Georgia. They were considered, in contrast to the Armenians, "unreliable" and this idea was suggested to the Russian governors by the same Nerses Ashtaraketsi. After the suppression of the uprising in Imereti, the Armenian clerics clearly hatched plans to also take the Georgian churches of Western Georgia into their own hands and organize the mass settlement of Western Georgia by Armenian settlers.


That is why a plan of "church reforms" was prepared, which began to be implemented after the Archbishop of Ryazan and Zaraisk Feofilakt (Rusanov) was appointed to the post of Exarch of Georgia. In June 1819, by that time, Metropolitan Theophylact had already sent employees of the synodal office to Imereti, who began to close churches and expel priests. Almost all dioceses and most of the churches and monasteries of Imereti were to be closed.


As a result, an uprising broke out in western Georgia against the closure of churches and monasteries. The leaders of the resistance were metropolitans of Kutaisi Dosifei (Tsereteli) and Ganaetian Evktima (Shervashidze). The Russian authorities perpetrated an unheard-of outrage against two elderly and respected metropolitans. Metropolitans Dositheus and Ekvtime were seized, tied up, put bags on their heads, and taken away from Imereti. Old Metropolitan Dositheus, beaten with rifle butts and crippled with bayonets, died. He was secretly buried near the church of the Ananuri fortress. Recently, in 2005, Metropolitans Dostfei and Ekvtime were canonized as saints of the Georgian Orthodox Church as holy martyrs.


The church revolt was suppressed in western Georgia with great brutality. As the then commander-in-chief of the Russian troops in the Caucasus, General Yermolov, admits in his Notes, where he admits that: “Only by the end of the summer of 1820 did the authorities succeed in suppressing the unrest. In Imereti, Racha, and Guria almost all fortresses were destroyed, hundreds of houses were burned, many participants in the unrest were killed, wounded, and captured."


And although after 1820, fearing a repetition of the uprising, the Russian authorities slowed down the pace of church reform in Western Georgia, the "reforms" with the massive closure of churches that turned out to be "ownerless" continued. It seemed that everything was ready to organize the settlement of Western Georgia by "loyal" Armenian settlers according to the standard scheme, who, according to the scheme already tested in Eastern Georgia and Karabakh, could begin to take over the closed Georgian churches and insert their plates with inscriptions into them and prove that “Armenia has always been here”.


Miraculously, it was only the misfortune of another people, the Azerbaijanis of the Iravan Khanate, that saved Western Georgia from the mass closure of churches, in the interests of the representatives of the "ancient long-suffering people" and the Armenian settlement.


In 1826, a war broke out between Russia and the Qajar state. This war began largely thanks to the efforts of Nerses Ashtaraketsi. The finest hour of Nerses Ashtaraketsi has come. To help the Russian army, Nerses Ashtaraketsi organized Armenian "voluntary" detachments of notorious thugs, who carried out terror against the Muslim population along the way of the Russian army.


On April 13, 1827, Nerses Ashtaraketsi, together with Russian troops and Armenian bandit detachments, entered Echmiadzin. After the complete capture of the Iravan Khanate, Nerses Ashtaraketsi was appointed one of two interim leaders created on the lands of the so-called Khanate. "Armenian region". Through his efforts, 40,000 Armenians moved from Persia in the first years to Iravan and its environs. For assistance to the Russian Empire, Nerses Ashtaraketsi was awarded the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky.


Thus, instead of settling the newly pacified Imereti by “loyal subjects” Armenian settlers, the Russian authorities and the Echmiadzi Catholicosat focused on the settlement of the Iravan Khanate by Armenians. It was there that the main flow of Armenian settlers from Turkey and Iran was sent when the Khanate was captured. In addition, western Georgia (the same Imereti), with a humid climate and malaria in low-lying areas, was not particularly popular with the Armenian settlers.


The flow of Armenian settlers will rush to the West Georgian lands much later, at the end of the 19th century. The Armenians will then "choose" Abkhazia, after a significant part of the indigenous population was expelled during the muhajir imposed on the Abkhaz and from there (and this will predetermine the tragedy of the Georgians of Abkhazia in 1992-1993). Many Armenians will also move to Adjara, from which also after the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. In fact, mass deportation of the indigenous Georgian population was organized.


In fact, the Russian administration carried out repressions against the Georgian Orthodox Church, while at the same time protecting the Armenians. As a result, virtually the entire South Caucasus was subjected to a massive invasion of Armenian settlers. With the help of the Russian administration, the newcomers appropriated and "armenized" hundreds of churches in Georgia, which are still illegally but officially claimed by the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC).


If in the formal Orthodox Empire the Armenian settlers were “favorites”, unlike “their own” Orthodox subjects, and they were allowed to impudently appropriate Georgian Orthodox churches, then what can we say about the churches of the Albanian Church, which by Armenian intrigues had been torn away from Orthodoxy even earlier? Therefore, almost at the same time, in the 19th century, the ancient Albanian church was completely "absorbed" by the Armenian newcomers and all of its heritage was perverted, destroyed, or falsified.



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