Hay nationalists attacked the religious front after the U.S. State Department added Azerbaijan to the list of countries violating religious freedom, based on the suggestion of their lobby. This move was not surprising to those familiar with the Hay nationalist movement. The nationalists' first strike was not against Azerbaijan, but against Georgia and the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) centered in Echmiadzin and Armenian Catholics subordinate to the Vatican officially claim 465 Georgian churches on the territory of Georgia. Furthermore, all Georgian churches and monasteries on the territory of the Republic of Armenia are currently appropriated by Echmiadzin. The defeat of Armenia in the 44-day war and the subsequent loss of the separatist region of Artsakh temporarily halted Hay aggression against Georgia on religious grounds. However, Hay nationalists were merely biding their time.
The decision to grant Georgia the status of a 'candidate for EU membership', viewed by Hay nationalists as an opportune moment to renew their claims to Georgian holy sites. This time, they did so under the guise of 'European tolerance'.
The Hay settlers delivered the initial blow to Georgia regarding church information in a cunning manner. The Hay settlers acted with deliberate intent to appropriate Georgian cultural heritage. After Tbilisi came under the control of the Russian Empire, they populated the city in large numbers and took over ancient Georgian churches, as well as the lands where Georgian churches once stood but were destroyed by earthquakes and invasions. They then completed or rebuilt these churches as their own, claiming them to be 'Armenian.' It should be noted that the allegedly 'Armenian churches' in Tbilisi have not existed for as long as Hay falsifiers claim.
Even before the mass migration of Hay settlers into Georgia, people who were descendants of Christians from Caucasian Albania of the Monophysite religion, as well as Turkic Christians from Karabakh and the surrounding regions, relocated to Tbilisi. These individuals were often referred to as 'Armenians' because they adhered to the Armenian-Gregorian religion. It is worth noting that despite not being related to the Hay ethnic group and speaking either Turkic or switching to Georgian, they were subordinated to the ancient Albanian Catholicosate in Gandzasar, not to Echmiadzin, in ecclesiastical terms.
The settlement of a community of Christian Turks with Udinian admixture from the present-day Shamkhor region of Azerbaijan in Tbilisi occurred during the reign of King Irakli II. It is worth noting that, at that time, these people were not related to the Hayas. This fact is further supported by the well-known militancy of Shamkhor Christians, which is not typical for the Hay ethnos. Chardokhlu, a small village near Shamkhor, provided at least 2 marshals and 7 generals. Despite Hay nationalists attributing this contribution to 'Armenians', it is a known fact that the village made this significant contribution. This historical information is presented with confidence and clarity.
The accession of Georgia to the Russian Empire was preceded by tragic events, including the devastation of the city in 1795 by the troops of Agha Mohammed Khan Qajar. The Shamkhorian community's impact during these events on their settlement in Avlabari, Tbilisi, near one of the ancient Georgian churches in the city, remains unclear. Nevertheless, the church was likely abandoned or destroyed in 1795, facilitating the Hay settlers' capture.
Only 5 years after the devastation, Tbilisi was annexed by the Russian Empire and a flood of Hay settlers from Turkey and Iran immediately rushed here. This wave of Hay settlers completely absorbed the descendants of the Christian Albanians living in Tbilisi, including the Shamkhorians. Their places of settlement and Georgian churches, or their ruins, were appropriated by the Khajis. And most importantly, the Monophysite communities were ecclesiastically subordinated to Echmiadzin.
To establish its spiritual supremacy in a foreign land, Echmiadzin began to rebuild, complete and reconstruct its churches in Tbilisi in the place of captured Georgian temples. And the most pompous of them was the temple built on the site of the ancient Georgian church in Avlabari, in the area of the Shamkhor settlement.
Thus, at the beginning of the 19th century, the Armenian church of the "Shamkhorians" - Shamkoretsots Surb Astvatsatsin (Church of the Holy Virgin of the Shamkhorians) - was built on the foundations of an old Georgian church in Tbilisi.
The settlers were in such a hurry to complete the "symbol" of their appropriation and presence in Tbilisi that they completely forgot about the quality of the construction and the geological peculiarities of the area. The Hai settlers began to build the Georgian church in Avlabari as a huge building of that time on the original old foundation, which was not designed for it.
As a result, the load on the ground increased sharply and its "subsidence" began. The structure of the church began to crack and because of this the construction had to be "corrected" and then the church was constantly reinforced. In the 50's of the XIX century the church had to be strengthened again, completed and reconstructed.
Nevertheless, the appropriated Georgian church was completed and rebuilt by the Hay settlers on Avlabari. For a long time it was the highest building in Tbilisi.
The Hay nationalists claim that the church of Shamkoretsotssur Astvatsatsin in Avelabar was supposedly "built in 1775" or even 1735. But in the register of "Armenian" churches, compiled by order of the Hay bishop and then Catholicos Nerses Ashtaraktsi (founder of the Nersesian Seminary in Tbilisi), it is written: "The Church of the Holy Virgin of Shamkor was built in 1809". Of course, Nerses Ashtaraktsi does not mention that the church was not "built", but completed after the mass settlement of Tbilisi by Hay settlers with the annexation of the city to the Russian Empire.
The register is based on the information provided by the leaders of the church, so the date of 1809 is the most reliable. And in 1775 or, what is less likely, in 1735, a community of Shamkhor Christians most likely simply settled in Tbilisi in Avlabari.
So the church in Avlabari was originally Georgian. With a great effort, it can also be called a church of Albanian Christians, but not "Armenian" or Hay. This church stood until 1989, in recent years in a state of disrepair. Its dome collapsed after an earthquake.
Today, the ruins of this church are in Avlabari and construction is going on around it. It may be difficult to restore the church to its "Hay" form using the old construction technology, due to engineering miscalculations in the design of its height. But it should be restored as the original Georgian church.
We just need the research of the ancient foundations and the base of the walls of the church, and the restoration of the original look of the church from the archives. It is also necessary to investigate hidden, distorted or falsified inscriptions and other monuments indicating the Georgian ownership of the temple. This could well be done by the Georgian Patriarchate.
However, the Hay nationalists decided to use the ruins of this church as a reminder of their claims to Georgian churches in Georgia and Tbilisi. And at the same time to reintroduce into the information space the false thesis that Armenians built everything in Tbilisi and that Tbilisi is an Armenian city.
It is precisely for that purpose that the article "Shamkoretsots sur Astvatsin: How the once highest church in Tbilisi is disappearing" was published on the website of "Radio Liberty" and "Ekho Kavkaza", financed by the US State Department. With typical Hay fabricators omitting some historical facts and distorting others.
The most important thing is that the article does not even mention that this church was originally a Georgian church. It says: "This is an Armenian church, Shamkoretsots Surb Astvatsatsin, built in the middle of the eighteenth century and at that time one of the tallest churches in the city. According to one source, the novelist and journalist Ignate Ioseliani, the church was built in 1775 with the money of the "townspeople".
What nationality the "townspeople" were is not specified, but from the meaning of the article it follows that they were supposedly Hayas.
The article also expressed Echmiadzin's claim to this temple:
"The spokeswoman for the Georgian diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Susana Khachaturyan, says that since 2004 they have repeatedly appealed to the Georgian authorities to save the church, a monument of cultural heritage, and return it to the Armenian diocese, but have never received a response to the request:
"In 2009 we appealed to Prime Minister Nika Gilauri with a request to return the church to the Armenian Diocese, we appealed in 2012, 2015, but there was no response. Couldn't we at least keep an eye on the building so that it is not destroyed? Now every day a brick, a stone is lost. Maybe the day will come soon when there will be nothing left of the temple."
As for the crumbling Georgian churches in the Republic of Armenia that have been appropriated by Echmiadzin, they are in dire need of preservation. Despite their historical significance, both Echmiadzin and the Armenian government have failed to take action to protect them.
The ancient Georgian church in Avlabarii, Tbilisi, rightfully belongs to the Georgian Orthodox Church. The restoration of this building will transform it into a beautiful addition to Tbilisi, much like other restored Georgian churches.