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      Muslim Communities of Georgia: Old Problems and New Challenges

      Islamophobia Studies Journal
      Pluto Journals
      Georgia, Islam, Ajarians, Azerbaijanis, Kists


            The aim of the article is to analyze the problems concerning the Muslim minorities in Georgia with a predominant Orthodox Christian majority of population and to discuss the Georgian society's perception of Islam and Muslims in Georgia. After the brief historical survey, the following questions are analyzed: how religion (Islam) affects the national identity of three Muslim groups in Georgia—Ajarians (native Georgians), Azerbaijanis and Kists (descendants of Chechens and Ingush emigrated from the North Caucasus); peculiarities of their religious practices, attitudes to each other and relations with other religious groups (mainly with orthodox Christians), degree of their integration in Georgian society, their international contacts; and activities of Foreign actors (Turkey, Iran and different transnational Muslim organizations) in the country.


            Author and article information

            Islamophobia Studies Journal
            Pluto Journals
            1 April 2018
            : 4
            : 2 ( doiID: 10.13169/islastudj.4.issue-2 )
            : 247-265
            Ilia State University, Georgia
            © Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, Center for Race and Gender, University of California, Berkeley

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            Social & Behavioral Sciences


            1. Gocha Japaridze, “The Emirate of Tbilisi,” in Islam. Encyclopaedic Dictionary (in Georgian), ed. G. Japaridze (Tbilisi: Nekeri, 1999), 73.

            2. The Arabian form of a pronunciation of the name of Tbilisi which then entered in Russian and European languages and was the official name of the city till the beginning of the twentieth century.

            3. Zaza Shashikadze, “Osmaluri gadasakhadbi acharashi” [Ottoman Taxes in Adjara] (in Georgian), in Batumi State University Works, IV (Georgia: Batumi, 2002), 217.

            4. David Bakradze, Arqeologiuri mogzauroba guriasa da acharashi [Archaeological Journey in Guria and Ajara] (in Georgian) (Georgia: Batumi, 1987), 72, 84–85.

            5. Alexander Pushkin, Puteshestvie v Arzrum vo vremya pokhoda 1829 goda [Travel to Arzrum during the Campaign of 1829] (in Russian), Works, vol. V. (Moscow, 1960), 418.

            6. Mathijs Pelkmans, Defending the Border: Identity, Religion, and Modernity in the Republic of Georgia (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2006), 96.

            7. George Sanikidze and Edward Walker, Islam and Islamic Practices in Georgia [Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies] (Working Paper Series, 2004), 7, accessed October 11, 2018, http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~bsp/publications/2004_04-sani.pdf.

            8. Vakhtang Iashvili, Achara Osmalebis dros [Ajaria Under the Ottomans] (in Georgian) (Batumi, 1948), 138.

            9. Ilia Datunashvili, “mihajiruli modzarobis sheqmnis religiuri paqtorebi” [Religious Factors of the Creation of the Muhajir Movement in Caucasus] (in Georgian), in History of the Near East Countries. New and Newest Period, ed. O. Gigineishvili (Tbilisi: Metsniereba, 1989), 14.

            10. Alexander Frenkel, Ocherki Churuk-Su i Batuma [Essays on Churuk-Su and Batum] (in Russian). (Tiflis, 1879), 62.

            11. Akti, sobrannie Kavkazskoi arkheologicheskoi komissiei [Acts, collected by Archeological Comission of Caucasus], v. IX (in Russian) (Tbilisi, 1884), 126.

            12. Firouzeh Mostashari, “Colonial Dilemmas: Russian Policies in the Muslim Caucasus,” in Of Religion and Empire. Missions, Conversions, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia, ed. R. Geraci and M. Khodarkovski (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 229–49.

            13. Mathijs Pelkmans, Op. cit., 99.

            14. Ibid.

            15. Ibid., 100.

            16. Aslan H. Abashidze, Ajaria. Istoria, diplomatia, mezhdunarodnoe pravo [Ajaria. History, Diplomacy, International Law] (in Russian) (Moscow, 1998), 265. Article I of the Kars Treaty between Turkey and Russia (March 16, 1921) and article VI of the Kars Friendship Treaty between Armenian SSR, Azerbaijan SSR and Georgian SSR Turkey signed with the participation of the Russian Federation (October 13, 1921).

            17. About the 1929 rebellion, see: Timothy K. Blauvelt and Giorgi Khatiashvili, “The Muslim Uprising in Ajara and the Stalinist Revolution in the Periphery,” Nationalities Papers, 2016, doi:10.1080/00905992.2016.1142521.

            18. Sergo Dumbadze, “Indignities of the Soviet Power” (in Georgian), in Historical Journal, vol. XI (Batumi, 2002), 26–27.

            19. About the settlement of nomads of Turkish origin in Georgia see: Valerian Gabashvili, Feudal System of Georgia in 16th–17th Centuries (in Georgian) (Tbilisi, 1967).

            20. Yuri Anchabadze and Natalia Volkova, Starii Tiflis. Gorod i Gorozhane Ancient Tbilisi. City and Citizens in 19th Century (in Russian) (Moscow: Nauka, 1990), 248.

            21. For example, by 1989 a natural increase among the Georgian equaled 7.6%, and Azerbaijanis—22.8%.

            22. The reason the mosque was destroyed was apparently official opposition to the Shiite practice of self-flagellation during Ashura (“officially” it was announced the destruction of the mosque was necessary for the enlargement of the adjacent avenue).

            23. Géorges Sanikidze, “Islam et musulmans en Géorgie Contemporaine,” in La Géorgie entre la Perse et l'Europe, ed. I. Nathkhebia and F. Hellot-Bellier (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2009), 288.

            24. Sanikidze and Walker, Op. cit., 23.

            25. A variety of Sufism, which spread in North Azerbaijan and from there to the North Caucasus, Muridism is based on the asceticism and the spirit of self-sacrifice. Strictly hierarchical relations between Master (murshid) and disciple (murid) have particular importance. The militarized form of Muridism was the ideological and organizational base of the Imamat of Shamil (1841–1859) in the North Caucasus. About Muridism in the North Caucasus see, for example: Z. D. Muradiev, Severokavkazskii miuridism: istoki i sovremennost' [North Caucasian Muridism: Roots and Modern Times] (in Russian) (Leningrad, 1989); N. I. Pokrovskii, Kavkazskie voiny i imamat Shamilia [Caucasian Wars of Imam Shamil] (in Russian) (Moscow, 2000); N. A. Smirnov, Miuridism na Kavkaze [Muridism in the Caucausus] (in Russian) (Moscow, 1963).

            26. About Sufi brotherhoods in the North Caucausus see V. Akaev, Sheikh Kunta-Hadzhi: zhizn' i doktrina [Sheikh Kunta-Hadzhi: The Life and the Doctrine] (in Russian) (Grozny, 1994); Alexandre Bennigsen, “The Qādirīyah (Kunta Ḥājjī) Ṭarīqah in the North-East Caucasus: 1850–1987,” Islamic Culture 62, no. 2–3 (1988): 63–78; Paul B. Henze, “Fire and Sword in the Caucasus: The 19th Century Resistance of the North Caucasian Mountaineers,” Central Asian Survey 2, no. 1 (1983): 5–44; Paul B. Henze, Islam in the North Caucasus: The Example of Chechnya (Santa Monica: RAND, 1995); Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay, “Sufi Brotherhoods in the USSR: A Historical Survey,” Central Asian Survey 2, no. 4 (1983): 1–35; Anna Zelkina, Quest for God and Freedom: The Sufi Response to the Russian Advance in the North Caucasus (London: Hurst, 2000).

            27. Alexandre Bennigsen and Enders Wimbush, Mystics and Commissars: Sufism in the Soviet Union (University of California Press, 1986), 21.

            28. It is not an appropriate name but in post-Soviet countries, it is usual to call “salafis” or adherents of “pure Islam”—Wahhabis. Even Georgian experts use this word till now. See for example: Giorgi Goguadze and Sergi Kapanadze, “Daesh and Challenges Facing Georgia,” Policy Document, Georgia's Reforms Associates (GRASS), 2015, November, http://grass.org.ge/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Daesh-and-Challenges-Facing-Georgia.pdf, accessed April 20, 2017.

            29. See George Sanikidze, “Islamic Resurgence in the Modern Caucasian Region: ‘Global’ and ‘Local’ Islam in the Pankisi Gorge,” in Regional and Transregional Dynamism in Central Eurasia: Empires, Islam and Politics, ed. T. Yuama (Sapporo: Hokkaido University Press, 2007), 263–82.

            30. As well as Ajarians, Azerbaijanis and Kists, among other small communities of Muslims of Georgia can be included so-called Meskhetians Turks (or “Ahiska Türkleri”) i.e. “Turcs de la province d'Ahiska” (Akhaltsikhe—town in the southern Georgia) which were deported to Central Asia in 1944. A small number of “Meskhetians Turks” returned to Georgia but the majority live in Russia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia. (About “Meskhetians Turks” see for example: Meskhetian Turks. Solutions and Human Security [The Forced Migration Projects of the Open Society Institute, 1998]; Lela Inasaridze, “Meskhetian Return Stirs Georgian Dissent,” in IWPR'S Caucasus Reporting Service, 163/2003, https://goo.gl/MdIwZ8.), accessed April 20, 2017; Abkhazs, Avars, communities of Turks and Iranians who are settled in Georgia.

            31. Bayram Balcı and Raoul Motika, “Le renouveau islamique en Géorgie post-soviétique,” in Religion et politique dans le Caucase Post-Soviétique, ed. B. Balcı and R. Motika (Istanbul: Institut français d'études anatoliennes, 2007), 18, 225–49.

            32. Moshe Gammer, “From the Challenge of Nationalism to the Challenge of Islam. The Case of Daghestan,” in Ethno-Nationalism, Islam and the State in the Caucasus. Post-Soviet Disorder, ed. M. Gammer (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), 179.

            33. Bennett Clifford, “Georgian Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq—Factors of Violent Extremism and Recruitment,” #48, 2015, 3, Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, Tbilisi.

            34. Tina Shiopshvili and Ruslan Baramidze, eds. Qar'tveli muslimebi t'anamedroveobis konteq'stshi [Georgian Muslims in the Context of Modernity] (in Georgian) (Batumi: N. Berdzenishvili Institute, 2010), 527.

            35. Sopho Zviadadze, “‘me ar var t'at'ari, me var muslimi q'art'veli’: religious tramsp'ormatsia da religiuri identobis ramdenime t'avisebureba acharashi” [“I'm not Tatar, I'm Muslim Georgian”: Transformation of Religion and some Peculiarities of the Religious Identity in Ajara] (in Georgian), in religia, sazogadoeba da politika saq'art'veloshi [Religion, Society and Politics in Georgia], ed. N. Ghamgashidze (Tbilisi: The Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, 2016), 15–32, 16.

            36. Ruslan Baramidze, “Islam in Adjara—Comparative Analysis of Two Communities in Adjara,” in Changing Identities: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia. Collection of Selected Works. Scientific ed. Viktor Voronkov and ed. Sophia Khutsishvili and John Horan (Tbilisi: Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office, 2011), 96–125, 97.

            37. Inga Popovaite, “Religiosity Patterns of Minority and Majority Religious Groups in Armenia and Georgia,” accessed May 22, 2017, https://www.academia.edu/7296222/Religiosity_Patterns_of_Minority_and_Majority_Religious_Groups_in_Armenia_and_Georgia.

            38. Political Aspects of Islam in Georgia, Project executors: Irakli Menagarishvili, Giorgi Lobjanidze, Natela Sakhokia, Giorgi Gvimradze, Project supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (Tbilisi: Strategic Research Institute, 2013), 63.

            39. Zviadadze, Op. cit., 25.

            40. Mathijs Pelkmans, “Baptized Georgian: Religious Conversion to Christianity in Autonomous Ajaria” (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Working Paper No. 71, 2005), 2.

            41. Apart from Muslims, there is a small community of Georgian Catholics. In recent times, small communities of Georgian Baptists, Bahaites etc. have emerged.

            42. Mathijs Pelkmans, “Religion, Nation and State in Georgia: Christian Expansion in Muslim Ajaria,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 22, no. 2 (2002): 249.

            43. Pelkmans, “Baptized Georgian,”, 27. Pelkmans investigates several cases of Conversion of Ajarian Muslims to Chritianity and argues that “economic and political considerations may have influenced people's decision to be baptized more than religious concerns.”

            44. Mathijs Pelkmans, “Religious Crossings and Conversions on the Muslim–Christian Frontier in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan,” Anthropological Journal of European Cultures 19, no. 2 (2010), 109–28, 110.

            45. Inga Popovaite, “Georgian Muslims Are Strangers in Their Own Country,” accessed May 22, 2017, https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inga-popovaite/georgian-muslims-are-strangers-in-their-own-country.

            46. Mevlud is even celebrated by Christians as the feast of the family, unity, of the memory of ancestors. See Zviadadze, Op. cit., 19.

            47. Elizabeth Sieca-Kozlovski and Alexandre Toumarkine, Geopolitique de la mer Noire. Turquie et pays de l'ex-URSS, 7. Les acteurs religieux (Paris: Karthala, 2000), 92.

            48. Ekatherina Meiering-Mikadze, “L'islam en Adjarie: Trajectoires historiques et implications contemporaines,” Cahiers d'études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien 27 (1999): 41.

            49. About their activities see: Balcı and Motika, Op. cit., 36–39. In 2016–2017, as a result of the “Anti-Güllen” policy of the Turkish government, some educational institutions in Georgia associated with the Güllen movement were closed.

            50. The official data for the 2014 number of Muslims in Georgia was 398,677 (total population—3,713,804). In Batuimi there were 38,767 Muslims (Total number of inhabitants—152,839) and in general in Ajara—132,852 (total population 333,953). The number of Azerbaijanis is around 300,000. Today around 6,000 Iranian citizens have resident status in Georgia. It is quite difficult to calculate the exact number of Turks, settled in Georgia, because lots of them are of Georgian origin and have double citizenship. By the estimation, their number does not exceed 50,000. In 2010, 586 Muslim Mekhetians lived in Georgia and several thousand of them are still waiting for the repatriation to Georgia. (George Sordia, “Muslim Mekhetians and the Problem of their Repatriation” (in Georgian), Solidaroba, 2010, #2(35). The number of other Muslim groups (Kists, Avars etc.) does not exceed 15,000 (see: Sanikidze and Walker, Op. cit.)

            51. The majority of Azerbaijanis live in the Kvemo Kartli region of Eastern Georgia. This region has great strategic importance—the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline crosses this region and on the other hand, it is situated between Georgia's frontiers with Azerbaijan and Armenia. See Silvia Serrano, “Les Azéris de Géorgie. Quelles perspectives d'intégration?” Cahiers d'Études sur la Méditerranée Orientale et le Monde Turco-Iranien 28 (juin-décembre 1999): 231–51.

            52. Political Aspects of Islam in Georgia, 74.

            53. Shireen Hunter, Iran's Foreign Policy in the Post-Soviet Era: Resisting the New International Order (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010), 171.

            54. C. Prasad, “Georgia's Muslim Community: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?” (ECMI Working Paper No. 58, 2012), 12, accessed April 20, 2017, https://www.ecmi.de/publications/detail/58-georgia-s-muslim-community-a-self-fulfilling-prophecy-235/.

            55. Goguadze and Kapanadze, Op. cit., p. 13.

            56. Ruslan Baramidze, “Islamic State and Georgia's Muslim community,” June 17, 2015, accessed March 17, 2017, https://ge.boell.org/en/2015/06/17/islamic-state-and-georgias-muslim-community#_ftn1.

            57. Bennett Clifford, Georgian Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq—Factors of Violent Extremism and Recruitment (Tbilisi: Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, #48, 2015), 7–8.

            58. George Sanikidze, The Islamic State and the “Great Game” in the Middle East (Expert Opinion No. 44, GFSIS, 2015), https://www.gfsis.org/library/view-opinion-paper/44.

            59. Goguadze and Kapanadze, “Daesh and Challenges Facing Georgia,” 8.

            60. See https://on.ge/story/10990, accessed May 26, 2017.

            61. Mariam Gabedava and Koba Turmanidze, “Iran's Soft Power in Georgia—Weak for Now, Bigger Potential for the Future,” in Religion and Soft Power in South Caucasus, Policy Perspective, ed. Ansgar Jödicke and Kornely Kakachia (Tbilisi: Georgian Institute of Politics, 2017), 61.

            62. Ruslan Baramidze, “Political Process, Social Activity and Individual Strategies in Georgia: Institutional Transformations, Struggle for Identity and Georgian Muslims in the Media” (CAP PAPERS, 166, CERIA SERIES, 2016), April 2016, 11. http://centralasiaprogram.org/archives/9598, accessed April 20, 2017.

            63. Prasad, Op. cit. In July 2011, former president of Georgia Saakashvili signed a legislative amendment to the civil code into law which has allowed religious minorities to register as legal entities of public law for the first time. The amendment, praised by the international community, triggered protests by the Georgian Orthodox Church.

            64. See http://www.amerikiskhma.com/content/article-124702684/535631.html, accessed May 16, 2017.

            65. It must be noted that Georgian experts were very disappointed by the quality of the restoration of Georgian churches in Turkey, but in May 2017, the new agreement was signed. According to this agreement “Georgia and Turkey will work together on restoring and safeguarding monuments of cultural heritage found along the border between the two states.” It is supposed that Georgian and Turkish specialists will participate in the restoration of medieval Georgian churches and medieval Ottoman mosques. See http://agenda.ge/news/79946/eng, accessed June 1, 2017.

            66. The so-called Azizie mosque was named after the Ottoman sultan Abdülaziz I (1861–1876) and was constructed in the late 1860s, just before the Russian conquest of the region. The mosque was situated in the historical center of Batumi. At the beginning of Soviet rule the mosque was destroyed. Today there are several buildings on the site of the mosque and its yard. About debates in Georgian society concerning the reconstruction of the Azizie mosque, see for example: Ruslan Baramidze, Saq'art'velos muslimuri t'emi da sakhelmtsip'o politika (1991–2012 tslebi) [The Muslim Community of Georgia and State Policy (1991–2012)] (in Georgian) (Batumi: Horos, 2014).

            67. Baramidze, Saq'art'velos muslimuri t'emi, 241. It must be noted also that after the enlargement of the Batumi municipality's territory several villages and a small town with small local mosques became part of the city, so formally today there are several mosques in Batumi.

            68. It is worth noting that former Georgian Prime Minister and tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili stressed several times that he is ready to finance the construction of the new mosque (or enlargement of the ancient mosque). See for example http://thouse.ge/new/1866-bidzina-ivanishvili-mzad-var-batumshi-mechetis-mshenebloba-davafinanso, accessed May 15, 2017. The head of the Ajarian autonomy also promised Muslims that authorities will find another place in Batumi for the mosque. But till now, it is only a promise without any sign of its accomplishment.

            69. About the problem of the Mokhe mosque, see, for example, Mariam Gavtadze and Eka Chitanava, “Georgia: Government and Orthodox Block Muslims Regaining Mosque,” accessed May 19, 2017, http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2260.

            70. See http://www.tdi.ge/en/statement/brief-issues-batumi-and-mokhe-mosques, accessed May 22, 2017. The Tolerance and Diversity Institute is a nongovernmental organization which represents the interests of ethnic and religious minorities (including Muslims) in Georgia and defends their rights.


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