Armenian Heritage remaining in Tbilisi and Georgia
(All footage is my own if nothing else is mentioned)
Once upon a time the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi was largely an Armenian town. This is kind of controversial to say, but still a fact. Those circumstances is ususally denied by Georgian citizens but responsible academics knows this very well. It is denied by Georgians due to nationalistic reasons. Georgia is a young country when it comes to independence and they struggle to cement their national identity.
In the very first years of the 1800s the Armenian population in Tbilisi was 75%, but that whas a part of a total population of 20.000. Tbilisi was still struggeling to rise from the devastation that the Persians inflicted on the city in 1795, an event known as the Battle of Krtsanisi. Tbilisi started soon to grow again and in 1897 the city had a population of 150.000 with the Armenians at 36%. Today it is more than a million souls in the city and the Armenians constitutes around 5%. At the height of the blooming of Armenian culture in Tbilisi there were 24 Armenian churches. Only two churches are functional today.
Tbilisi has many areas that was built up during the 1800's and the houses in Marjanishvili and Sololaki was often financed by Russians and Armenians, whom often were wealthy merchants and leading cultural figures. The Finlandic author Serafim Seppälä wtrites that the most Armenian town in the world during the 1800s was Tbilisi.
Remains of the Armenian Church of the Holy Seal in Kala, dowtown Tbilisi.
Three of the most prominent Armenian celebrities are buried in Tbilisi. This includes the poet Sayat Nova (Harutyun Sayatyan 1712 - 1795) and novelist Raffi (Hakob Melik Hakobian 1835 - 1888). Also the famous literary figure Hovhannes Tumanyan (1869 - 1923) is buried in Tbilisi, or Tiflis as it was known before in the Armenian language. Sayat Nova and Tumanyan was also born i Tbilisi.
From left to right: Raffis grave at Khojavank, the Armenian pantheon in Tbilisi. Sayat Novas grave at Saint Gevork (George) church, Kala, Tbilisi. The gravestone of Hovhannes Tumanyan at Khojavank cemetary. Final picture is a memorial plaquette on the facade of the house where Tumanyan lived in Sololaki, Tbilisi.
The history of the church and the large Armenian cemetary Khojavank in Avlabari is pretty sad. It was destroyed in 1937, on the orders of Lavrentiy Beria, chief of the Georgian police (later head of the NKVD). The remaining parts was destroyed between 1995 and 2004. Lavrentiy Beria and his boss, Josef Stalin, was both Georgian and they had numerous campaings against the minorities. The Stalinist terror was especially intensive during the 1930s. As communists they also fought all religious beliefs. Therefore the Khojavank cemetary was destroyed. Beria wanted to erase the history so that Georgia became a place only for Georgians. Beria also blow up several other Armenian churches and closed the Georgian ones. It was all a part of "Georgianasation" efforts. The problems in Abkhazia also started during that period.
Karmir Avataran, Tbilisi
Remains of the Karmir Avataran (Red Gospel) church in Avlabari, Tbilisi. The Armenians would say Havlabar in Tiflis of course. Karmir Avataran was built in 1775 and closed in 1937. The church collapsed 1989, but the Armenians believe that is was blown up by Georgian nationalists. The event 1989 is part of the ongoing controversy between Georgians and Armenians that is underway all over Georgia.
Norashen Նորաշեն Church, Tbilisi
Norashen church, downtown Tbilisi, 2019. This church has been vandalised by nationalist Georgians and among them some Georgian priests. The Georgians is trying to alter the history by destroing all Armenian inscriptions and tombstones. See Armeniapedia for details of the controversy.
Khojavank church (destroyed) and the remains of the largest Armenian cemetary in Georgia. It is still beeing vandalised and remains and bones of buried people are treated like garbage. A really sad story that unfortunately give the Georgian state a really dirty tarnish. Inscriptions on the stones are in Armenian, Russian and Georgian scripts. Today the site is occupied by the new national church of Georgia, the Sameba Cathedral.
Vank Cathedral, Tbilisi (Pashavank Պաշավանք)
The Vank Cathedral is almost totally gone today, it was demolished in 1930. Originally it was founded in the 14th century. Today only the bell tower at Atoneli street No 3 is all that remains. On the side of the tower there is an Armenian inscription. The word "vank" actually means monastery.
Etchmiadzin Church, Avlabari, Tbilisi
Mukhrani is a village that is famous for wine and the Mukhrani Wine Chateau is located there.
Akhaltsike was an Armenian town with a large Jewish group as well. In 1886 the Armenians constituted 64% of the population, the Jews 16% and the Georgians 17%. But this little town has been fought over many times. Mongols, Persians, Ottoman Turks and Russians all conquered the town. Timur Lenk was there to, but he failed.
The fortress (Rabati Castle) that we see today was originally built by the Ottomans, but what is visible today is a modern replica created in 2011. Originally though, there was a Georgian fortress, tsikhe, built in the 9th century. In the middle ages Akaltsikhe was known as Lomsia. In 1828 the Russian general Paskevich totally demolished the Turkish stronghold and made it into rubble. The gravestones we see above is remnats that survived the great battle of Akhalzic. Interestingly there are both Armenian crosses and the Star of David on the same stones. We also see islamic stones inscribed with arabic script. It is probably heavily Persianized Turskish language. We also see one stone with Latin on it. It is the stone of an Armenian catholic whom was some sort of church official. The text on the stone is actually in three languages i.e. Armenian, Georgian and Latin. The last stone is in Georgian mkhedruli script. The Armenian Jewish stones is mysterious to me and I have to make further research to find out more about it.
Sources and further reading:
Seppälä, Serafim. Öster om Ararat, En bok om skönhetens och lidandets Armenien. Artos och Normas Bokförlag, 2017.