Ancient wooden mosques – the cultural heritage of Georgia and a source of incomePublished: Dec 9, 2022 Reading time: 4 minutes
The Mountains of Ajara hide the unique cultural heritage of Georgia. Here, over fifty mosques built between 1817 and 1926 survive. Local organisation Solidarity Community—supported by People in Need and the European Union—runs a campaign to preserve and promote their touristic potential.
Not many people connect Georgia with Islam, so visiting unique mosques in the Ajara mountains can be quite the treat. Many of these treasures are over 100 years old and not in good shape. They must be preserved; otherwise, this unique heritage will disappear forever.
Solidarity Community brought the topic of preservation to the table. "We started a campaign in March 2022 to popularise Georgian Islamic culture in the Ajara mountains. The centuries-old wooden mosques need protection, preservation, and proper treatment, both from the Muslim community and the state," says Avto Shervashidze from Solidarity Community. His colleague, Lia Dekanadze, adds: "This [heritage] does not belong particularly to Ajarians, but it is a heritage for everyone. It was built by Georgians, for Georgians, and it's kept by Georgians. All these colours, these aesthetics, this artistic and spiritual experience belong not just to Muslim Georgians but to all nations."
Preserve and promote unique heritage
Their advocacy campaign included collecting and introducing information about Georgian Islamic culture. It was promoted on social media, but also in the form of a photo exhibition in the city of Batumi. These colorful mosques with unique decorations and carvings have excellent tourism potential; tourism can bring income to the remote villages of Ajara. This tourism can be important for non-dominant ethnic and religious groups, which generate income through traditional sources, mostly practicing agriculture. Some of them started tourism in Khulo municipality, but nobody is attracting visitors to the mosques.
One of the mosques that needs to be renovated is in the village of Medzibna, in Keda municipality. "According to locals, it was built in 1903. It presents unique wooden architecture, and Lazi masters arranged its interior. The main problem of this mosque is its roof, which has not been repaired so far, and during rains, there is damage to the wooden ornaments in the interior," says Avto Shervashidze.
During the times of the Soviet Union, people could not go to religious buildings and pray, and they tried to save these buildings with tricks. "Locals changed the function of the building, and they opened a warehouse and a bakery here to preserve it. Since we turned it into an administrative building, they allowed us to cover it with a roof and keep the building," explains Givi Mgeladze, Imam of Ajara Mosque.
The Solidarity Community was supported by People in Need (PIN) within the EU-funded "COVID-19 Solidarity Programme for the Eastern Partnership" project in Georgia. Marta Bibilashvili, PIN Project Manager in Georgia, says: "COVID-19 pandemic illuminated many gaps in the country which had to be addressed to build stronger societies. Equipping local organisations with knowledge and skills to make them resilient and able to deal with emerging problems was a goal of the project's second phase. PIN is an organisation supporting local organisations and initiative groups in becoming change makers; its policy is not acting on behalf of the communities; we never decide what will be the topic of advocacy since we know that locals know better what they want to change, we are there to guide them and enhance their potential".
PIN is working alongside civil society organisations in Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine to mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19 and contribute to the longer-term socioeconomic resilience of vulnerable groups in Eastern Europe. The EU-funded "COVID-19 Solidarity Programme for the Eastern Partnership" project is being implemented by PIN in partnership with the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and AFEW International.
This article has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of "COVID-19 Solidarity Programme for the Eastern Partnership" project and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.”