Georgia and Azerbaijan will do everything possible to avoid tensions over the David Gareji monastery complex at their common border until they reach an agreement to complete border delimitation in the area, Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Nikoloz Vashakidze said on Monday.
Earlier this month, Georgian media reported that Azeri border guards had been deployed at the ancient monastery complex, a potential UNESCO World Heritage site some 60 kilometers from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
The monastery complex, whose history traces back to the 6th century AD, is located on a mountain separating Georgia from Azerbaijan, and occupies part of the Georgian-Azerbaijani border that has remained undelimited since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Georgia’s Maestro television channel quoted monastery monks as saying Azeri border guards have not allowed visitors coming from the Georgian territory into Udabno Monastery, part of the monastery complex currently under the control of Azerbaijan.
The report sparked a diplomatic row between Baku and Tbilisi. The two countries’ presidents discussed the issue on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Chicago on Sunday.
Vashakidze said the two countries’ border agencies agreed that Georgian citizens and foreign tourists coming from the Georgian side would be allowed to visit the entire territory of the monastery complex without obstacles until the border issue is agreed upon.
“Until the final decision on the delimitation issue is reached, the sides agreed to do everything possible to prevent any implications and political fuss,” he said. “This envisions access to this cultural monument in line with the existing practice.”
He added, however, that “legal interests of Azerbaijan should not be violated” as a result of such access. The Georgian government will therefore guarantee that foreign nationals do not go beyond the monastery’s territory into Azerbaijan, he said.