Analytics, Women and War

Historical monuments under threat in South Ossetia

Irina Yanovskaya

The Ministry of Culture of South Ossetia has registered 1,400 monuments registered as cultural heritage sites, out of which 600 are religious monuments. Some of these monuments, due to their location in South Ossetia, have become gradually degraded, with little effort being made to repair them.

For example on a recent trip to clean up a particular site in the mountains, the staff of the Department for the Monuments Protection at the Ministry of Culture discovered a church nearby.

In general, the monuments in South Ossetia have never been paid much attention, even during Soviet times, except for Ikorta and Tigva, since these monuments were also granted protection by UNESCO. Sporadic periods of conflict which began in 1991 with the Georgian-Ossetian war, when South Ossetia broke away from Georgia, along with an earthquake that same year have also damaged these monuments. The following years were often only about survival, with another Georgian-Ossetian war in August 2008, and these monuments were far from the priority.

On August 26, 2008, when Russia became one of the countries to recognize South Ossetia’s independence, they launched a financial assistance program to promote the social and economic development of the republic.

In 2015, four churches were included in the rehabilitation programme: Kafta Church (8th – 9th century) in the city, Gomart (middle ages) in Znaur district, Ikorta (12th century) in Tskhinvali region and Monastery (13th – 14th century). 10 million Rubles (133,300 USD) were allocated for the fortification of these monuments.

These religious sites are famous and important for both Georgians and South Ossetians. As a result people like Timur Tskhurbaty, a civil activist and ex-combatant, believe that these monuments can be a place of reconciliation.

“Georgians and Ossetians have one faith, these are two Orthodox nations, and therefore, a religious conflict is excluded here, which is a positive factor in the peacemaking process. I am sure that many Georgians, especially those who lived in Ikorta or in neighboring villages and visited this temple, worry about its condition. Moreover, they most likely miss it and the fact that Ossetians go there, pray there and clean it, is the pledge of trust,” Timur told women4peace.

The situation worsened because ince many of these sites were restored without the knowledge and approval of those who lead the Department for Monuments Protection, those working there were unhappy with the restoration efforts. Nelly Tabueva, who heads the department, explains that the restorers did not consult them on the necessary procedures for carrying out restoration of this degree.

“All works were carried out without our knowledge. The law provides a special procedure, according to which, it is required to have our approval following the consultation with specialists. I was very unhappy with the reinforcement works carried out at all sites. For example, at Ikorta church I would say that the workers were good, but not the restorers. How can you work with ordinary glue while repairing a roof? Moreover, we all know that bat excrements damage frescoes, however, the window was left open after the work was done. And, unfortunately, there is no guard at the church,” Tabueva told women4peace.

The government claims that they are investigating the way in which the reconstruction was carried out, according to Amiran Dyakonov, Head of the Parliamentary Committee on National Policy, Culture, Religion and Media.

“The case on the reconstruction of ancient churches within the framework of the investment program is currently being investigated by the Prosecutor General’s Office. I do not understand why the Ministry of Construction, and not the Ministry of Culture, was involved in the restoration works, and moreover looking at the results, it is not clear where this amount was spent,” he added that, “Apparently, these monuments will not be included in the investment program for the second time. So, there is only one solution – to seek financial support from businessmen, then slowly develop the program for the preservation of cultural heritage monuments and later allocate funds from the republican budget,” Dyakonov explained.

“This temple is slowly dying, it needs urgent conservation, at least…I am not talking about restoration… otherwise it will be destroyed. There are some materials left after the works conducted by UNESCO, but any activity must be carried out only by professionals, otherwise, it is not worth touching, let it be as it is. If we were not hostile countries, I would be happy to invite restorers from Tbilisi here, who are very good professionals. This ancient temple is well-studied by Georgians, there are special books written about Ikorta, we have kept some books by Georgian authors, but it is not enough,” Tabueva concluded.

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