Historical-Ethnographical Survey of Dali Svaneti/Kodori Gorge
According to the historical sources (Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Georgian) today’s Zemo (upper) Abkhazia was called as Dali Svaneti, i.e. Abkhazian Svaneti, which was later named as Kodori Gorge. Since ancient times it belonged to Svaneti and it was obvious that this territory was always an integral part of Georgia.
Svaneti (including Dali Gorge) covered the entire mountain part of Georgia from the upper reaches of the river Kodori until the Likhi Range, from the existence of an ancient Georgian Kingdom Egrisi (15 – 14 centuries B.C.) till dissolution of Georgia into smaller kingdom-principalities (15 – 16 centuries).
Dali Svaneti was connected to the Balskvemo Svaneti by the narrow paths (from Chuberi Community) to the Jerildi Mountain chain.
It is known that the ancient Greeks called Egrisi Kingdom as “Multi-gold Kolkhida”. In plurality of gold of Kolkheti the bigger endowment was made by Svaneti. One of the oldest places of producing the gold was considered Chubery Community in the neighborhood of Dali Gorge and the road leading to the Northern Caucasus (Tonghuz-Orun and Basi Chains) was situated through those two gorges (Beradze, 1989).
Since the 4.century B.C. Svaneti (including Dali) represented one of the important regions of the entire Georgia created by the King Pharnavaz.
Later, according to the description of Strabo, in the Dali Region there lived the Georgians (Svans): near to Dioskuria, i.e. modern Sukhumi, “there are Svans. Svans are the best from the point of heroism and physical force… and they own everything around and have conquered the Alps of the Caucasus, that are higher than Dioskuria” (T.Kaukhchishvili, 1957, p.126).
The Greek authors (Agathios Scholasticis, Menandre Protector, Theodos Gangrian) called the Dali Gorge of the 6 – 7 centuries as the “site of Missimians” (Georgica, 1940, p.236). It is evident that Missimians are Georgians, i.e. Svans. This name comes from the dialectal title of this oldest Georgian community – Svans – which sounded as Mushuan (Kaldani, 1999).
Dali gorge was actively mentioned in entire early medieval history of Georgia. In the 4-7 centuries, Persia and Byzantium attempted to conquer Georgia. The wars between them were reflected more gravely on Svaneti and its part – the Dali Gorge (Misimisneti). (Stanelashvili, 1959; Muskhelishili, 2003; Gasviani, 1995; Arghvliani, 2003).
The reason was strategic situation of Svaneti: Svaneti is bordering the North Caucasus, from were in the 4 – 6 centuries of “the big resettlement”, the South Caucasus and its neighboring countries were attacked by the Huns and Alanyan tribes. Byzantium and Persia tried to get rid of their aggression and to redirect it to the other side. In such situation the most important was to control the crossing roads of the Caucasus Chains, which was executed by Svaneti in Western Georgia. Through the Dali part, the roads from the North Caucasus were leading to the Black Sea side. Besides, in the 4 – 6 centuries the main object of an export from the East to the West was silk. In the second half of the 6. century, Byzantium established trade relations with the main importers of silk – China and Middle Asia, through a new “Northern Silk Road”. This road led from Middle Asia to the North Caspian Sea, passed the Northern sides of the Caucasus main gorge and via the mountain chains of Western Georgia followed to the Black Sea. Thus, by means of conquering Svaneti, Persia could control the Northern Silk Road”and could monopolize the transit trade of silk between East and West again. (Beradze, 1989, pp. 32-70). Moreover, there was a direct road from eastern Georgia to Svaneti.
In the second half of the 5. century, the Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali united Svaneti (including Dali) with the Kingdom of Kartli (Kartlis Tskhovreba, 1955, p.185).
“The Big Warfare in Egrisi”, which started in 542, abruptly reflected on two parts of Svaneti – Misimianeti (Dali Gorge) and Balsqvemo (Lower Bali) Svaneti. At this time the Byzantine sources often mentioned the principle fortresses of Dali Gorge “Bukolusi/Bokeri Fortress and “Rkinis (iron)/Chkhalta Fortress (Georgica, 1940).
In 562 Persia and Byzantium signed an armistice, but the controversy around Svaneti lasted farther. In 571 the war between Byzantium and Persia started again. In 575 the Byzantine forces invaded Svaneti and in 590 – the Persians (Georgica; 1941; p.32-34).
In the 7. century the part of Egrisi was under the influence of Byzantium and it was ruled, together with the Dali Gorge/Misimianeti, by the Patricios instead of the king.
From 697 the Arabs conquered a great part of the Western Georgia. The fortress rulers, who obeyed the Arabs, governed the Rkina (iron)/Chkhalta Fortress too (Sanadze, Beradze, 2004).
During the Arab invasions (735-738), the Dali Gorge population obeyed the Karthli Duke Stephanoz III and his heirs. Later, in the bigger part of historical Georgia, Leon II, the Duke of Abkhazia – one of the provinces of Georgia, established a new Georgian state which was called Abkhazian Kingdom, i.e. Egrisi-Abkhazian Kingdom (Lortkipanidze,1973).
The Abkhazian Kingdom included the Svaneti Principality and its part of the Dali Gorge, which was ruled by the Marushians community. Marushians played an important role in the political life of the Abkhazians Kingdom. Adding to that, one of the strongest feudal family branches was of Svanetian origin Shavliani, which even competed with the royal dynasty. Two kings from the Shavliani Dynasty are known within the Abkhazian Kingdom (861-881).
From the 11. century the Dukes of Abkhazia are called the Sharvashisdze/Shervashisdze.
Since the late medieval period, when the foreign tribes committed the persecution of the Georgians in this region, Marushinians and Sharvashidzes were called Marshania and Chachba when they “became” Abkhazians.
At the end of the 16. century, there started basic changes in ethnical groups (communities) of Abkhazia (Khorava, 1998, p. 87-100). As a result of the permanent invasions from the North Caucasus, the local Georgian population started replacement (movement) from Dali Gorge to the deeper part of Svaneti. According to the information of Arcangelo Lambertte, Jean Sardenne and Evlia Chelebis, the Abkhaz-Adygean tribes came to the Kodori Gorge from the North, from the passes of the Caucasus in the late Medieval Ages. This Fact is also given in the Latin-French map of 1654, where the extreme Eastern border of the Abkhazian expulsion is the River Kodori (Gvantseladze, 1998, 29).
The Abaz-Adygean invasions, adding to the Karachayan permanent invasions took place systematically. The story of one of such incursions reached up to this period in the form of a legend, which tells about the total destruction of two communities many generations ago, as were Sali and Fazhi that were situated in Chuberi Gorge on Dali Road. (Sali community was famous for producing copper, iron and gold. The source of wealth of Fazhi commune was mainly mining of lead and silver). The enemy entered the Kodori Gorge from Karachay, through the small path and their multiple warriors exterminated Dali together with Chuberi villages (Iessen, Deggen-Kovalevsky, 1935, p.139-323). In other sources of ethno-demographical processes another sad history was described about the Dali Gorge, and the Georgian family name Kaldani (Prosaic essays, 1957; p.242-245). Similar tragic family history was about Gvarmianis, which described the murder of 40 Gvarmianis by the enemy that came from the North Caucasus.
In the 17 – 18 centuries as a result of the permanent invasions of the Northern Caucasians, the Chuberi Gorge was depopulated for a long time, and in Dali Gorge the Georgian (Svanetian) population was the almost destructed and they were gradually replaced by the newly come Adyghean/Abkhazian ethnical group (“afsua”).
According to the ethnographical materials, a part of the survived Georgians of Dali Gorge resettled in the Balsqvemo Svanetian villages. About 10 Georgian communes in Svaneti have kept in memory their ancestors’ life history in Dali Gorge (Gvarmiani and one branch of Kaldani, Gurchiani, Gerliani, Subeliani, Chkhvimiani…). One custom, which remained up to this time, provides us with an important material about demographical processes that took place in Dali Gorge. After the traditional praying ritual is finished, which is held in the churches or at home, the prayers turn to the North-West part of the praying place, in the direction of Dali Gorge and they pray in respect to the saint places situated in Dali (Shkheri St. George Church, Ajara St. George Church…), to which their ancestors had prayed while living in Dali Gorge (Bardavelidze, 1939, p.60-61). This fact reflects not only a strong religious basement of the Georgian mountain communities, but the right of Georgians to the historical-cultural heritage on Dali gorge. Subsequently, from the beginning of the 19. century, there started the Georgians big resettlement processes in the Dali Gorge. This was not a process of development of the new, unknown territories but resettlement of the Georgians to their historical living place Dali Svaneti (Kaldani, 1999, p.58). Notwithstanding the two centuries absence, the Russians and Afsuas/Abkhazians, which had occupied the Georgians historical living places, could not destroy the Georgian toponymy of Dali Gorge. The biggest part of the toponymes of this gorge can be explained by the Svan dialects of the literary Georgian language: Bokeri, Buchkuri, Budzguri, Gentsvishi, Lagvana, Lata, Dali, Chkhalta, Chakhari, Gvandra, Azara, Adzgara, Tvibrasheni, Khetskvara, Khutia, Shikeri, Nahari… (Kaldani, 1999; Mibchuani, 1989; Mibchuani, 1998).
Until the 30-40s of the 19. century the Abkhazian cattlemen and shepherds paid taxes to the rulers of the Balsqvemo (Lower Bali) Svaneti the Dadeshqelianis, in order to use the productive pastures in the mountains of Dali Gorge. After the first occupation of Georgia by Russia, the Abkhazians stopped paying taxes, as a result of which, there often took place attacks between the Svanetian principality and the Abkhazians. Even after the Russian government shot a national hero of Georgia Konstantine (Murzakan) Dadeshqeliani, and abolished the Svanetian principality until the 80-90s of the 19. century, the Svaneti Chubekhevi community population demanded from the government to restore justice and to impose taxes on the Abkhazian cattlemen (because of the mountains of Teltobi, Larakvakva, Darchvichencholi and the territories around them which were used as pastures by Abkhazs) (Nijaradze, 1962; Gelovani, 2003, p.42-43).
Undoubtedly, neither the ethnical Abkhazians (Afsua, as they call themselves) were in better conditions during the Russian regime. In 1840 rebellion broke out, which was brutally defeated by the conquerors. But in 1867, Russia forcedly resettled bigger part of the Tsebeli population to Ottoman Empire, as well as the Abkhazians living in Dali Gorge, as a result of the Georgians genocide. There appeared the so called “free lands fund”, where the government purposely settled only the Russians (from the middle of Russia), “this population was based (… ) in Lata, Ajara, Gentuishi (…) there were founded the Russian monasteries, churches” (Aslanishvili, 1933, p.16). The government harshly opposed settlement of Georgians there. They didn’t give the right to Georgians to live in the villages, therefore, Svans started cutting forests and the first residents lived in the woods during 5-6 years. The Georgians did not have the right to cultivate free grounds for long time (Aslanishvili, 1933, p. 17-18). In spite of such difficulties by 1926 there were 29 Georgian villages in the Dali Gorge.
Georgian population of Dali gorge was deprived of opportunity to have the educational and medical establishments for a long period, people lived in unbearable conditions.
The main branches of farming were developed: cattle-breeding, agriculture, bee-farming and fruit trees were planted.
Traditional life of Dali Gorge differed a little from the ethnographical being of Svaneti. The Georgians living here kept a tradition to celebrate all the old Georgian religious days, which are met in Svaneti today.
After the second occupation of Georgia by Russians the Autonomous district of Abkhazia was divided into 5 uyezds (districts). Kodori Gorge entered into various administrative borders: e.g. in 1930 it was in Sukhumi district, under the name of Azhara Agricultural Council. According to 1977 data, Dali Gorge was included into Gulripshi district (Georgia SSR… 177, p.132). After the liberation of Georgia in 1991, Dali Gorge was within the frames of Gulripshi region, Azhara community of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia.
The Georgian cultural monuments of Dali Gorge are known to the foreigner authors of ancient ages and the historians of the later period. The most important two fortresses in this region were maintained up to this time: Bukulusi/Bokeri Fortress was built on the upper reaches of the River Kodori, estuary of Gvandra and Kuluchi. It controlled the main road of Egrisi, leading to Alanya. Chkhalta campus – “Rkinis (iron) fortress”, which is situated on the estuary of River Chkhalta and Kodori, on the way to the Qlukhori Chain, connected this region with Circassy. Such tower ruins are met along the entire road until the chain and with their help the Georgians protected their borders.
It is known that in Georgia and especially in Abkhazia and Svaneti, the Christ teaching was preached by the Apostles themselves, (Japaridze, 1996, p.20-55; Abkhazia, 2007, p.75-78). Among the Georgian Christian monuments in Dali Gorge it is worth to mention Shikeri St. Georgia Church (village Shikeri, high hill between the rivers Gvandra and Sakeni) and Ajara St. Georgia Church. Both of them have been restored and the Georgian ecclesiastic men still live there in quite bad conditions.
At this moment, there are about 2600 Georgian refugees from the Dali Gorge.
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