Ajarians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Islamicization of Christian Ajaria was a painful process. For a long time the campaign against the Georgian Orthodox church failed to achieve the desired result. As a result of coercive Islamicization an unprecedented demographic crisis occurred in Ajaria. A significant part of the Christian population perished in the struggle against their Muslim conquerors; another segment was compelled to emigrate to the neighboring Christian provinces of Georgia, whereas those that remained were cruelly oppressed by the local feudal lords or became victims of Turkish tyranny. All of these events led to the Islamicization of the province. The Ajarians, although they adopted the principal norms of Islam (circumcision, forms of matrimony, name day, the celebration of Qurban-Bayram, etc.), preserved at the same time many remnants of Christian religious practice in their communal and domestic rituals, even though they were unaware of the Christian origin of such practices. For example, the ritual tracing of the cross on flat maize-meal cakes, the use of traditional Georgian symbols (e.g., the cross with a grapevine wound around it) as ornamentation in the mosques, the careful tending of old Christian graves with stone crosses, and the ruins of churches and monasteries are all instances of the preservation and endurance of Christian symbolism. Of particular interest for the understanding of the dualistic nature of the Ajarían worldview is the interdiction of visits to churches, which, according to superstition, might bring on a psychic disintegration. All of these factors indicate that Islam displaced the Christian world-view from Ajarían self-awareness, but Ajarians somehow preserved it at a subconscious level. In Ajaria up to the end of the nineteenth century there were still families who secretly maintained the Christian faith and performed Christian rituals. After the Sovietization of Georgia, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, the Communist party carried out a bitter antireligious campaign, directed especially against Christianity throughout Georgia but also against Islam in Ajaria. All mosques save one were closed, and a number of clergymen were suppressed. As a result, religious indifferentism, if not full-blown atheism, became widespread in Ajaria. At the present time a rather widespread process of voluntary reconversion to Christianity is taking place in Ajaria. As a result, Islamic beliefs and the taking of Islamic names are best preserved among the oldest generations. In the middle-aged generation religious indifferentism is widely represented, along with names of a pan-Georgian or pan-Soviet type. A fairly high percentage of young people have been baptized, and traditional Georgian, especially Christian, names predominate.

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