Georgia: Photo exhibition highlights fragile Dukhobor culture
On 20th of March, 2014 Europe House hosted a photo exhibition entitled “Dukhobors in Georgia” by the famous Georgian photographer Natela Grigalashvili. The exhibition was held within the framework of the Regional Art and Culture project in the South Caucasus.
The Dukhobors are a Russian ethno-religious group that has inhabited the Ninotsminda municipality of the Samtskhe Javakheti region of Georgia, bordering with Turkey and Armenia, since the 1840s. The Dukhobors today reside in Russia, the Caucasus and Canada. The word “Dukhobor” means spirit wrestler and the name was originally given to them by an Orthodox Archbishop in the Russian town of Ekaterinoslav in 1785. The Archbishop and the Orthodox Church believed that the Dukhobors were wrestling against the spirit of God because of their opposition to the institition of the church. Today, Dukhobors say that they are wrestling with their souls in order to fulfill the Ten Commandments. Traditionally, Dukhobors reject all types of religious and secular authority.
In Tsarist Russia during the late 18th Century, many sectarians were persecuted and exiled to Siberia. Since they denied the authority of religious and secular leaders by refusing to do military service, paying taxes and challenged serfdom, an ultimatum was given to the sectarians either to convert to orthodoxy or to leave for the newly conquered Caucasus region. Most of them decided to go into exile.
In 1839-1845 Dukhobors settled in two regions of Georgia – Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti. Dukhobors believe the region of Javakheti to be a holy place, but they are gradually leaving the region nowadays due to economical and social hardship. It is estimated that there are only about 150 Dukhobors residing in Javakheti today. Among several Dukhobor villages, Gorelovka is the most preserved community in Georgia. Families are volunteering to take care of the so called Sirotskiy dom (orphanage) which is located in Gorelovka and is considered as a holy place. Recently Sirotsky dom has been granted the status of cultural heritage of Georgia by the Ministry of Culture and Monuments Protection.
Georgian Dukhobors managed to preserve identify and traditions throughout the Soviet period and afterwards. However under political and economical pressure many Dukhobors emigrate and their unique heritage and traditions might disappear with the last inhabitants.
Click on the gallery below to see Natela Grigalashvili's photos of Dukhobor.
Click on image for larger view