From the history of work of Georgian missionary Nikoloz Samarganishvili in Ossetia (Twenties of the XIX century)
31/07/2012 14:24
Mzia Tkavashvili
History and Ethnology Institute, scientific worker of the modern and contemporary history department, Doctor of Historical Sciences

In order to extend their political influence on North Caucasians Russian authorities actively used missionary work along with military expedition and migration politics. Starting from the first decade of the XIX century mass Islamization of North Caucasians started. In order to give an organized character to preaching of Orthodox Christianity among mountainous peoples by the decree of the Russian Emperor Alexander I in 1814 was resumed “religious committee of Ossetia”3, 234 that was based on a project of Archbishop of Gori Dositeos Pitskhelauri.4, 295

Georgian religious persons were actively involved in converting pagan population of the Caucasus to Orthodox Christianity. According to the decree of the Russian Holy Synod of April 9, 1820 awards of various degrees were granted to archpriests: Nikoloz Samarganishvili, Ioseb Eliozidze, Petre Avaliani, Besarion Iluridze, Vasil Tseradze, Atanase Machavariani, Giorgi Amiridze, Zakaria Mamatsashvili, Iakob Lomouri, Alexandre Fyodorov; priests: Gabriel Sadzaglishvili and Iakob Zamtarauli.2, 85

Russian authorities especially noted a great service that Nikoloz Samarganishvili who was engaged in missionary work among Ossetians of Digori and Basiani, had done to the matter of converting mountaineers to Christianity. As a result of his work by 1820 “both said people were ready to convert to Christianity and in a very short time he managed to turn 230 souls to Orthodox Christianity”.1, 402

Nikoloz Samarganishvili believed that together with very difficult and responsible work of converting of pagan Ossetian population to Christianity he was to be actively involved in solving problems of local residents. The Russian authorities used to create problems for people of Digori and Basiani in their trade with Vladikavkaz and Mozdok. And prohibition of communication with plains threatened mountainous people with hunger. Nikoloz Samarganishvili tried to achieve for Russian authorities to give those people the same privileges that Kists, Ingush, Tagauris enjoyed at the time.1, 403, 404

In the autumn of 1820 Nikoloz Samarganishvili came to Tbilisi. He brought with him three Digori noblemen and managed to arrange their meeting with Yermolov himself. As it seems, the meeting had no results since after that audience Nikoloz Samarganishvili was asking in his letter to Exarch of Georgia Metropolitan Teopilakte to assist him in the matter of regulation of economic relations between Ossetians of Digori, Basiani and Kurtati with Vladikavkaz and Mozdok.1, 403 It should be also noted that Georgian archpriest was also an advocate of residents of Kurtati where he once preached.

Nikoloz Samarganishvili tried to solve another and quite serious problem of people of Digori and Basiani – Circassian attacks. The latters saw strengthening of Russia’s positions in Ossetians’ converting to Orthodoxy and it was followed by their attacks becoming frequent in the beginning of the twenties of the XIX century. The Georgian missionary asked the Russian authorities of the Caucasus “to take steps to protect those people that are soon to join the Orthodox congregation”.1, 402

Yermolov wrote the following in response to the letter of Exarch Teopilakte (June 27, 1820): “ I know about a success in converting of mountainous Ossetians into Christianity but at the moment I cannot defend them from Circassians since for this our army needs to permanently be in Kabarda and not Russian soldiers appearing there from time to time. Our actions have no results since Circassians avoid direct fight, take refuge in mountains and thus remain unpunished”.1, 402 Yermolov also called for patience also those Ossetian deputies that came to Tbilisi: “you have endured a great deal, do this for some time again”.1, 402

At that time a question of building of Salugardan-Tskhinvali road was actively discussed at the Emperor court. All kinds of reconnaissance work always caused discontent among Caucasians. This was well known to the Russian authorities that tried to use authority of Nikoloz Samarganishvili to solve this problem. By the decree of August 15, 1820 Nikoloz Samarganishvili was charged to gather and send to Russian authorities information on the shortest and most convenient route of this road. It seems that Samarganishvili took into consideration negative attitude of Ossetians towards this issue and deliberately avoided fulfillment of this task of the Russian authorities. In his letter of October 6, 1820 Samarganishvili wrote that “he was so occupied with the converting Ossetians to Christianity that he could not fulfill this task”.1, 402

The Georgian missionary tried to use great interest of the Russian authorities towards the road for resolving needs of Ossetians. He wrote to Georgia’s Exarch Metropolitan Teopilakte that if the Russian authorities did not solve problems of people of Digori, Basiani and Kurtati the latters would not allow Russia-sent engineers to study roads.1, 402, 403 Attempts of Samarganishvili were successful. And though due to the political situation Russia could not to stop Circassian attacks people of Digori, Basiani and Kurtati were allowed to have unlimited trade with Vladikavkaz and Mozdok.1, 403, 404

1. A. Records collected by the Commission of the Caucasian Archaeographic, eds. Hell. Berger, vol. VI, part I, Tbilisi, 1874.
2. History of Georgian hierarchy obrasheniya enclosed with Christianity and other gorskaih Ossetian peoples of the 1st of January 1825, Moscow, 1853.
3. E. Bulbulashvili, from the history of the "Religious committee of Ossetia", Questions of Modern and Contemporary History, 2 ed. Av. Songulashvili, Tb., 2007.
4. M. Tkavashvili, the question of possession Ksani eristavis in projects of Dositeos Pitskhelauri "Religious committee of Ossetia", Problems of Modern and Contemporary History, 2 (6), ed. Av. Songulashvili, Tb., 2009.

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