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In summer last (2012) year I visited Georgia, and I was with my friends in David Gareja. They were tired, and I decided to climb a hill south of the monastery, on the top of which is a small chapel. A bit below, I found a rocky monastery:

David Gareja - hill David Gareja - paintings

After I returned, they said the taxi driver was angry because he had to wait so long and he said I had crossed Azerbaijan border, and there's a border conflict and I could get shot.

However, there were leaves with prayers in Georgian, left by Georgian pilgrims (at least I think they were prayers, because I can't read Georgian):

David Gareja - prayers

So I don't think that entering there is restricted. I didn't see any soldiers there, and if it was really such a conflict area, I would expect at least a few soldiers observing the area, as well as border markers.

So what does the situation actually look like? Is this hill really a conflict area? Is it really prohibited to access the monastery? Or are the pilgrims' and tourists' visits to the area allowed/tolerated? And the taxi driver was only saying such stories because he would like the tourists to see the monastery below and leave after 20 minutes, so he can take another group the same day?

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Funny I was sure we had a question about this before while I was in Georgia and Azeri soldiers were turning back tourists. –  hippietrail Sep 11 '13 at 3:58
    
I visited the same monastery in summer 2012, there were many tourists there (and also a few Georgian soldiers patrolling, and they were very nice to us). The border might be disputed, but this specific monastery is a tourist attraction and there's no way there's a problem visiting it whatsoever –  nivniv Feb 24 at 9:18
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The David Gareja monastery area is very close to the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan, a few hundred meters away. If you went wandering in the hills, it's quite possible that you might enter Azerbaijan.

The border is disputed. While the two countries agree on where the official border lays, Georgia contends that this location was artificially imposed by the Soviet Union and does not correspond to the historical border. Azerbaijan contends that while the area was indeed at some point in Georgia, it was in Azerbaijan before. Georgia has been trying to swap the Azerbaijani part of the David Gareja area for some other territory on the border since the two countries became independent in 1991, but in vain.

Azerbaijan and Georgia haven't gone to war, but tension goes and ebbs. In May 2012, Azerbaijan deployed soldiers in the area and closed the Azerbaijani area to tourists. This only lasted a few weeks, but the issue remains unresolved.

I don't know what the situation is right now, nor whether the particular cave that you visited was in Azerbaijan. The taxi driver may have voiced real concerns or may have exaggerated, but this is indeed a disputed area if not an open conflict zone.

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Oh yes, it's exactly the place I was (on the photos in that blog article). The photos in my post are in my blog here: kosowka.blogspot.de/2012/10/gruzja-2012-david-gareja.html and I've found something similar: anywhere-but-home.com/david-gareja. We all were attracted to the same hill :) –  Łukasz 웃 L ツ Sep 11 '13 at 4:57
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