A broad borderland

An uncharted story published by Città Nuova

“Each travel reportage has a different approach; mine is Christians’ presence in the Caucasus. Indeed, I consider it the most appropriate magnifying glass, enabling to grasp the different areas of conflict – or pacification – in the region, since Christians’ presence dates back to the epoch of the Apostles. Indeed, Christianity is part and parcel of the mountains, of the stones, of the brick walls of the houses and of people’s hearts”, wrote Michele Zanzucchi in his reportage: “The broad borderland: Christians in the Caucasus”, published by Città Nuova.A broad, immense borderland. According to the author, the Caucasus “is a wide and varied borderland, extending from the Russian steppe to the Iranian desert, more or less 500 km in a straight line: an immense border, populated my millenary civilizations” and by various ethic groups, “whose trail left no wall remains, but who still exist, proud of existing. Diversities strive to coexist and respect one another within Caucasus’s unity. Nonetheless, they have been there for thousands of years”. “The entire region, with the long mountain range linking the Caspian and the Black Sea was under Soviet rule until the 1990s”, Zanzucchi points out. “Peoples’ coexistence and religious sentiments were subjected to violence. Faith, cherished in the hearts individuals, “more than elsewhere managed to survive” and “began to spread”. But “the fundamental values of truth and freedom, of solidarity and sharing have been deeply wounded. The common good appears to have disappeared, freedom is reduced to a consumerist equation, slander is commonplace in human relationships”. Moreover, as often happens, “where there is so much hatred, barbarism and robbery, there is an equal growth of love, civility and generosity”, with exemplary cases of peaceful coexistence. Christians at a crossroads. Christians in the Caucasus are called to address three challenges. “Ecumenism is the primary challenge, notably Orthodox-Catholic dialogue (considering also the Armenian-Apostolic Church as Orthodox), in a land where the former constitutes a small minority”. The second challenge is “inter-religious dialogue, which in the Caucasus, the borderland between the Christian and Muslim worlds par excellence, mainly involves Muslim-Christian relations and clashes. Other religions are also present”, but “Islam, which is mostly tolerant, is at the centre of the dialogue”. “It is neither Arab nor Persian. Most Muslims are Sunni but there are also Shiites, and their rules often stem from these traditions – like those on gender equality – which find little foundations in the Shari’a”. Moreover, “violence and terrorism, a heavy burden in the lives of the Caucasus’ populations, are not linked to religious matters. Rather, they are the product of ethic and/or political intolerance. And while hatred often dresses a religious attire, we must not let ourselves be deceived”. The third challenge, “which is perhaps the most cumbersome”, is the confrontation with atheism and agnosticism, and with practical materialism which replaced dialectic materialism”. The apartment building in Shogentsukova Road. Natalia Belikh is a journalist. She lives in a condominium in Shogentsukova road, in Nalcik (the capital of the small independent Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria). ” Kabardino-Balkaria, Northern Caucaus, Europe, and the rest of the world could learn a lot from this apartment building – said Michele Zanzucchi -. Here the North-American ‘melting pot’ integration model that leaves everything unaltered is unknown, and so is France-style integration – leading to changes in one’s cultural traditions-. Nor is there a London-style form of coexistence, whereby traditions are preserved under the apparel of egalitarianism. ‘This is the place of true integration’, explains Natalia. And to prove it, she opens the doors of the apartments”. On the second floor a woman says: “My husband was Ossete, mio brother-in-law is Georgian, my sister married to a Moldavian, my cousin to a Daghestanian, my niece to a German! How could we wage war against one another when we’re all related? And religion cannot wage a war either. We’re Muslim, but we know nothing of Islam. We remember God only when we need Him'”.The sculptor of crosses. Continuing his trip across Armenia (“the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as the official religion, before Constantine”), in a narrow street in the centre of Yerevan, Zanzucchi met a sculptor of crosses. “‘I carved this khatchkar for Tonino Guerra’, he said. Bas-relief crosses are his masterpieces. I asked him why he carves them: ‘It’s the tradition of our people. There are so many crosses in lives. The least we can do is try to make them seem beautiful'”.

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