ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

Smugglers have replaced a monolithic pillar with a tree trunk of the same size at the Öşvank Monastery, a historic Georgian structure located in Erzurum province in eastern Turkey.
The Georgian government had decided to finance the restoration of the church in Çamlıyamaç village in Uzundere district before the pillar was swiped.
Villagers claimed that tourists visiting the church had taken away some stone reliefs and pillars. Smugglers first took small pieces. Finally they swiped the 1.5-meter monolithic pillar that weighs tons. They put a tree trunk in its place to prevent the collapse of the monastery. �Villagers used the stones in the construction of their houses. Illegal excavations damaged the structure. However, the church is being better protected since it has been registered,� said Uzundere District Governor Bedrettin Özmen. He said a Georgian delegation conducted preliminary works in the church within the context of the protocol signed by the two countries' Culture Ministries. Turkey will restore an Ottoman mosque in Georgia in exchange.
�More than 2,000 Georgian tourists visit the church each year. Its restoration would be a great contribution to tourism in the region,� said Uzundere Mayor Halis Özsoy.
One of the most significant historical structures in eastern Anatolia, the Öşvank Monastery was constructed between 963-973 A.D. and was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and donated by the Bagratid brothers, sons of the Georgian Curopalate Adernese, King David and Prince Bagrat. It preserved its importance until the end of the 15th century. In 1985 the Culture Ministry designated it as a monument to be protected and preserved, and the monastery was included on the national heritage list. It remains an important destination for Georgian tourists visiting Turkey.