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Regions of Georgia
Comprising the small river valleys of the Ardoti, Shatili, Arkhoti and the Aragvi, the province borders with Chechnya and is included in the present day Dusheti district, Mtskheta-Mtianeti region, Georgia. The province covers 405.3 square miles (1050 km²), with a winter population of approximately 3,200 people. The largest villages are Barisakho and Shatili.

The territory of Khevsureti, together with the neighboring area of Pshavi was known to medieval writers under the joint designation Pkhovi. Despite the sporadic invasions by the royal troops, medieval Georgia was never able to establish a typical feudal system and the civil code of the community remained based on the ancient traditions and values incorporating chivalry, courtly love, the respect of individuality and family and the devoution to the homeland. The region adopted Christianity as an official religion several centuries after St. Nino and historically, the highlander communities of Khevsureti and the neighbouring areas enjoyed a degree of autonomy from the royal authorities. They were free of typical feudal relations and submitted directly to the monarch. They defended the borders and provided crack troops for the royal guards.

There has long existed a hypothesis, coming from descriptions by Russian serviceman and ethnographer Arnold Zisserman who spent 25 years (1842-67) in the Caucasus, that these Georgian highlanders were descendants of the last Crusaders because their folk culture – the material, social, and religious practices – greatly resembled those of the Crusaders. American traveler Richard Halliburton (1900-1939) saw and recorded the customs of the Khevsur tribe in 1935.

Even into the twentieth century, the Khevsur men, dressed in chain mail and armed with broadswords, wore garments decorated with crosses. They had a strict system of physical training in martial arts preserved as a warrior dance Khevsuruli, one of the finest examples of the Georgian choreography. They worshiped flags adorned with crosses and considered themselves permanent members of the army of the sacred flags and guards of Georgian kings.

Their religion is a unique mixture of Georgian Orthodox Christianity and pre-Christian cults. They worship sacred places locally known as jvari ("cross’), khati ("icon") or salotsavi ("sanctuary"). Aside from their religious character, these were the sites where the locals discussed and decided common matters such as raids against enemies, peace-making, appeals of various characters, etc. Even in a Soviet period of harsh restrictions against any religious activities, each year the Georgian highlanders, together with the group of self-appointed priests organized and performed peaceful crusade-pilgrimages. Some disobedience offered by the Khevsurs to the Soviet ideology was a reason for obligatory migration to the plain initiated by the government in the 1950s. As a result, many high-mountainous villages were deserted. Economic hardship of the last two decades also increased a tendency towards migration.

As other mountainous areas of Georgia, Khevsureti is characterized by a great diversity of traditions and customs. They speak a local dialect of the Georgian language that resembles the literary Georgian of the Middle Ages and retain many of their ancient traditions including element of folk rituals. Law of blood revenge was still alive in the twentieth century.

Musical traditions also resemble music of the Middle Ages. Khevsureti is famous for its Medieval ballads and folk music. Khevsureti Chokha is different from the classic Georgian, because it has more cross decorations and more powerful color balance and is generally short, shaped like a trapezoid.

The architcture of Khevsureti is mostly characterized as fortress style and numbers of towers are located in the mountains as a sign of constant watchfulness of their enemies. Khevsures are known by their warfare with the peoples of the Northern Caucasus including Chechens, Kists, and people of Dagestan. Due to the complexity and the lack of industrialization of the Greater Caucasus, the Northern caucasian tribes used to attack and rob mountain-dwelling Georgians. Well-known Georgian poet Vazha Pshavela described the warfare of the Khevsurs in his poems. One of his most famous poems is Aluda Ketelauri, a young Khevsur, famous of his warrior skills and bravery. One day, after the Khevsur village was invaded by the Kists (Chechens), Aluda followed the invaders and killed both of the robbers. After killing the Chechen called Mussah, Aluda starting crying for the warrior after realizing the bravery of the Chechen and his dedication to his religion. When Aluda returned back to Shatili, he told to the village how much he admired the Chechen hero, but the community was shocked by his admiration of the pagan and the village ended up condemning Aluda and expelling him from the community.

The Encyclopedia Britannica reported in 1911 that many curious customs still prevailed among the Khevsurs, as for instance the imprisonment of the woman during childbirth in a lonely hut, round which the husband parades, firing off his musket at intervals. After delivery, food was surreptitiously brought to the mother, who was kept in her prison a month, after which the hut was burnt. One of the more striking features of the traditional cultures of Khevsureti was the premarital relationship known as sc’orproba (or c'ac'loba as it is known in Pshavi). A young couple could lie together during the night with a sword placed between them. Sexual intercourse between the pair was strictly forbidden. Any man who breached this rule was condemned to death.

Dozens of fortifications, sanctuaries and churches are scattered across the province. Chief of these are the Khakhmati fortress, Akhieli fortress, Lebaiskari fortress, Mutso fortress, Shatili fortifications, Gudani Cross, and the Anatori Cross.
  About Georgia