The crisp silence embracing the mountains of Khulo municipality is only broken by the Mullah’s calls to prayer - in between, the 20,000-odd people living among the highest peaks of Georgia’s southern region of Ajara, live a simple, agrestal life.
Khulo has the largest Muslim community among ethnic Georgians - the 2002 census showed that 30 percent of Adjarans, 115,261, considered themselves Muslim, and 64 percent, about 240,000, Orthodox Christians. Georgia, whose population is vastly Orthodox Christian, features another large Muslim community in the east which comprises mostly of Azerbaijanis.
At 2pm, when most Georgian pupils are packing their school folders to go home, their Khulo peers are heading to one of the 30 religious boarding schools in the area - in these schools, they take all the regular subjects, plus two hours of Koran reading classes and elementary Arabic. The regular monthly fee is about 50 GEL ($ 20). Funded by various organizations, including the World Islamic Union (a Turkish organization), the Georgian Muslim Union and the Association of Aid for Georgian Youth, they are attended by over 1,000 children.
This project is an attempt to shed light on Khulo’s youth, particularly boys, living in Khulo’s surrounding villages. The kids’ days are split between regular and religious schools as well as their aspirations for the future.
The centre of Khulo, is in the town of Khulo Municipality, which includes 78 villages in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, in southwest Georgia. The city features a mosque, a religious boarding school and an Islamic Charity organization.
Zaur (centre) is in his last year of high school. He regularly attends Khulo’s religious all-boys boarding school, where he currently spends his days preparing for the National University Entrance Exams.
The 18-year-old Zaur says that religion does not prevent him from living in peace, loving his homeland or dreaming of a better future. “Christians also live in Khulo. When we have something to celebrate, we are one with each other - we sing with one spirit and in the same language. When we have something to cry about, both I and they know that we would never leave each other alone in sorrow,” explains Zaur.
A common room in Khulo’s Religious Boarding School. Here pupils can read, watch TV or rest.
Village Adadzeebi in Khulo Municipality. This is one of the religious boarding schools that locals call the Koran-Course. The middle schoolers are praying together with their teacher, Zebur Iremadze.
Pupils at the Koran-Course also take civic education classes in addition to religious ones.
Otar, 12, is a Koran-Course pupil. “I study both in a regular school and here [a religious school]. They don’t teach us [about] religion in the regular school. We get along well in both schools among the kids. Few christians also study in regular schools and [a difference in] religion does not prevent us from being friends,” says Otar.
Tornike, 12, also goes to the koran-Course school. “I was born in Adadzeebi village. My whole family is Muslim and so am I. Currently I am learning about the rules of religious service in Islam. It’s one of the classes we have here in the [religious] school.”
Giorgi, 12, Kouran-Course pupil in Adadzeebi village.
Zaur, 13, only goes to a regular school in the Tabakhmela village.
Few young people do not attend religious boarding schools. They claim that their lives are not so different from those kids’, who go to them - like everyone else, boys usually spend their free time playing football outside with their friends.
Tsablana village. Kids have a long way to go as they are returning home from the local public school. The village is about 20km from Khulo and they rarely visit the town. Most of them spend their free time playing at each other’s homes.
Editors: Ana Lomtadze and Monica Ellena