Ancient monastery in middle of Caucasus border dispute

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DAVIT GAREJI, Georgia -- Perched high on a cliff side in the remote borderlands of eastern Georgia, the ancient Davit Gareji monastery hardly seems the kind of place that could be at the centre of a modern-day diplomatic dispute.

Monks settled on this arid land in the early 600s, less than 200 years after Georgia became one of the first countries to adopt Christianity. They carved their homes into the stone and over the centuries built churches and towers that loom overhead on the long road to the monastery.

A handful of black-robed Georgian Orthodox monks still live here much as their forebears did, maintaining long-held traditions of seclusion and reflection. The modern world intrudes only in the form of occasional tourists on day-trips from the Georgian capital Tbilisi, about 85 kilometres (55 miles) away...

From one side of the ridge, eastern Georgia spreads out below at the foot of the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains. On the other, a steep drop leads down to the western steppes of Muslim Azerbaijan.

But neither country can agree on exactly where the border lies and tempers have flared in recent weeks with both sides claiming the land Davit Gareji sits on as their own.

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