450 churches of discord

The Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia (DAACG) does not claim possession of the churches belonging to the Georgian Orthodox Church, however, it requires the transmission of its property of about 450 churches belonging to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

 

This is the key idea of an contradictory rebuttal letter received by Vestnik Kavkaza from DAACG in connection with the publication of the article "Armenia wants to win some 450 churches of Georgia in court", devoted to an analysis of the political aspects of the DAACG's treatment on "return of Churches".

 

In the letter, which consists of ten items, the Diocese reports its activities as work for the return of "property of The Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia confiscated during the Soviet period," which has no political motivations and reminds that the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Muslim community and the Jewish community have asked the Georgian state for the restitution of their property. 

 

In the document, the full text of which is available to the editors of Vestnik Kavkaza, the fact of referring to Irakli Garibashvili is not refuted. The issue indicated in the call of the head of the Diocese, Vazgen Mirzakhanian, was the reason for writing the article, and attracted the attention of the Georgian public. 

 

In the first paragraph DAACG accuses the news agency of inciting sectarian strife in the country, as the "Armenian Diocese in Georgia made no claim to any of the churches belonging to the Georgian Orthodox Church." In the second, it maintains that the question of granting the status of legal entity of public law to DAACG is not related to the issue of restitution of confiscated property in the Soviet period. In the third, it denies the introduction of a post-Soviet secret principle similar to the principle of "the inviolability of frontiers", stating that "the Georgian Orthodox Church has appropriated many temples without any consent from the Armenian Apostolic Church, which acted as Armenian churches and serve the religious needs of the parish of the Armenian Apostolic church in Georgia, since its inception and before Georgia entered the Soviet Union."

 

One of the DAACG representatives, commenting on Bishop Vazgen's treatment, said that the letter to the Prime Minister talks about "Georgianized Armenian churches" These words cast doubt on the validity of the claims in their first paragraph, because "Georgianized Armenian churches" are temples owned by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which, as was stated in denial, "the Armenian Diocese in Georgia doesn't claim."At the same time, the first paragraph contradicts the third point, which said that DAACG reports that GOC has assigned a number of Armenian churches. The Patriarch's secretary, archpriest Michael Botkoveli, takes note of unfounded claims."At first we did not believe that DAACG addressed the Prime Minister of Georgia with the letter to return 450 churches. We do not believe because of the complete absurdity of such a claim. Are there so many churches in Armenia, if they counted 450 Armenian churches in Georgia? The DAACG's handling of Garibashvili is another attempt to complicate relations with the Georgian church. We have to hold a conversation with them to clarify some issues," he said.According to the archpriest, the approach which was elected by DAACG is "very unconstructive," because, as part of the restitution of property, it can be only "a few churches and with the participation of historians and art critics." Meanwhile, the existence of Georgian-based Armenian churches in Tbilisi is denied in the fourth paragraph of letter, because "none of the Armenian churches in Georgia was built on the basis of the Georgian temple, although we unfortunately cannot say the same about the Georgian church," (for example, the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi). The fifth paragraph explains that DAACG wishes only to restore justice, because "confiscated property was returned to the Georgian Orthodox Church, and wasn't to the Armenian Diocese."In the sixth paragraph an interstate nature of the dispute is refuted, because "the question of restitution of Armenian churches in Georgia is a domestic matter."These two points contradict each other, as the status of a legal entity directly related to the issue of restitution of property, because giving to the Diocese the status of a subject makes it a subject of Georgian law and international law.The fifth and sixth paragraphs overlap (as political momentum in the conflict arises because of its interstate nature) and do not include the famous visit to Georgia of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, His Holiness Karekin II, when there was a video on social networks in which the Armenian Patriarch of Georgia chastised Ilia II for refusing to give DAACG legal status.

One of the DAACG representatives, commenting on Bishop Vazgen's treatment, said that the letter to the Prime Minister talks about "Georgianized Armenian churches". These words cast doubt on the validity of the claims in their first paragraph, because "Georgianized Armenian churches" are temples owned by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which, as was stated in denial, "the Armenian Diocese in Georgia doesn't claim." At the same time, the first paragraph contradicts the third point, which said that DAACG reports that GOC has assigned a number of Armenian churches.

 

The Patriarch's secretary, archpriest Michael Botkoveli, takes note of unfounded claims. "At first we did not believe that DAACG addressed the Prime Minister of Georgia with the letter to return 450 churches. We do not believe because of the complete absurdity of such a claim. Are there so many churches in Armenia, if they counted 450 Armenian churches in Georgia? The DAACG's handling of Garibashvili is another attempt to complicate relations with the Georgian church. We have to hold a conversation with them to clarify some issues," he said.According to the archpriest, the approach which was elected by DAACG is "very unconstructive", because, as part of the restitution of property, it can be only "a few churches and with the participation of historians and art critics." 

 

Meanwhile, the existence of Georgian-based Armenian churches in Tbilisi is denied in the fourth paragraph of letter, because "none of the Armenian churches in Georgia was built on the basis of the Georgian temple, although we unfortunately cannot say the same about the Georgian church", (for example, the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi). The fifth paragraph explains that DAACG wishes only to restore justice, because "confiscated property was returned to the Georgian Orthodox Church, and wasn't to the Armenian Diocese."

 

In the sixth paragraph an interstate nature of the dispute is refuted, because "the question of restitution of Armenian churches in Georgia is a domestic matter." These two points contradict each other, as the status of a legal entity directly related to the issue of restitution of property, because giving to the Diocese the status of a subject makes it a subject of Georgian law and international law.

 

The fifth and sixth paragraphs overlap (as political momentum in the conflict arises because of its interstate nature) and do not include the famous visit to Georgia of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, His Holiness Karekin II, when there was a video on social networks in which the Armenian Patriarch of Georgia chastised Ilia II for refusing to give DAACG legal status.

 

In the seventh paragraph there is a charge of inciting ethnic hatred, because the Diocese is named in the article as the "Armenian side", but the fifth paragraph of the letter cancels it out: because the Diocese claims the legal nature of a property dispute, it is the Armenian side, opposing the Georgian side - in this expression there is no indication of any DAACG affiliation to the Armenian nation, nor the Armenian state.

 

The eighth paragraph includes an observation about repeated consideration of the restitution of property confiscated from religious minorities during the Soviet period. But there is no refutation of the appeal to UNESCO in connection with the restitution of churches, although a few days ago, in an interview with the Georgian edition of "Kvira", the head of the legal department of DAACG, Levon Asahanyan, strongly rejected allegations of such plans. 

 

The ninth paragraph states that Bishop Vazgen's expression of meeting Chakhalyan "as a hero and fighter against Georgian imperialism", is "inappropriate exaggeration on a religious theme." The evaluation of cordiality, of course, is a subjective element, but the expression "fighter against Georgian imperialism" is right, because it ironically represents Chakhalyan's separatist activities. 


In the last paragraph of the letter, DAACG informs that the State Agency for Religious Affairs was created in 2014, which is competent to contribute to a resolution of the Georgian religious organizations's problems. This item corresponds to reality and does not contradict the other, but does not apply to the content of the article titled "Armenia wants to win some 450 churches of Georgia in court."

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