GOERGIANS AT THEIR BEST
Posted 03 December 2008 - 01:20 PM
ACTIONS OF PROTEST AGAINST ENCROACHMENTS ON ARMENIAN CHURCHES IN GEORGIA BEING HELD IN YEREVAN
Dec 2, 2008
YEREVAN, 03.12.08. DE FACTO. An action of protest against encroachments
committed against Armenian cultural-historical monuments, in part,
churches situated on the territory of Georgia, started this morning in
front of the U. N. representation in the center of Yerevan. Students
of various higher educational institutions of Armenia participate in
the action of protest.
To note, the attempts of desecration of Armenian Surb Norashen Church
have been recently made in Georgia.
Father Tariel, a clergyman of a Georgian church situated in the
vicinity of Surb Norashen, initiated the construction of a fence,
using symbols peculiar of Georgian Orthodox Church. After holding
talks with Georgian authorities, under the pressure of Armenian party
and Georgia's Armenian public Tbilisi City Hall rendered a decision
on the construction's illegality and fence's dismantling. However,
the directions were not followed.
Moreover, some time later father Tariel made new encroachments,
in part, an attempt of moving the graves of patrons of art
Tamamshevs. Georgian Eparchy of Armenian Apostolic Church also
protested against encroachments on Surb Norashen.
The attempt of defilement of two graves of the Tamamshevs was again
made in Tbilisi on November 16. The act of defilement was made
under the guidance of father Tariel Sikinchelashvili, who did it,
in his =0 Awords, "within the frames of his private program on
improvement of the territory adjoining the Armenian Church". The
Ombudsman's representatives and patrol were called to the place of
incident. Under the pressure of those present, father Tariel and a
group of workers-accessories had to put the tombstones back.
Posted 03 December 2008 - 01:23 PM
Yerevan students' rally protests treatment of Armenian churches in Georgia
Yerevan, December 3, Interfax - More than 2,000 students of Armenian universities held a rally on Wednesday protesting against a recent series of events involving Armenian churches in Georgia, including the November 16 desecration of two tombstones on the graves of known Armenians outside Tbilisi's St. Norashen church at the initiative of Georgian Priest Tariel Sikinchelashvili.
The students gathered outside the headquarters of the UN office in Yerevan. They then walked toward the building of the Georgian embassy in Armenia and handed over a letter to Georgian Ambassador Revaz Gachechiladze, demanding that "this illegal conduct of Georgian clergymen be stopped and an appropriate assessment be given to what has happened."
Several years ago, Priest Sikinchelashvili tried to install tombstones with inscriptions in the Georgian language on the premises of the St. Norashen Armenian church. In August 2008, he coordinated efforts to build a fence around the church with symbols allegedly pointing to its belonging to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Armenian Minister for Diaspora Affairs Granush Akopian told a news conference on Wednesday that "not a single priest has any right to ruin the century-long friendship of the Armenian and Georgian peoples."
Akopian said that the fate of Armenian historical and cultural monuments in Georgia is high on his ministry's agenda.
Posted 03 December 2008 - 05:31 PM
YEREVAN (Combined Sources)--More than two thousand Armenian college students rallied at the United Nations office in Yerevan Tuesday to demonstrate against the growing wave of hate crimes against Armenian cultural and religious sites in Georgia.
The demonstrators were spurred by outrage over the desecration of tombstones in Tbilisi's Norashen Church last month, when a Georgian Orthodox clergyman attempted to forcefully remove Armenian graves from the courtyard of the Church with a bulldozer.
On November 15, Father Tariel Sikinchelashvili and a retinue of workers and bulldozers entered the Norashen courtyard and set about removing two graves bearing the names of Mikayel and Lidia Tamamshyan. The group was soon stopped by a group of local Armenians who called the police.
The incident is the latest such attempt against the church, which was illegally fenced off earlier this year.
Several students protesting the incidents met with the Chief UN representative in Armenia, Conseulo Vidal, to discuss the matter. The group also delivered a letter of protest to UNESCO, the UN's cultural arm, chronicling recent attempts to defile Armenian religious and cultural sites in Georgia.
The demonstrators then moved on to the Georgian embassy, where they handed Ambassador Reaz Gacheiladze a letter calling on the Georgian government to intervene on behalf of its Armenian minority. Describing the crimes as “behavior unfitting a civilized country,” the letter warned the “centuries old friendship between the two nations” is in danger unless the “illegal conduct of the Georgian clergymen be stopped and an appropriate assessment be given to what has happened."
Following the demonstration, Armenia's Diaspora Minister, Hranoush Hakopyan, held a press conference to brief the media on the Armenian Government's position on the violations.
She said the fate of Armenian historical and cultural monuments in Georgia is high on her ministry's agenda, adding that Armenia should protest the violations to international organizations.
“We should understand that the Armenian-Georgian friendly relations are very important for us. We do understand that this problem can damage our relations. But all should remember that a monk has no right to jeopardize them,” Hakopyan said, condemning the vandalism of the church.
The protests come less than two weeks after the Holy See of Etchmiadzin issued its own statement condemning the crimes.
Over the past 15 years, the Georgian clergy has occupied and consecrated several Armenian churches in Tbilisi--including Kusanats Surb Stepanos, St Bethlehem, the Khikhoy chapel, and several other churches. Many close to the situation say the same is expected to happen to Norashen.
Earlier in May, the Norashen Church was illegally fenced off by a group of workers, led by Sikinchelashvili. The group constructed a concrete-metal fence with wicket-gates along the whole perimeter of the church. The priest claimed Norashen belonged to the Georgian Church.
In 2005, Sikinchelashvili transported gravestones with Georgian inscriptions to the Norashen's courtyard, while moving the Armenian gravestones that had been in the courtyard for centuries and vandalizing their inscriptions.
Earlier this year, Armenia's Prime Minister, Tigran Sargsyan, met with his Georgian counterpart Lado Gurgenidze in Minsk for talks regarding the incident. Sargsyan told Gurgenidze that his country's encroachment on the rights of an Armenian Church threatened to spur unnecessary tension in Georgian society, particularly among its large Armenian minority. The Armenian Premier stressed that such violations of the rights of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Church would have negative consequences and requested that Gurgenidze intervene in the matter.
Founded in 1467, Norashen is located in Tbilisi, on Leselidze Street, flanked on the left by a Greek church, now transformed into a Georgian orthodox one, on the right by the Georgian Church Sioni and a few more meters further down the synagogue the mosque.
Posted 10 December 2008 - 01:03 PM
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili assured Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan that he will address the problem of Norashen Armenian Church in Tbilisi. “This is a matter of principle for us. I requested the Georgian President to interfere and he promised to personally address the problem,” the Armenian PM told reporters on Tuesday. Encroachments on Norashen Armenian Church started in 1994. The latest incident took place on November 16, 2008, when Georgian monk Tariel Sikinchelashvili instructed workers to raze to the ground the graves of Mikhail and Lidia Tamamshevs. This barbarian act outraged Armenians, who demanded to let the graves in their place. Upon arrival of representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church and parliament member Van Bayburt, the Georgian monk said he just wanted to replace the gravestones to “clean under them.”
Posted 10 December 2008 - 01:13 PM
Դեկտեմբեր 09, 2008
Երեկ ՀՀ վարչապետը նախարարների,Վիրահայոց թեմի հոգևոր դասի, Թբիլիսիի հայ համայնքի ներկայացուցիչների հետ այցելել էր Թբիլիսիում գտնվող Սուրբ Նորաշեն եկեղեցի: Ինչպես հայտնի է, այս եկեղեցին փակվել է 1935 թվականին և հետագայում օգտագործվել է իբրև գրապահեստ: Դեռևս 80-ականների վերջին և ապա 90-ականների սկզբին եղել են եկեղեցին վրացականացնելու փորձեր, սակայն այն ժամանակ Մայր Աթոռ Սուրբ Էջմիածնի միջամտությամբ այդ քայլը հաջողվել էր կասեցնել:Այս տարի մի քանի անգամ վրաց հոգևորականության կողմից խախտվեց տարիներ առաջ ձեռք բերված պայմանավորվածությունը, ինչի արդյունքում երեկ հայկական կողմի նախաձեռնությամբ տեղի ունեցավ Սուրբ Նորաշեն եկեղեցու դռան բացումը: ՀՀ վարչապետը նախարարների, հոգևոր դասի ներկայացուցիչների և հավատացյալ ժողովրդի հետ, շարականների երգեցողության տակ, մտան եկեղեցի, մոմեր վառեցին և լրագրողներին հնարավորություն տվեցին ներսից նկարահանել Սուրբ Նորաշեն եկեղեցին և այն, թե ինչ ավերածություններ են ժամանակին գործել վրաց եկեղեցու հոգևորականները եկեղեցու ներսում:
Տես նաեւ լուսանկարները
Posted 10 December 2008 - 01:14 PM
Posted 11 December 2008 - 06:58 PM
ARMENIANS OF JAVAKHK DESERT THEIR MOTHERLAND
Interview with the President of "Yerkir" Union of Public Organizations on Repatriation and Settlement Sevak Artsruni
- Mr. Artsruni, your organization raised the alarm about Georgianization of the Armenian St. Norashen church in Tbilisi as far back as June 2008. How do you assess the processes developing at present?
- Norashen is only a manifestation of a whole process that started since the independence of Georgia and becomes more dangerous. All three Presidents of Georgia – Gamsakhurdia, Shevardnadze and today Saakashvili – were guided by the same scenario against the ethnic minorities of the country and led by the same principles not giving political status to ethnic minorities in Georgia; creating unbearable living and development conditions and forcing them to immigrate and become an alien. Norashen is not the first and the only manifestation of that policy. Since the independence of Georgia, a number of churches were blown up and cemeteries destroyed (Khojivank cemetery or Shamkhoretsots church in Havlabar). The Catholic Church has similar problems as well. The latter ineffectually struggles to return the temples belonging to it.
However, it is not right to say that the phenomenon has not provoked discussions. In October 2007, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights called on the Georgian authorities to return the expropriated churches to their legal owners.
The Georgian diocese of the Armenian Church and the Embassy of Vatican periodically filed appeals and protests to different countries’ diplomatic representatives in Georgia, mainly the Embassy of France. The issue of the churches is on the agendas of their discussions with the Georgian authorities. The Georgian Ombudsman, the US Department of State and others also raise the issue in their statements and reports.
However, until today the Georgian authorities treat all those appeals, mediations and recommendations with absolute contempt.
- What is going on in Javakhk today?
- The Armenians of Javakhk desert their motherland. The Georgian authorities consistently carry out the policy on alienation of the Armenians here. Elements of that policy are: a/compulsion of the Georgian language in all spheres of public life, including courts, official correspondence with administrative bodies, in all types of contacts with the residents and government bodies, b/ weakening of political, social-economic, educational and cultural relations between Armenia and Javakhk, c/passing of some new laws on compulsion of the Georgian language, d/ prohibition on establishment of political parties based on national principles to protect the rights of ethnic minorities, e/ actual prohibition on foundation of higher educational institutions based on Armenian language, etc.
At present, some of the Armenians in Javakhk endowed with talent for leadership are imprisoned or emigrated, as they principally refused to bargain. On the contrary, people without scruples that only think of becoming rich, who are defamed and refused by the people, being time-servers are ready to take obediently the orders of the Georgian authorities, break the people’s spirit and serve as a tool of the Georgian policy on alienation of the Armenians.
- When speaking of the imprisoned political figures do you bear in mind Vahagn Chakhalian?
- Yes, first of all him. The incidents (July 17-21, 2008) that happened under extremely suspicious and strange circumstances – the explosion near the house of the local chief of police and the assassination of two Armenian policemen – were used as a pretext by the Georgian authorities to settle a score with the "United Javakhk" democratic alliance and its leader Vahagn Chakhalian – a famous activist struggling for protection of rights of the Armenians in Javakhk.
After those incidents Vahagn Chakhalian, his father and juvenile brother were arrested. Legal proceedings were brought against them for "acquisition of weapons and armament". Later Vahagn Chakhalian was charged with some other crimes, based on his political activities in 2005-2006, mainly organization of mass demonstrations.
- What is the real reason for arresting Vahagn Chakhalian?
- The "United Javakhk" movement and its leader Vahagn Chakhalian deprived the Georgian authorities of an opportunity to speculate about the so-called Javakhk separation, as they took the separation, revolutionary and similar adventurous approaches out of the political process.
Vahagn Chakhalian suggested that the Armenians of Javakhk should struggle for their rights in a practicable way acceptable by the international community.
Consequently, the Georgian authorities are really afraid of this alternative and not the virtual calls for autonomy.
- Does it mean that the Georgian authorities are not ready for a dialogue?
- They were not ready until today. But the latest developments in the region may lead to change of situation.
Naturally, Georgia will continue to clutch at Ankara-Tbilisi-Baku axis, but at the same time, it will have to take serious steps towards EU integration. The rights of the Armenians in Javakhk as a national minority should be involved in that process as a precondition. In this sense, "Yerkir" Union of Public Organizations on Repatriation and Settlement has carried out a sufficient work for years.
Mainly, in October 2007, with the efforts of "Yerkir" Union the recommendations of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to the Georgian authorities embraced the issues of registration of the Armenian Apostolic Church and return of Norashen and other expropriated churches.
Underlining the low level of political representation of the ethnic minorities, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights bound Georgia:
- to view the opportunity to let the ethnic minorities use their languages in the local self-governing bodies’ administrative works,
- to take all appropriate measures to provide adequate political representation and participation for the ethnic minorities abolishing language discrimination,
- to organize a dialogue between the groups showing interest in the issues of the ethnic minorities and the civil society institutions.
It’s worth to mention that "Yerkir" Union has created the necessary prerequisites for the visit of the experts (European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities) to Javakhk in the mid of December.
- What initiatives are and will be taken by "Yerkir" Union to overcome the crisis that the Armenians of Javakhk face?
- On July 21, 2008, the next day of the arrest, Vahagn and Armen Chakhalians’ mother Gayane Chakhalian told us that Vahagn asked "Yerkir" Union to systematize his advocacy case.
In spite of the Georgian authorities’ evident resistance, we have succeeded in:
- splitting the informational vacuum of Vahagn Chakhalian’s case and making it well-known by carrying out fact-finding missions in Akhalkalaki, issuing press releases and holding press conferences to show that in the person of Vahagn Chakhalian and others we have political prisoners,
- involving in the investigation of the case and compelling the Georgian authorities to register an advocate from Armenia to defend the interests of Vahagn Chakhalian and his family,
- involving in the investigation of the case the French attorney Patrick Arapian well-known in the sphere of human rights,
- drawing the international institutions (following the democratization processes in Georgia (OSCE, EC)) and human rights organizations’ attention to the case (some of them promised to follow the trial through their observers).
At the previous court sitting of Chakhalians’ case the attorneys succeeded in showing proofs that Vahagn Chakhalian’s juvenile brother’s arrest was illegal and as a result of it he was released on bail.
Even today, we consider our mission as partially accomplished. Actually, the Georgian authorities’ desire to condemn Vahagn Chakhalian as a criminal failed. His father and brother were released. The prosecutor’s office and the judge continuously adjourn the trial trying to concoct new criminal charges. And with this scandalous trial the Akhaltskha court has become a platform of condemnation of the Georgian policy on violation of the rights of Armenians in Javakhk. What is happening today in Javakhk is in the focus of international organizations’ attention and will not be futile.
This counteraction has strengthened the Georgian authorities’ persecutions; they terrorize not only the activists and co-thinkers of the "United Javakhk" but also everyone who dares to complain of the present situation. They also carry out economic terrorism, the last example is 10.000 US dollars bail for Armen Chakhalian, in spite of the attorney’s proofs that Armen’s arrest was illegal.
Thus, a political procedure has started in Akhaltskha. And what is happening and will happen is of secondary importance. The most important thing is that from the first moment of the court sitting the struggle of the Armenians in Javakhk will come onto political platform and after that none of the Georgian statesmen can announce that "The Armenians of Georgia don’t have problems".
Thus, we call on everybody not to be disoriented and provoked and to be guided by the norms of the international law and Georgian legislation and in Javakhk, Armenia and Diaspora continue demanding from the Georgian authorities the following:
- to release Armenian political prisoners
- to organize a dialogue between the groups showing interest in the issues of the ethnic minorities and the civil society institutions,
- to give a legal status to the Armenian Apostolic Church and other traditional churches in Georgia,
- to return the temples of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Roman Catholic Church expropriated in the Soviet period
- to give a status to the Armenian language as an internal clerical and court language in Javakhk,
- to establish an Armenian-Georgian bilingual university in Akhalkalaki based on corresponding educational program,
- to involve Javakhk in all regional economic projects.
Posted 12 December 2008 - 11:58 AM
Georgia can receive churches in Lori and Javakheti in exchange for Norashen?
/PanARMENIAN.Net/ Georgia pursues a specific ethno-religious policy as regards the Armenian cultural heritage, an Armenian expert said.
“In response to demands to return the Armenian churches in Georgia to the AAC, the Georgian side sets unreasonable conditions. The latest statement by Giorgi Andriadze, the head of the Christian Democratic Movement of Georgia, that the Armenian churches in Lori belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church, looks as preparation for a bargain,” Vahe Sargsyan, expert at Mitq analytical center, told a news conference today.
The Christian Democratic Movement of Georgia held a rally in front of the Armenian on December 11 to demand ‘return’ of Georgian churches in Armenia.
“A dozen of Georgian monasteries are situated in the territory of Armenia, in Lore-Tashir. Unfortunately, they have been robbed, what proves that they belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church,” said Giorgi Andriadze. “The Georgian Patriarchate did not deliberately raise the issue to avoid tensions and maintain the status quo. However, the Armenian side aggravates contradictions. So, we can nothing but demand return of our churches.”
“Rumors circulate that Norashen and a number of other churches in the Georgian territory will be returned to the AAC. In exchange, Georgia can receive some churches in Lori and Javakheti. Georgia lays claims to churches in Lori because of Georgian murals on their walls,” Sargsyan said.
He also informed that representatives of the GOC and ACC met recently in the Georgian Patriarchate and requested the Georgian Ministry of Culture to study the situation with Norashen and take action to determine its status. “Participation of the Armenian side in this process is shameful since it casts doubts to belonging of our churches,” he said, adding that the initiative was nevertheless welcomed by the Armenian Prime Minister.
Posted 13 December 2008 - 07:45 PM
There is no proof of Georgian churches existence in Armenian territory
/PanARMENIAN.Net/ The action of some Georgian activists, who describe themselves as the Christian Democratic Movement of Georgia, had a purpose to vex Armenians because of the problems with Norashen Armenian church, father Narek Ghuschyan of St. Gevorg church in Tbilisi, told a PanARMENIAN.Net reporter.
"Three years ago these people laid similar claims but they did not address either legal scholars or state figures. Georgia pretends to the church in Akhtal. However, the orthodox churches in Lori and Tashir but they were built by Armenians, who adopted orthodoxy, Chalcedonians. We do not mind presence of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Armenia, as the Armenian Apostolic Church has its diocese in Georgia. However, it is not a matter of parity. The Georgian side has not produced any proof of existence of Georgian churches in the Armenian territory," he said.
On December 11, some 10 representatives of the Christian Democratic Movement of Georgia held a rally in front of the Armenian to demand 'return' of Georgian churches in Armenia.
"A dozen of Georgian monasteries are situated in the territory of Armenia, in Lore-Tashir. Unfortunately, they have been robbed, what proves that they belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church," said Giorgi Andriadze. "The Georgian Patriarchate did not deliberately raise the issue to avoid tensions and maintain the status quo. However, the Armenian side aggravates contradictions. So, we can nothing but demand return of our churches."
Posted 15 December 2008 - 01:29 PM
Why has the Orthodox Church of Georgia undertaken activities characteristic to terrorists?
The recent developments over the St. Astvatsatsin Church of Norashen came to prove that the Georgian Orthodox Church (which desecrates cemeteries with the help of Father Tariel) and the political forces supporting it are engaged in ordinary provocation. The goal was to seize the Armenian monuments situated in the capital city of Georgia and “exchange” them with the chalcedonic temples situated in the territory of Armenia.”
The fact that Georgia, as a state, has not taken any step towards preventing the medieval vandalism of seizing the temples of the Armenian Enlightenment and Roman Catholic churches, desecrating monuments and ruining the cemeteries of the deceased testifies to the following: the authorities and some of the political forces of our neighboring state are somehow involved in those activities.
The political calculation of the latter is more than clear and transparent: to take advantage of the temporary communication difficulties in Armenia, impose illegal conditions and finally, make territorial claims.
The following lines of the “National Christian Movement” organization are the successive evidence of the above-mentioned objective, “There are around ten significant orthodox churches and monasteries situated in the north of Armenia - territory of Lori and Tashir.”
That’s to say, is known as northern Armenia at present is not, as a matter of fact, northern Armenia; it is a place known as Lore-Tashiri which, as we know, formed part of Georgia in the period of the strengthening of the Georgian Bagratunis and remained in that status before the establishment of the Russian rule. This historical truth, as well as the fact that in the I millennium A.D. not only Lori but also the entire south of Georgia was under the rule of the Armenian kings cannot be denied by anyone.
Neither is it possible to deny the fact that despite the successive raids of the foreign invaders, Lori was always populated by Armenians; and even the Georgian sources gave that territory and its neighboring areas the name Somkhet which means Armenia.
So, what’s the problem? “The National-Christian Movement” is dissatisfied with the fact that “certain Armenian groups periodically attempt to increase the tension and unilaterally demand the return of the territories which are considered Armenian.” So, what the “National-Christian Movement” did was nothing more than “reminding the authors of the provocation about the Georgian orthodox leaders’ legal and logical demand for returning us the orthodox temples of Armenia.”
That’s to say, the authors of the statement make it obvious to the Armenian society that the Georgian clergymen have seized the Armenian temples situated in Georgia, and if the dispute isn’t resolved the way the want (by exchanging the churches), the temples which are still Armenian will be ‘Georgianized’, so to say.
This is nothing more than a mode of action characteristic to terrorist organizations, i.e. taking hostages from the opposite party and then exchanging them. The only difference is that the Georgian Orthodox Church and the authorities supporting it have taken a hostage the inanimate monuments and the bones of the deceased buried below vs. living humans, and they propose that their pillage be exchanged with the monuments situated in the territory of Armenia.
At this point, we are faced with several questions:
First: How can a church built by a specific group of believers (in this particular case, the Armenian community of Tbilisi) be exchanged, for instance, with the Armenian chalcedonic churches of Kobayr and Akhtala which do not have a Georgian community?
Second: if the historical monuments are the property of the state, i.e. Georgia, it doesn’t mean that they are only under the ownership of Georgia because under the international commitments of “Democratic Georgia”, the Armenians of Tbilisi, as citizens of that country, have the right to use the churches built by their ancestors.
Third: As regards the Armenian chalcedonic churches built by our orthodox ancestors in the north of Armenia during the Byzantine (and not Georgian) rule, the demand of handing them over to the Georgian church also implies a concrete prospect of repopulating the neighboring areas with believers and eventually, making territorial claims.
At first sight, the justification seems quite clear and even innocent: if there are Armenians living in Georgia why shouldn’t there be Georgians living in Armenia? Our answer too, should be very clear and concrete: you are welcome to live wherever you want and as long as you want; you may build Georgian orthodox churches, but the chalcedonic monuments of Lori do not belong to you because the bodies of the small number of Georgians were buried there in the late Middle Ages, in the period of the Georgian rule.
If the authorities of a “democratic” country like Georgia cannot solve the problem of returning the Armenian population their places of worship, we believe that the latter should push the Armenian Diocese of Georgia and the Georgian-Armenian public organizations to apply to the relevant European and international tribunals and prove, with the help of the documents available to them, that St. Astvatsatsin and the other churches of Norashen belong to the Armenians.
* VARDAN GRIGORYAN
Posted 20 December 2008 - 05:34 PM
Georgian Church lays claims to Armenian monuments in Tbilisi and beyond
Ownership of six churches has been placed on the Armenian-Georgian agenda
Tbilisi - On December 9, members of the Georgian-Armenian community in Tbilisi pulled the nails out of the doors of the 15th-century Holy Norashen Church, and entered it with lit candles.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian of Armenia, along with Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanian, Primate of the Georgian-Armenian Diocese, members of the Armenian church, and a few dozen Armenians entered the Armenian church found on Leselitze Street in Tbilisi, where for the first time in 12 years prayers were heard and candles were lit.
After the short ceremony, the doors to the Armenian church were once again nailed shut.
A center of Armenian civilization
Tbilisi, which Armenians still call by its old name Tiflis, has been one of the most important centers of Armenian culture for centuries. In the 19th century, its population was a mixture of ethnicities: Armenian, Russian, Georgian, and many others. There were more Armenians living there Georgians or members of any other ethnic group. In those days, through the beginning of the 20th century, the mayors of Tbilisi were primarily Armenians. Aleksandr Khatisian, the last Armenian mayor of Tiflis later became prime minister of the first Republic of Armenia.
When the Caucasus was split into ethnic republics, and Tiflis became the capital of the Georgian republic, the number of Armenians in the city slowly but irrevocably began to diminish. In the 1950s, every third resident of the city was Armenian. According to the most recent census, taken in 2002, Armenians make up 14 percent of the city's inhabitants, and six percent of the population in all of Georgia. For the first time in centuries, there are more Azerbaijanis than Armenians in the territory of what is now Georgia.
In primarily Armenian neighborhoods throughout Tbilisi, over the centuries Armenians have built dozens of churches, some of which have been totally destroyed, fundamentally due to lack of attention and repair. Some Armenian churches are crumbling, while others have been made Georgian. In other words, they have been re-consecrated as Georgian Orthodox Churches and today serve Georgia's Orthodox, even though those churches continue to showcase Armenian inscriptions.
When Mikhail Gorbachev introduced perestroika and glasnost in the 1980s, Georgia was one of the first republics where, one after the other, churches began reopening their doors. The Armenian side insists that in Tbilisi alone, at least seven Armenian churches were reopened - but re-consecrated as Georgian churches.
Another six Armenian churches - five in Tbilisi and one in Akhaltskha - are today considered "disputed," because the Georgian side insists that those churches are Georgian, even though architecturally, and as evidenced by the Armenian writing on their walls, they have absolutely no connection to the Georgian Church. Among the differentiating factors are the façade and interiors of the churches, and above all the altars.
The seizing of Armenian churches in Georgia cannot be viewed simply as an assault against Armenian monuments, because in this country - which historically was considered the center of religious and racial tolerance in the Caucasus - in the last 20 years many Catholic, Greek, and Russian churches have been recast as Georgian churches. Non-Christian monuments, such as synagogues and mosques, aren't in an enviable position either.
The consistently diminishing numbers of Armenians in Georgia is one of the reasons that the Georgian side has the audacity to seize Armenian Apostolic Churches. At one time, Armenian homes used to surround Armenian churches. Armenians in each neighborhood would take care of their church. They were not only parishioners but also the guardians.
Today the churches considered "disputed" no longer have Armenians living in their vicinity. The Armenians who used to live among the churches at one time have left for other countries, and in their places and in their homes live Georgians who no longer bother to take care of Armenian churches.
For example, Georgian neighbors keep their dogs in the courtyard of St. Nshan Church, built in 1701, although there is a sign on the church that reads, "Protected by the state."
The Armenian Apostolic Church, more specifically the Georgian-Armenian Diocese, with its limited financial resources and staff simply cannot also take care of those "disputed" churches. The churches are legally within the Georgian government's authority. As long as those churches are "disputed," they are subjected to total neglect because the Georgian-Armenian Diocese is not legally allowed to take care of them and the Georgian state refuses to repair them or provide for their maintenance.
Among the other "disputed" Armenian churches:
The Shamkoretsots or Red Bible Church found in the Havlabar neighborhood is almost completely destroyed. There are allegations that the church was bombed in 1989.
The basilica of Minas Yerevantsots is also semi-ruined, Georgian refugees from Abkhazia live in its courtyard.
The interior of Saint Gevorg Mughnetsi Church in the Sololag neighborhood of Tbilisi is also destroyed.
St. Nshan, in the center of Old Tbilisi, is in poor condition and will not last long.
The Georgian side is not indifferent toward Norashen, which is located right beside a Greek church that has been made into a Georgian church.
Frescoes scraped off
Attempts to seize and recast Norashen as Georgian go back to 1994, when on the order of the Georgian priest Father Tariel, frescoes and miniature paintings - remarkable creations of the Hovnatanians - on the church were scraped off. A reporter from Azg daily, who was at Norashen on December 9, wrote the following: "In many places, the Hovnatanian frescoes were literally scraped off the walls of the church. The interior of the church is destroyed, and the altar has been converted into a Georgian one. A Georgian ‘Nino' cross has been ‘discovered' on the holy table of the church."
A few years ago, Father Tariel systematically collected Armenian tombstones from the church's property and replaced them with Georgian ones to prove that the church was indeed Georgian. A month ago members of the Armenian community there were witness to how the tombstones of benefactors Mikhael and Lidia Tamamshyan were destroyed in broad daylight. With the intervention of the Armenian community, the destruction was halted . . . probably until the next wave of destruction.
The church of St. Nshan in Akhaltskha is also considered "disputed." The church is open to both Armenian and Georgian Christians even though it does not have a priest. This is the compromise the sides have come to until the "ownership" of the church is decided.
The issue of Armenian monuments in Georgia is not a purely church-related or spiritual issue, but rather a very sensitive theme within Armenian-Georgian bilateral relations. This is a subject that is now on the agenda during meetings between the presidents, prime ministers, speakers of parliament, and the spiritual leaders of the Armenian and Georgian churches.
Posted 20 December 2008 - 05:37 PM
“The Georgian government must return Armenian churches”
An interview with Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanian, Primate
Norashen and five other Armenian churches in danger of appropriation
Tbilisi - Armenian Reporter: Your Grace, the prime minister of Armenia recently visited Tbilisi, and for the first time in a dozen years, prayers were said and candles were lit in Holy Norashen thanks to you and local clergy members. Which phase is the issue of the "disputed" churches in today?
Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanian: Those churches are not considered disputed by Armenians; those are historically Armenian churches. "Disputed" is an artificial designation given by the Georgian Church after the fall of the Soviet Union to Christian temples of all other denominations so that they can appropriate them.
For this reason we do not consider it a debatable issue; we call it the issue of historical churches that were taken from the Georgian-Armenian Diocese during the Soviet era and used for different purposes. Five of these churches are in Tbilisi, one of them in Samtskhe-Javakheti; they are not functioning and are in a worrisome state. Two of them are in ruins and need to be renovated, reinforced, and preserved. The six churches are: the Church of the Holy Norashen Assumption of the Holy Mother of God, the Church of Saint Gevorg Mughnetsi, the Church of Holy Nshan Nikoghayos, the Church of the Holy Mother of God in Shamkhoretsi, the Church of Saint Minas, and the Church of Saint Nshan in Akhaltskha.
AR: On what level is the dispute now? It's true that the issue of the churches is even being discussed by the presidents and prime ministers of the two countries; however, when you pass by Holy Norashen and compare the site to how it looked the last time you were there, you realize that the process of appropriation continues and is nearing its conclusion.
VM: I do not agree that the appropriating process is nearing the end.
We can say that all the events that took place in May of this year brought the resolution of the issue nearer. I must say that during the past 20 years this issue was constantly talked about, but after my appointment as Primate of the diocese, they became more frequent, since as a result of our work, more people now attend church. It is not just because of me, but because of all our clergymen, community figures, the youth, the Armenian theater, and the Armenian Embassy. We saw that the functioning two Armenian churches, Saint Gevorg and Holy Etchmiadzin [in Tbilisi] were insufficient and so, naturally, we realized that the issue of the return of our historic churches must be more crucial and pivotal.
We conducted negotiations on the local and diocesan levels and the presidents of the two countries and the spiritual heads, the Armenian Supreme Patriarch and the Georgian Patriarch, have also discussed the issue. Today the issue is on this level: there is an atmosphere that has been created and artificially intensified by the Georgians that says: "You see, public opinion does not allow the resolution of the issue in favor of the Armenians," but today, more than ever, Armenians are more resolute. I believe that the process is reaching its resolution, but at what phase, it is hard to say.
To date the Georgians have not published a serious article or presented serious arguments about the Georgian origin of the churches. They constantly put forward an illogical version, according to which the foundations of all the churches we demand are Georgian; as if Armenians had nothing better to do than to wait for a Georgian church to collapse so that they could go and construct a new church on its foundations. They also say that the churches were sold and the Armenians bought them. Even if they were constructed on the basis, or bought, this means that they belong to that owner.
Even the Georgian Patriarchate cannot deny that those churches are Armenian. The biggest proof is the church itself. For example if we take Norashen; its internal and external inscriptions and its entire architectural structure is Armenian and it is useless for anyone to try to claim them as Georgian. There is only one thing Georgian there: the soil and nothing more. A country which has 300,000 Armenians must respect the beliefs of those 300,000 Armenians and return their churches to them.
They suggest the following to us: form a Georgian committee and a specialist from Armenia can participate by giving professional advice. The Armenian Apostolic Church is against this, as it considers forming a committee on an issue concerning historical facts unnecessary. We are ready to create a committee together with the Georgians and discuss the issue of the Armenian churches taken by Georgians in the 90s. In Tbilisi alone, there are seven such churches. It is understandable that this is not just a Georgian interchurch issue. These churches are under the supervision of the Georgian government and the issue must be solved the following way: the government must take the decision to return those churches.
The government must also resolve the second issue, which, besides Georgia, all its neighbors have solved: a law on religion and conscience, which, unfortunately, does not exist to date. All of the religious minorities, which are one-third of the country's total population, are not included in the law. There is no law on freedom of conscience in Georgia, not even the law of registering a religious community. Here you must register as an NGO. For this reason all traditional religious minorities are not included in the law.
AR: Isn't it worrying that the Georgians are renovating the territory surrounding Norashen? They have fenced the area and planted flowers. Today you can go near Norashen only by passing though the yard of a Georgian church. Isn't all that worrying? One day they will open the doors of the church and enter it.
BM: Nothing can be excluded in this world, but that will result in a very serious clash. If during the 90s they demolished those seven churches because those were bad times and the Armenians in Tbilisi faced survival issues and it was hard for them to struggle for historic monuments, then today this is not the case. Today the Armenians of Tbilisi are ready to fight for everything together with the clergy. If one day the Georgians try to open Norashen and use it as a Georgian church, the consequences will be very severe.
AR: In the unlikely event that the Georgians decide to return the six churches that are considered "disputed" today, is the Armenian side ready to take care of them? I just went to the churches in Mughni and Shamkoretsets and saw their sad and semi-ruined state. Is the Armenian side prepared to renovate and fix them?
BM: This is a very important issue. I believe that the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, the Armenian government, and our diaspora Armenians will help us so that we can renovate and restore those churches after we get them back. Of course, it will be very difficult to renovate Shamkhoretsots, but the rest can be restored. Yes, today the Armenians in Georgia do not have the means to do this by themselves; large resources are necessary for this. However, I am hopeful that we will find the means, since our nation cannot disgrace itself by not renovating and using them as Armenian churches after Georgia returns them.
Posted 23 December 2008 - 05:49 PM
- The past weekend saw numerous statements by various public figures and parliamentarians in Armenia on the prospects of the development of Armenian-Georgian relations. The activation had been provoked by an unprecedented event – an anti-Armenian action was held in front of the embassy of Armenia in Tbilisi on December 11. The participants of that rally demanded that "10 churches in the north of Armenia should be handed over to the Georgian Orthodox Church." A fundamental change in the Armenian-Georgian relations became evident still last month. On November 18, official Yerevan for the first time sent a note of protest to Georgian authorities, an unprecedented event in the modern history of bilateral relations between the two neighbors. The official note of protest from Yerevan was a response to a new encroachment on an Armenian church in Tbilisi when on November 16, controversial Georgian priest Tariel Sikinchelashvili organized works in the territory of Surb Norashen with the aid of excavators allegedly for "cleaning the land under the tombstones and around them." As a result of the operations, the tombstones of Armenian patrons of art of Tbilisi buried in the churchyard were removed. Such an attitude of Tbilisi authorities to Armenian churches is not rare. Only two of the 29 Armenian churches in Tbilisi (from the beginning of the 20th century) function today (Surb Gevorg and Surb Etchmiadzin), while the rest were either destroyed or turned into Georgian ones. Some tend to consider the fact that official Yerevan sent a note of protest to Tbilisi only in November within the context of the consequences of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia in August. Others, however, believe this step of the Armenian leadership is not accidental and is very symptomatic. "After Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian side should be wiser and shun attempts to misappropriate elements of other peoples' identities," said Stepan Safaryan, a lawmaker representing Armenia's opposition Heritage party. 'The Georgian side does not recognize the affiliation of the Armenian churches and is calling for a commission to be set up to consider the issue of the churches' affiliation. We see a similar attitude from Turks who seek the establishment of a panel of historians on the genocide issue," says Shirak Torosyan, a parliament member from the governing Republican Party of Armenia. It is obvious that the coming year will become a time of clarification of many disputable issues in bilateral relations. It is already clear now that the "church controversy" is only the tip of an iceberg in Armenian-Georgian contradictions.
- Aris Ghazinyan
Posted 29 December 2008 - 04:15 PM
ARMENIANS OF JAVAKHK - VICTIMS OF "A PRECISE PLAN OF DISCRIMINATION"
Extracts from "France-Armeni" newspaper interview with the Armenian-French lawyer, United Javakhk Democratic Alliance leader Vahagn Chakhalian’s attorney Patrick Arapian.
Patrick Arapian is one of the well-known Armenian-French attorneys. He is a member of the Paris Law Office. For 25 years, he has devoted himself to the human rights issues. He is the author of a number of reports for the International Federation of Human Rights (Fédération internationale des droits de l'homme (FIDH)) and International Association of Lawyers (The Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA)) .
After setting about the defense of the leader of the United Javakhk Democratic Alliance Vahagn Chakhalian, arrested for "acquisition of weapons and armament" on July 21, 2008, Mr. Arapian visited Akhalkalak, Akhaltskha and Tbilisi November 15-19.
- Mr. Arapian, can you briefly introduce Vahagn Chakhalian’s case? What could you clear up while being in Akhalkalak and Akhaltskha?
- Most of the witnesses examined by me in Akhalkalak are those who are involved in the actions brought against the Armenian youth of Javakhk during the last several months. A systematic pressure had been exerted against Vahagn Chakhalian, his family and relatives by the police since the beginning of 2008. It aimed at forcing Mr. Chakhalian into making false steps in order to arrest him. However, they failed.
Therefore, at July 17 midnight an explosion was carried out near the house of the local chief of police, which became the reason for attacks on the members of the United Javakhk Democratic Alliance. Naturally, everything was done without even taking into consideration the elementary norms of human rights.
This miserable masquerade would deserve only a smile if not the assassination of two Armenian police officers during those incidents that are not completely revealed yet.
Special Forces from Tbilisi had to arrive to help the local police in arresting Vahagn Chakhalian. It proves that the central authorities and the Akhalkalaki chief of police acted in collaboration.
Since Vahagn Chakhalian’s arrest day – July 21, 2008 – the Georgian authorities have done everything to disguise, hinder and distort the political essence of the matter.
From the legal aspect, there is not any material fact; any full-fledged search report, police officer and a witness, any examination of finger-prints on the armament ‘found out’ during the search or examination of the accused, etc.
- What situation do we have in Javakhk at present?
- I left for Javakhk to meet Vahagn Chakhalian’s parents. I saw there people living in terror of the chief police officer Samvel Petrosian. While meeting and speaking with the people connected with the case of Vahagn Chakhalian, I cleared up that through July arrests the Georgian authorities pursue long-range aims.
The peculiarity of Javakhk is in its population – 90-95 percent of Javakhk population are Armenians. The Georgian authorities don’t have direct levers here to put pressure, consequently they have to use their police services in Javakhk to establish the validity of the law through terrorism.
Since Samvel Petrosian’s appointment (in the mid of 2006) as a chief police officer, a number of politically active young people of Akhalkalak have been arrested, who were given different judgments – from fines to imprisonment. These persecutions have multiplied since Vahagn Chakhalian’s detention.
Besides, unlike other parts of Georgia the geographically isolated position and the economic crisis hinder Javakhk from becoming a part of the cultural and social entity, thus marginalizing the province.
Most of the Armenians here are not fluent in Georgian that makes it more difficult to communicate with the administrative bodies, police and law enforcement bodies; practically making impossible to protest in other institutions against the tyranny and violation of their human rights.
- What is in store for Javakhk in the near future?
- The Armenians of Javakhk are caught in a trap set by the Georgian authorities; moreover, the trap is set not only for the Armenians of Javakhk but also for other ethnic minorities of Georgia. Similar policy had a success in case of Kurds of Georgia that left the country under the pressure of the police.
Taking into account Vahagn Chakhalian’s way of life it was impossible to picture that one day he would become a so-called enemy of the Georgian society, as the movement led by him did not contain any demand of separation or independence. He mainly demanded to legalize the Armenian language in Javakhk parallel with the Georgian one. Consequently, with Vahagn Chakhalian’s detention the Georgian authorities try to instigate the Armenians of Javakhk to extremes and emigration.
Javakhk’s outlook is rather sad, as Georgia pretends to Europe that it is a democratic country and respects the rights of the ethnic minorities leading it into error.
It’s high time to act, otherwise Javakhk may become the 21st century’s Nakhijevan – a historical Armenian territory; its population was forced to emigrate, and even the cemeteries were destroyed to wipe out the history.
Posted 29 December 2008 - 04:16 PM
MONITORING IN JAVAKHK
Armenian Ombudsman Armen Harutyunian sent a letter to his Georgian counterpart Sozari Subari. As informed by the press service of the Ombudsman, in the letter Armen Harutyunian informs that he has received a letter from the administration of "Yerkir" Association for NGOs, which expresses concern about the trials of heads of the "United Javakhk" organization Vahagn Chakhalian, Gurgen Shirinian and their family members, who are charged with murder of police officers. According to the authors of the letter, there are many violations being made during the trial.
Reminding his Georgian counterpart Sozar Subari of the mutual agreements in the letter, Armen Harutyunian asked him to conduct monitoring to find out whether the human rights implanted in international documents and Georgian legislation are protected or not.
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