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Georgian Church Says 'Ignored' in Turkish-Georgian Talks

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23116 Georgian Church Says Ignored in Turkish-Georgian Talks on Restoring Historic Sites Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 7
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2011

      Georgian Church Says 'Ignored' in
      Turkish-Georgian Talks on Restoring Historic Sites
      Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 7 Feb.'11 / 14:50

      The Georgian Orthodox Church has again spoken out
      against potential deal between Georgia and
      Turkey, which, if signed, will pave the way for
      reconstruction of four Georgian medieval
      monasteries, now located in north-east Turkey, in
      exchange of rebuilding one and restoring of several other mosques in Georgia.

      The similar agreement was close to finalizing
      three years ago, but at the time Georgian
      government yielded to opposition from the
      influential Orthodox Church and the deal was not signed.

      Georgian officials are pushing for the agreement
      saying that it is the only way to save the
      Georgian historic monuments in Turkey, which have
      significant importance for the Georgian cultural
      heritage and which are now on the verge of collapse.

      In a statement released on February 4 – the
      second one on the matter in less than a month
      (the first one was released on January 18) – the
      Georgian Orthodox Church put forth two reasons
      behind its opposition to the agreement. One is
      related to the list of churches to be
      rehabilitated and another one is related to
      ownership issue – the Georgian Patriarchate
      insists on inclusions in the list two other
      churches located in Turkey. The potential deal
      includes restoration of three monastery complexes
      of Oshki, Khandzta and Ishkhani, as well as
      church of Otkhta in exchange of restoration of
      three mosques, two baths and rebuilding of a
      mosque in Batumi, which burned down in mid-20th century.

      “We hoped that after the January 18 statement the
      Patriarchate would have been involved in the
      negotiations,” the Georgian Orthodox Church said
      in the statement on February 4. “Unfortunately it
      has not happened and the process is proceeding
      without taking into consideration interests of
      the Church, which is unacceptable for us, because
      we deem it unjustified to build mosques without
      handing over of Khakhuli and Ardasheni [churches].”

      According to the National Agency for Cultural
      Heritage of Georgia the four historic sites in
      Turkey were selected based on two principles –
      their huge cultural and historic importance and
      urgency of their restoration as they are on the verge of collapse.

      The Georgian Orthodox Church also said in the
      statement: “Mosques to be restored and rebuilt in
      Georgia are under the Muslin organizations’
      ownership, while the churches to be restored in
      Turkey as of now are not considered to be under
      the ownership of the Georgian Church, which is not fair.”

      According to Nika Vacheishvili, head of the
      national agency for cultural heritage of Georgia,
      the issue of ownership is not yet finalized in
      talks with Turkey and the form of ownership is
      not yet defined, as well as the form of the
      sites’ functioning after their restoration.

      The potential deal has also been slammed by some
      opposition groups, including for, as they say,
      not taking into consideration opinion of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

      President Saakashvili spoke twice publicly
      strongly in favor of the deal. Asked on the
      matter in a live televised question and answer
      session with the public on January 25 he said
      that there were opposing opinions about this
      issue; he said that there were more than two
      hundred thousand Muslims living in Georgia and
      saying that “building of a mosque is anti-Georgia
      amounts to saying that those thousands of Muslims
      should not be living in Georgia… I can not allow
      that.” “If we want to have a state, we should
      grow up, instead of playing on cheap demagogy,”
      he said. Saakashvili also spoke on the same issue
      on February 1 and said: “When we say – not we,
      but some marginal politicians – that a mosque
      should not be built, it amounts to saying that
      Georgia is a country where there should not be Muslims.”

      It was announced on February 7, that Turkish
      Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutog(lu will pay a
      two-day visit to Georgia later this week.
      According to the Georgian Foreign Ministry no
      agreement is planned to be signed during the
      visit, however it is expected that the issue of
      reconstruction of sites of cultural heritage will be raised during the talks.
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