Georgian Church Says 'Ignored' in Turkish-Georgian Talks
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.