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Norashen: 17 year old problem

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  • Fr. John-Brian
    From: Levon A. Isakhanyan [mailto:isakhanyan@yahoo.com] Norashen: 17 year old problem The 17 year old conflict relating to Norashen, one of the Armenian
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3 6:10 PM
      From: Levon A. Isakhanyan [mailto:isakhanyan@...]

      Norashen: 17 year old problem

      The 17 year old conflict relating to Norashen, one of the Armenian
      churches in Tbilisi has just reached another step with the obvious attempt
      to change historical facts.

      A few months ago, hundred year old Georgian grave stones, carrying
      Georgian inscriptions, suddenly appeared in the courtyard of the Armenian
      Church Norashen. Rather, they were transported here. Our photographer and
      cameraman filmed these stones still wrapped in their iron wires, thrown
      randomly into the church’s courtyard. In the meantime these stones have been
      neatly lined up and safely installed along the church’s wall. The reasoning
      behind is crystal clear: these actions serve to “prove” that the church is
      in fact a Georgian orthodox one, as according to the words of the Georgian
      priest, Father Tariel, the Armenians would have never let the Georgians bury
      in their dead in front of their own church. At the same time as the Georgian
      stones were brought from an unknown cemetery t o Tbilisi, the Armenian ones,
      located on the other side of the church were found vandalised – the Armenian
      inscriptions had been destroyed.

      The Church 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. For centuries, the different confessions have
      lived side by side in peace and friendship.

      Norashen was founded in 1467 and renovated in 1650 by Nazar. At this time,
      the great cupola was rebuilt by Master Petros. A series of renovations
      followed in 1795, 1808 and in 1875. The Lidatamashian and Vartanov families
      and Katarina Pridonian are buried next to the Church. In 1924-25, a
      committee consisting of Georgian officials suggests to completely destroy
      the church to allow for the construction of the “Armenian Bazaar” street
      (now Leselidze). The majority of the committee members approved this
      decision. However, on 2 July 1925, Severov put the issue on the agenda again
      and ferociously opposing the project, succeeded in stopping the destruction.
      Later yet, during the Soviet era, the church was transformed into an

      Eventually, in 1989, shortly before Georgia’s independence and under the
      influence of the ultra-nationalist Gamsakhurdia, the Georgians intensified
      and multiplied their actions aimed at appropriating the church in order to
      transform it into a Georgian orthodox one. They reached their climax in
      1994, when the local Armenians started worrying after having been informed
      that all valuable books were being taken from the archive. All that was left
      were Marx’s and Lenin’s complete works, which led to believe that Norashen
      would have the same fate as Karmir Avetaran, which once used to be Tbilisi’s
      highest Armenian church (40m high) before being completely destroyed in an
      explosion in the fall of 1989.

      On 25 January 1995, the Armenians living in the vicinity of Norashen
      noticed that apparent renovation works had started inside the church. An
      official protest, delivered on 2 February by the Armenian Ambassador in
      Georgia, H.E. Khatchatrian and the president of the Armenian Association of
      Charity and Culture, Mr. Muradian, to the Georgian priest in charge of the
      renovation works, Father Tariel, were countered with contempt. Three days
      later, Ter Yerishe, the Armenian priest, caught this same Tariel, axe in
      hand, at the renovation works - that is demolishing the High Altar. Ter
      Yerishe told him: “You, who are supposed to be serving the Lo rd, you
      destroy the Lord’s house. Take off your cross and your coat at least!”
      Father Tariel to answer: “I am a priest and I do what I have been told.” On
      8 February, the Master Petros’ inscription on the wall, telling the
      reconstruction of the cupola in 1650, was wiped out. Other Armenian
      inscriptions, two khtatshkars and two magnificent frescoes of the
      Hovnatanyan School from the 19th century were also damaged and destroyed.

      In days following these acts of vandalism, a group of Armenians in the
      company of a photographer were barred from entering the church, instead they
      were greeted with fascistic insults by the Georgians and priests. They were
      attacked and the photographer, who ducked to protect his camera, only
      managed to escape after the intervention of one the Armenian women in the
      group, who jumped at the priest pulling his beard and throwing him down.

      On 15 February, the church was consecrated according to the Georgian
      orthodox rite.

      One month later, the Archbishops Garegin and Grigoris came from Armenia to
      Tbilisi, where they met with Iliad II, the Georgian Patriarch and it was
      decided to stop all actions until the advent of better times. The church has
      been closed since.

      Now, after the appearance of the fake Georgian graves, emotions are flying
      high again with consequences not to be foreseen. For Father Abgar, the
      Armenian priest in Tbilisi, there is no doubt that Norashen shall open its
      doors again as Armenian Apostolic Church and that the tombstones must be
      returned to their places of origin. Alas, the cases of vandalism and
      appropriation of Armenian cultural heritage, including Armenian cemeteries,
      have not ceased to increase over the past decades, Norashen being just one
      sad example among many others.

      Please do not hesitate to contact us in case if any additional information
      will be needed.

      Press Office of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia

      5 Krasilnaya str., Tbilisi, Georgia

      Tel: + 995 32 75 41 11

      Fax: + 995 32 75 17 90

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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