WCC NEWS: Georgia/South Ossetia: insights from the ground
- World Council of Churches - News Release
Contact: +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 media@... For immediate
release - 05/09/2008 11:04:03
AFTER A 4,000 KM DETOUR, ECUMENICAL DELEGATION TO REACH SOUTH OSSETIA
A pastoral delegation sent by the World Council of Churches
(WCC) to Georgia and Russia has not been able to visit South Ossetia from
the Georgian side of the ceasefire line. Unable to make the half-hour drive
to Tskhinvali from within Georgia, they are now traveling thousands of
kilometers to reach the enclave from the Russian side instead.
The ecumenical delegation could not get a guarantee of safe passage from the
authorities inside South Ossetia. The route should by now be a corridor for
aid, but the humanitarian access stipulated by the ceasefire agreement in
mid-August is apparently not being honored. Armed groups are accused of acts
of violence in the area.
Government and aid officials in Georgia told the WCC group that up to 7,000
ethnic Georgians are still living in South Ossetia under uncertain
conditions. Even the Red Cross has largely been denied access, they said,
but the Georgian Orthodox Church has limited access to a few of them.
Early in the war, with help from the Russian Orthodox Church, Georgian
Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II secured permission to visit a bishop and a few
priests and nuns who have stayed in South Ossetia. Since then the church has
brought in food and brought out Georgian casualties that were still lying
unburied several days after the war.
"We want to express our immense gratitude that you have come in the
difficult situation Georgia is facing now," the Georgian Patriarch told the
"Be assured we are with you at this difficult time," said Archbishop Nifon
of Targoviste, Romania, the delegation head.
"We have been following the situation in your country with great sorrow,"
said Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of the Conference of European
Churches. "At the same time, we are greatly impressed by your visit to South
Ossetia and by the public declarations in favor of peace by the two
patriarchates of Russia and Georgia."
"Russia is our neighbour and we should have good relations with it," Ilia
In Georgia the WCC delegation also met Armenian Orthodox and Baptist
leaders, a member of parliament and a government minister responsible for
refugees, the country's public defender, member agencies of Action by
Churches Together (ACT) International and displaced people living in camps
About two-thirds of the 150,000 people displaced into Georgia by the
conflict have now returned to their homes. Most of the nearly 50,000 still
displaced are housed in school buildings. Even as more durable solutions
become urgent, ACT member agencies and local church aid workers told the WCC
delegation of many gaps in meeting immediate needs.
"With schools in Georgia scheduled to open in one week, the people we met do
not know what will happen next," said Rev.
Laszlo Lehel, director of Hungarian Inter-Church Aid and representing ACT on
the delegation. Some 26,000 of these people are from South Ossetia, with
little immediate prospect of returning home.
Lia Gogitze, a woman from South Ossetia living in a Tbilisi school, told the
delegation, "We lived so well there with our orchards and livestock. It was
like a small paradise. Here we share one cup." Satellite photos show her
village, Kemerti, as one of dozens of communities in the enclave heavily
damaged by fire in the days since the major fighting ceased.
To visit the enclave the delegation is making a 4,000-kilometer detour via
Moscow and North Ossetia. When they reach the South Ossetian capital,
Tskhinvali, they will be just 40 kilometers from where they were on their
first day in Georgia.
In South Ossetia the ecumenical visitors will meet with church leaders,
local officials and the recently displaced residents who have now mostly
returned from North Ossetia. Also of concern are the ethnic Georgian
residents still thought to be in the enclave after weeks of violence and
many reports of looting, arson and forced evictions.
The trip will end in Moscow with visits to the Russian Orthodox Church and
the government. In addition to Nifon, de Clermont and Lehel, the delegation
includes Rev. Elenora Giddings-Ivory and Mr. Jonathan Frerichs from the WCC
secretariat in Geneva.
Media contact in Georgia/Russia: +41-79-814-5637
More information on the visit:
Action by Churches Together response to the conflict:
Additional information:Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and
service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches
founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox,
Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in
over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.
The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church
in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.