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Georgia: Armenian Church Scandal

With religion arguably playing a greater role in the lives of most of its citizens according to recent surveys, the ever strengthening power of the Orthodox Church in Georgia has long been of some concern in the South Caucasus republic. Publishing her research paper online in August, blogger Diana Chachua warned of the dangers.

[…] A truly democratic society cannot accept physically or verbally aggressive treatment of its people on the basis of religion or belief — which has taken place to a great extent over the years in Georgia. From a legal standpoint, these aggressive acts represent a classic case of hate crimes motivated by religious bias, and religious extremism. […]

Misusing of those religious values against other religious representatives and in personal political aims is what makes hard for country like Georgia to exceed from transition period into full length democracy. […] Looking through Georgia’s past and present, religion nationalism still keeps its hazard and this is what should be avoided.

Today, that point was not lost on protesters who gathered outside the Georgian Embassy in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, to protest the latest example of religious hegemony and intolerance, presumably with the tacit approval of the State, in their northern neighbor.

This time, however, the target of the Georgian Orthodox Church came in the form of seizing a derelict Armenian church in Tbilisi which should have been returned to its rightful owners following the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Conflicts between the Orthodox Church and other religious denominations have been complicated and frustrated by the special recognition afforded to it under the Georgian constitution.

The demonstration, organized by a small group of [mainly nationalist] local bloggers, decried what they called the “death of a newborn democracy” in Georgia. Ahousekeeper [EN/AM/RU] posts a video of the action.

Interestingly, while The Tunnel at the End of the Tunnel sets the background, The Armenian Observer notes that [ethnic Armenian] bloggers in both Armenia and Georgia were the first to report on the scandal which soon escalated when a Georgian priest was discovered desecrating Armenian graves.

Blogs were the first to blow the whistle about the fresh attacks by Georgians on Armenian church – St. Norashen in Tbilisi. The traditional media tailed the blogosphere in disseminating the information and providing analysis.

The posts and comments started rolling in the blogosphere after Vesta’s post:

“Today, on November 16th, father Tariel Sikinchelashvili, along with several workers, started to demolish the graves of Tamamshyanns placed in the backyard of Norashen church. The crowd of frustrated Tbilisi-Armenians demanded that tombstones be returned to their original locations”.

[…]

Another journalist-blogger Mark Grigoryan is drawing parallels and asking questions.

“I want to particularly stress the fact, that it is hard to imagine something like this happening in the capital of “much hated by Armenians – Turkey”. And here, look, in the “brotherly Georgia”… what a shame! I am appalled by the silence of Georgian public.”

Indeed, the threat to St. Norashen is not new and was reported on by Armenian blogger Pigh [RU] in June.

Since then, 517 Design [RU] has started a Facebook Group to protest the inaction of the Georgian authorities in preventing what most see as a clear case of violating ethnic minority and religious rights.

The blogger also posts photographs from today's demonstration. A blog, Save Armenian Church “Norashen” in Tbilisi, Georgia! [EN/GE/AM], has also been set up at http://norashen.blog.com.

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