The Church stands between Armenia and Georgia?24.01.2013 | 15:15
Armenia and Georgia have many unresolved issues. This is the tariffs for the transit of Armenian goods through the territory of Georgia, the issue of reducing the hours of teaching of the Armenian language and literature in Javakheti schools, socio-economic problems of the Armenian community and the issue of the possible opening of the Abkhazian railway connecting Armenia and Georgia with Russia. But the major problem is the so-called controversial churches.
Yerevan and Tbilisi have many complex and old problems making the Armenian-Georgian relations strained. Armenia awaited the visit of the Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili with great interest. As a result, there were given the positive political answers to almost all the problematic issues. Georgian Prime Minister expressed his willingness to make the relationship between the two countries "ideal" and "best in history".
It is impossible to separately consider the problems of the Armenian-Georgian agenda in a single article. This is a broad and complex topic that requires serious study. Special attention should be paid to the return of 6 Armenian churches in Tbilisi and in other regions of Georgia under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Church. "The Georgian government is ready to accept any decision of the joint Armenian-Georgian commission to investigate the affiliation of the churches", said the Georgian Prime Minister. This statement gives hope for some progress in the discussion of such acute issue.
At the moment, a number of the most important monuments of the Apostolic Church, still remaining in Tbilisi, have been declared "controversial churches", which is why they are left unattended. For unknown reasons, in 2002, Church of Surb Nshan (built in 1701) was burned down and acquired emergency condition, Church of Mughni St. Gevorg Church (built in XIV century) collapsed in 2009. Church of St. Norashen, also declared controversial, is remaining abandoned. A number of incidents around the church took place in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The absurdity is that despite 80 thousand of Armenians in Tbilisi there operate only two Armenian churches, while other minorities do not face a similar problem. For comparison, in the Georgian capital, there are two active synagogues, although the number of the Jewish community is no more than 3 thousand people.
There is a share of the blame of the very Armenian community of Tbilisi, which, despite its size, is highly fragmented, plays no active role in the political life of the capital and also is actively migrating (about 2000 per year). Community, despite the promising public statements by Armenian clergy of Georgia, are further alienating from the Armenian Church (no more than 200 people attend Sunday services) and Armenian language, steadily assimilating, falling to the social bottom. Due to the marginal state the Armenians cannot collectively fight for their rights in Georgia.
On the other hand, according to representatives of the community, the authority of the Georgian Diocese is falling. It has failed to be a strong link in the community, and the decisions adopted by the Diocese differ from the preferences of the Armenians. If these trends remain the community may face the gradual disappearance through absorption, migration and assimilation.
The situation with the return of churches, no matter how much secular authorities of Georgia are want it, is being aggravated by the fact that serious political discussion on this topic has been always torpedoed by the GOC, which recently strangled similar initiative in the bud. In 2011, the Georgian authorities attempted to grant a legal status of the Georgian Diocese of Armenian Church and other religious denominations, but after the demarche Georgian Church the question hung in the air.
The above shows that having political will Georgian government can start the process to address the issue of churches right now, however, it will be very difficult to safely complete the process. Settlement of this problem requires the ability of the power to walk through a mine field and not to undermine its credibility. This is rather internal problem of Georgia, which should be considered in the context of the political and secular authorities. At any time, the GOC may blemish the reputation of power in society.
It should be added that according to the Concordat signed between the political power and the GOC, all the churches located on the territory of Georgia belong to the Georgian Church, which, in essence, is the most powerful nationalist "political power" (due to the loyalty of the population both to the Church and personality Patriarch Ilia II) after the party of Prime Minister. But in general, the favor of the Georgian authorities to solve the problems of the church indicates the change in the political attitude and the willingness to fight for the strengthening of its position in relation to the Church.