The Georgian media yesterday put out a story that could easily develop into a major scandal between Tbilisi and Yerevan. Some of the Georgian media published a confidential letter by the Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) in Georgia, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan, to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili containing a request to hand over a number of churches on Georgian territory to the diocese of the AAC.
The Georgian media yesterday put out a story that could easily develop into a major scandal between Tbilisi and Yerevan.
Some of the Georgian media published a confidential letter dated 10 December 2014 by the Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) in Georgia, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan, to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili containing a request to hand over a number of churches on Georgian territory to the diocese of the AAC. The letter was registered in the Georgian prime minister’s office on 12 December 2014 under number 42179.
The letter expresses a request “…to return repossessed churches and monasteries (functional and non-functional), their ruins and the land on which they are or were situated to the ownership of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church. By way of an appendix we present a list of 442 churches and monasteries (operative and non-operative), as well as their ruins, which were repossessed from the Armenian diocese”.
The Georgian media draws attention to the fact that this letter was received on the day that Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan arrived on an official visit to Georgia, and as part of this visit he visited the Surb Echmiadzin Church in Avlabari.
Bearing in mind the timing of Abrahamyan’s visit to Georgia and the sending of this letter to Garibashvili, the Georgian media are in no doubt that the matter set out in the letter was discussed at the meeting between the two premiers.
It is significant that the rumours about these claims by the Armenian Church which emerged at the time have been rejected by both the Georgian and Armenian sides at an official level.
Now, almost three months later, the Georgian media has managed to acquire and publish this document. They claim that the list of churches is so vast that one may venture to compare these claims with the historic seizure of Albanian churches in Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is interesting to note that if we look at the list we are talking about vast property on Georgian territory which the Armenian Church actually wants to remove from Georgian jurisdiction and make subordinate to Echmiadzin.
The historian Guram Markhuliya, President of the Caucasian International Research Centre for Geohistory and Geopolitics, told the Interfax news agency that one gets the impression that some forces are trying to drag the Armenian people into a new conflict.
“Surely the Armenians must realize they are simply being set up? As if a war with Azerbaijan wasn’t enough, they are now being pushed into a war with Georgia,” the historian says with amazement. In his opinion, some people might interpret the Georgian leaders’ attempt to hide the fact that there was such a letter as not wanting to bring grist to the mill of those forces who are trying to create a new hotbed of tension in the region.
“But Tbilisi must realize that this can’t drag on for long. You know, it’s like the surgeon who, having cut open his patient’s stomach, discovers an abscess there, but decides not to ‘bother any more’ and sows it back again. But later gangrene sets in, which unfortunately leads to very grave consequences,” Markhuliya said.
In this context he believes the Georgian government and the Academy of Sciences should set up a commission to conduct a classification of historical and religious monuments on Georgian territory.
“It seems to me that Georgian government must do something in this situation. This is an acute and very dangerous issue which requires positive actions for the benefit of the Georgian and Armenian peoples. Because clearly there are some people who now want to set the Armenian people against Georgia, and we – the Georgian and Armenian peoples – must prevent this,” Markhuliya stressed.