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Patriarchate demands involvement in negotiations over mosques and churches restoration issue

By Mzia Kupunia
Thursday, January 20
The Georgian Patriarchate issued a special statement on January 18 concerning the negotiations between Turkey and Georgia on restoring several churches on Turkish territory, as well as several mosques on Georgian territory. The Georgian Patriarchate has claimed that the process of the negotiations should have been agreed with the Patriarchate as “according to the Georgian legislation, the church is a legal entity of public law and it owns Georgian orthodox churches and monasteries and the state is obliged to hold negotiations on taking care of Georgian churches located abroad.”

According to the Patriarchate’s statement, the list of the churches handed to the Turkish side, as well as the conditions of the negotiations between the two countries “should have been agreed with the owner of the churches – the Georgian Patriarchate.” “This has happened neither now, nor before and we absolutely do not understand this,” the statement reads. The Patriarchate claims that the churches which bear a historical importance, including Oshki, Khandzta, Otkhta and Ishkhani, could have been restored in the frames of the UNESCO project. “We should have conducted negotiations with the Turkish side on restoring other churches,” the Patriarchate said.

On Jaunary 10, the Georgian Foreign Ministry announced that the negotiations on restoring churches and mosques on Georgian and Turkish territories, which started two years ago, are in progress. According to the Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia, Nino Kalandadze, the protocol on cooperation has already been drafted.

“The Georgian side is waiting for the final version of the protocol from the Turkish side,” she said “Of course, we are interested that the Georgian historical monuments on Turkish territory be preserved with the participation of Georgian groups… and of course we will let them [the Turkish side] restore the monuments which are on Georgian territory but are considered as Turkish ones,” Kalandadze noted, adding that it is not yet clear when the negotiations process will end and specifically which monuments will be included in the list. “The issue is important and consequently we are keen for the process to go fast,” the Deputy Minister stated.

According to the Director of Georgia’s Cultural Heritage Preservation Agency, Nika Vacheishvili, plans are afoot for three mosques to be restored and one will be built in Georgia in return for the rehabilitation of Khandzta, Oshki, Ishkhani and Otkhta churches on the Turkish territory [historical Tao-Klarjeti region]. The Georgian media reports that some of the Batumi population is against restoring a mosque in the city. The Chairman of the Republican Party Ajara region branch, Murman Dumbadze voiced their claims last week, saying that “if in Tao-Klarjeti the Georgian churches will only have a function of ordinary buildings, then restoring and functioning of a mosque in Batumi is unacceptable.” Dumbadze demanded that the Georgian Patriarchate should “immediately get involved in the process of negotiations.”

In its statement, the Georgian Patriarchate has pointed out that it is necessary to determine to which side the restored mosques located in Georgia and the restored churches located in Turkey will belong. “We hope that our offers will be acceptable for all sides and make the relations between us more constructive,” the statement posted on the Georgian Patriarchate’s website reads.