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MPs debate speakers list; mosques in Georgia

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, February 15
The spring session of Parliament began with a bang on February 14. A misunderstanding arose between some opposition members and fellow opposition MP, Jondi Baghaturia, the resolution of which paved the way for a debate between government and opposition members over proposed mosques being built on Georgian territory.

Baghaturia initially protested the fact that fellow opposition leader, Giorgi Targamadze of the Christian-Democrats, delivered his speech before Baghaturia, stating that he was first on the list of speakers and that Targamadze was being favoured by the majority faction. “Such situations frequently take place regarding Targamadze. It reminds me of school, when less a successful student was favoured only because he was the 'Director’s man'," Baghaturia remarked.

However, his protest prompted no change to the list, and the leader of the Christian-Democrats was first to speak. Targamadze’s speech primarily dealt with a recent agreement between Georgia and Turkey, in which mosques will be restored and rebuilt on Georgian territory in exchange for the restoration of Georgian monasteries in Turkey. He protested the fact that the Georgian Patriarchate is not involved in the process. He expressed respect for the Turkish position, instead blaming the Saakashvili administration for poorly directing the negotiation process.

Targamadze emphasized that the protection of cultural heritage is an international obligation for all countries, and that discussions on the matter should be carried out through UNESCO. He also claimed that "the Georgian government’s position does not fill the obligations" to international law. Targamadze has demanded all information and conditions to be made available to the Patriarchate, so that they may be involved in the drafting of further agreements.

Despite their initial quarrel, Baghaturia expressed support for Targamadze's statement. He connected the construction of mosques in Georgia to Turkish expansion, claiming that Turks "own almost all businesses in the Adjara region". He also noted that there are 150 mosques in Georgia, and that building one more is, in his view, "irresponsible" of the President.

These statements were not received well by government MPs. Goka Gabashvili stressed that Georgia is a multicultural, multi-confessional state and the duty of the authorities is represent all religions. He noted, too, that it is the duty of the government to protect Georgian heritage, and this agreement with Turkey was made in that spirit. "Our churches, which were the first places of Georgian cultural and spiritual development, [have] to survive," he said.

A statement regarding the restoration issue was released by the Georgian Patriarchate several days ago, in which it expressed its disappointment with the government's position and accused the administration of violating Georgian law (regarding the inclusion of the Church in similar negotiations). The Patriarchate also mentioned that the Turkish government is obliged, thanks to international law, to protect historical and cultural artefacts on its territory, and should have involved UNESCO in the process.

The Patriarchate also issued an ultimatum in its statement: they offered their own funds to restore a church in Ardasheni, Turkey, then negotiations can continue with the Church at the table. If this compromise is unacceptable to the Turkish government, the Patriarchate stated that it is unacceptable to them that more mosques are built on Georgian soil.