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Religious dispute in western Georgia heats-up over

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, October 28
Up until recently, Georgia has traditionally been known to be an ethnically and religiously tolerant country. However, as of late, Georgia has demonstrated some less than tolerant attitudes towards its religious minorities, most recent of which, were attitudes pertaining to its sizeable Muslim population in western Georgia.

The local Christian population claims that the government routinely makes decisions on issues that favor the Muslim community. This is in turn triggers feeling of dissatisfaction among Christians. As such, the government needs to modify certain policies to avoid such conflicts.

The latest incident concerned a partially destroyed building in the village of Mokhe, in the Adigeni municipality. The building is owned by the local government, which decided to turn the building into a library that will be at disposal of both the Christian and Muslim community. However, local Muslims claim that the building was a mosque before the Soviet Union and now they want the building back.

The proposal was strongly opposed by local Christians, who stated that Muslims already have a mosque in the village and it would be fairer if all the people living in the village would be able to utilize the building.

The Patriarchate got involved in the issue on October 24. According to Akhaltsikhe and Tao-Klarjeti Metropolitan Teodore, handing over the building to the Muslim population is “absolutely unacceptable” as the building was a church since the 16th century.

The Patriarchate says that in the early 1920s Akhaltsikhe was ruled by Muslim cleric named Agha Sultanov . During his time, churches were destroyed and mosques were being built on the former sites of the churches. There was a church in the village of Mokhe, which was also destroyed and one of the walls of the mosque was built from the church stones. However, the Soviet-era started soon after, and the mosque was not completed.

“Thus, no Muslim ritual took place in the building, the Soviet government placed a library, cinema and a house of culture in the building in different periods. If the building’s history is studied archeologically, everything will become clear,” Teodore said, demanding the transfer of the building to the Patriarchate.

Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili called the development a “small dispute” and stated that owing to the fact that the building was disputed, the local government decided to renovate the building in a way that will be beneficial for all religious followers in the area (a library). The PM appealed to both religious representatives to obey the legislation.

In their joint statement, NGOs openly criticized the government for its inadequate response to the issue. They stressed that in several cases the government ignored the rights of religious minorities in favor of the religious majority.

On October 22, the State Agency of Religious Issues announced that the village’s Muslim population has not addressed the body with a request to solve the problem. The agency stressed that the issue should be resolved based on consensus and through the involvement of all interested sides.

The current situation is quite complicated and requires a peaceful environment and a reasonable attitude if an appropriate solution is ever to be found.