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The problem of the return of Armenian churches in Georgia to the Armenian Diocese in Georgia Issues related to the Tandoyants Church PDF Print E-mail

Distinguished representatives of the Office of the Public Defender of Georgia, representatives of diplomatic missions, public sector figures, spiritual brothers dear sisters and brothers,

On behalf of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia and on behalf of faithful, we welcome all of you and pray for your longevity, salvation of soul and peace.

Dear all, this week our church has entered into the Holy Week, the Greatest All-Christian mystery period. The betrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ, His sufferings, temptation, crucifixion and after that the glad tidings of Christ's resurrection inspires us to hope for optimism, justice and the triumph of truth.

The Armenian Apostolic Holy Church in Georgia operates since the 5th century. Historically, the Armenian Diocese in Georgia is one of the oldest and most important dioceses of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church which played a significant role in the life of the Armenian people and in the history of the Armenian Church. The Armenian Diocese in Georgia covers the territory of Georgia. The Cathedral of the Armenian Diocese is St. Gevorg Church in Tbilisi. The Armenian Diocese in Georgia combines and manages the Armenian churches operating in the territory of Georgia, leads the Armenian Christian community. The history of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia testifies to the centuries-old friendship between the Armenian and Georgian people, peaceful coexistence with the other peoples and the representatives of the other religions in Georgia. It should be mentioned that according to the data from 1914, more than 400 Armenian schools, cultural and philanthropic institutions, hospitals and public buildings attached to the churches.

Since the days of Georgia's independence the Armenian Diocese in Georgia, Georgian citizens of Armenian origin, particularly Tbilisi-Armenians, have been waiting for the return to the Armenian Diocese in Georgia the ancient Armenian temples confiscated by the Bolsheviks in the Soviet era.

However, during the past 27 years as during the Soviet regime only two churches – St. Gevorg Cathedral and St. Etchmiadzin Church in Avlabari continue to operate in Tbilisi and only 58 churches in the whole territory of Georgia, which did not become a legal property of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia.

During the Soviet era 22 of the 27 Armenian churches were destroyed in Pre-Soviet Tbilisi, 6 churches were Georgianized by the Georgian Patriarchate, and the fate of the 7 churches remains uncertain. Among the latter are the St. Gevorg of Mughni church (1356), which collapsed in 2009, the Surb Nshan (St. Nikoghayos) church (the Holy Seal church, (1624)), which was burnt and destroyed in 2002 and 2012, Yerevantsots St. Minas church (1790), which was privatized by a physical entity, in 2009, the Harants Monastery (the belfry, (931)), Krtsanis Tsiranavor St. Astvatsatsin Cathedral church (3-15 centuries). Today, the Shamkhoretsonts St. Astvatsatsin (Red Gospel) (1835) and Surb Nshan (the Holy Seal) churches are in danger of destruction.

Particularly, we are concerned about the fact that the Armenian Tandoyants St. Astvatsatsin church (1850-1860) was illegally transferred to the Georgian Patriarchate's balance sheet in 2017.

We positively assess some of the steps undertaken by the Government of Georgia aimed at protection of the Armenian heritage in Tbilisi. In particular, the efforts made to reinforce the Norashen St. Astvatsatsin church (1467). We hope that in the near future a similar approach will be applied to the other churches as well. Because these architectural monuments are not only the cultural heritage of Armenian people, but also the cultural heritage of our country, Georgia; destruction of these monuments leads to the distortion of the historical portrait of multinational Georgia.

Before the eyes of the Georgian Armenians, faithful of the Armenian Apostolic church, the houses of faith built by our ancestors, temples, where Christians are baptized and our grandmothers and grandfathers got married; continue to be robbed. It is a double pain for us to be witnesses of the collapse and loss of our ancestral heritage in independent and democratic Georgia, when the Armenian Diocese in Georgia is the historical owner of that heritage. It is a feeling that the Armenian historical and cultural heritage in Georgia is twice plundered: for the first time during the Soviet occupation, and the second time, in independent Georgia.

Due to the absence of law on restitution, the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia is deprived of the legitimate opportunity to protect its constitutional rights, as a result of which unlawful and uncontrolled actions by the authorized bodies are taking place. We appeal to the Georgian authorities to return these churches to the Armenian Diocese in Georgia, to make sure that our temples will not be demolished and ruined.

We welcome the activity of the State Agency for Religious Issues of Georgia, established in 2014, as well as the decision of the Government of Georgia on partial compensation for the damage caused during the Soviet regime, the fact that some religious communities (Islamic, Jewish) get back their sanctuaries and we hope that in the near future, our dream to see restored and unlocked, full of Armenian faithful the temples built by our ancestors; will come true.

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