Time to Contain Georgian Arrogance


By Edmond Y. Azadian

His Holiness Karekin II had been planning to visit Georgian Armenian communities for a long time. His visit would be only the second one since Khrimian Hairig, Catholicos of all Armenians, visited more than a century ago. On again and off again, the visit finally happened when Georgian Church authorities, and especially Georgian Patriarch Illya II, extended the invitation, when all his traps and plots were in place to intimidate his Armenian counterpart.

Georgians are known to be fun-loving people, always at the expense of others. During the last several centuries, Armenians built their capital, Tbilisi, which in the 19th century had become the Paris of the Caucasus. When the Soviet revolution came to be, it was a very handy excuse to get rid of the capitalist class — mostly Armenian — and they took over what that class had built in terms of culture, architecture, material wealth and religious institutions.

Georgia is the only other Christian nation in the Caucasus, but it has always been envious of the Armenians and thus is always plotting against Armenia, in collusion with its enemies.

It turns out that that competitive envy had also permeated the Georgian religious order, beginning from their Patriarch Illya II down to the ordinary priests usurping Armenian churches, all along and trampling human and minority rights.

In Georgia, Armenians are mostly concentrated in the capital Tbilisi and the Javakhk region. During the Soviet period and subsequent independence years, Georgians have repressed Armenians into becoming a docile community.

Although the Armenian government tries to help fellow Armenians in Georgia, it has to do so with kid gloves, because Armenia’s economic lifeline to the world beyond goes through Georgia. In addition, gas and oil from Russia pass through the Georgian territory. The Tbilisi government has deftly used those factors every time it has decided to exert political pressure on Armenia.

Javakhk is an Armenian territory, which has fallen under Georgian administration by an accident of history, during the 1918-1920 period. The Georgians have used tacit and not-so-tacit methods to depopulate the region of Armenians.

The catholicos’s visit this month brought out the true colors and intentions of the Georgian clergy.

To begin with, the Georgian Patriarch accompanied Karekin, under the pretext of hosting him on Georgian land, but in reality, he tried to steal the show, because Armenians all over that land gave a warm reception to the Armenian pontiff. His Holiness also raised some outstanding issues between the churches: confiscation of Armenian monasteries and places of worship and above all the status of the Armenian Church in Georgia. As of today, the Armenian Church does not have a legal status in that country. The government gets away with murder, thumbing its nose at Armenian demands.

It is ironic that the European Union, the US State Department and human rights groups are at Armenia’s back to accept and register all kinds of esoteric sects which wreak havoc in Armenia, undermining the authority of the Armenian Apostolic Church and infiltrate the military to incite soldiers to give up arms against the enemy. Armenia is criticized as being a partially free country, whereas Georgia enjoys impunity though it has refused to recognize any church as a legal entity, because Georgia is the West’s spoiled brat in the Caucasus.

During His Holiness Karekin’s visit, a joint communiqué surfaced in Tbilisi, with preposterous demands. The Armenian side was quick to clarify to the public that it has not signed such a communiqué. The outrageous demand in that communiqué claimed parity between the two churches, meaning, whatever status the Armenian Church enjoys in Georgia, the same status should be accorded to the Georgian Church in Armenia.

Georgian clergy have confiscated Armenian churches in their country, whereas no Georgian churches exist in Armenia, even if the Armenian clergy harbored the same intensions versustheir Georgian counterparts.

Despite this fact, the Georgian Patriarch announced a few years ago the formation of the Diocese of the Georgian Church in Northern Armenia, where very few Georgians live and no churches exist.

Adding insult to injury, the Georgian Patriarch made some derogatory remarks about our Catholicos, dispensing advice that he should wait to have more experience and that change cannot be brought overnight, forgetting that he needs to learn some common courtesy and religious conduct and not to behave like a Georgian guindo.

Although the Catholicosate rebuked the remarks of the Georgian pontiff, further action is needed to tame the Georgian arrogance.

In the first place, the European governments who request compliance from Armenia must be alerted. If necessary, legal action needs to be taken.

Armenians in Javakhk have limited resources and the Armenian government is in a precarious situation and realizes the cost of rocking the boat. Therefore, it is incumbent on diaspora organizations — and especially religious institutions — to assume the responsibility and to meet the challenge.

Washington, the patron saint of Georgia, has to be apprised of the religious intolerance and abuse of human rights rampant in that country. In this instance, since the issue is mostly religious in nature, both the Diocese and the Prelacy can come together to draft a position paper and appeal to our legislatures who have become so generous in spoiling Georgia in order to spite Moscow.

In addition, letters, e-mails and phone calls should inundate the State Department and congressional offices.

Sitting idly will not change the desperate situation of the Armenians in Georgia.

This boundless arrogance has to be contained.