Echmiadzin Condemns Attack on Armenian Clerics in Georgia

TBILISI (RFE/RL) — Church officials in Armenia have expressed their concern over a violent incident in an Armenian church in Tbilisi this week that left several clergymen injured.

In a statement disseminated on Sunday the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) described the previous day’s altercation and subsequent violence against Armenian clerics, Diocese employees and a group of Christian Armenians in the yard of the Holy Echmiadzin Church in the Georgian capital as a “pre-planned attack” committed on the grounds of “ethnic and religious hatred.”

It said as many as 50 men, some of whom were armed, committed the violence that was prompted by an earlier argument over parking space involving a Georgian woman and an Armenian priest.

Some people attending an Armenian christening ceremony inside the church at the moment reportedly came out into the yard and were also attacked by the men.

“Women and children, shocked by what they had seen, hid in the church,” the statement reads. “We must note that a group of nicely dressed people were watching the incident.”

According to the statement, clerics and employees of the Armenian Diocese got physical injuries and one of the attacking men tore a cross off the neck of one priest and took it with him. The Armenian Diocese called on Georgian law-enforcement bodies to investigate what happened as a crime committed on ethnic and religious grounds. But in a statement issued later the Georgian Interior Ministry said that it saw no ethnic motives behind the violence.

Meanwhile, the Mother See of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Echmiadzin issued a separate statement on Monday, insisting that the actions of the men who attacked the Armenian church in Tbilisi “incited ethnic hatred and religious intolerance.”

“This provocative infringement is a regrettable consequence of anti-Armenian sentiments being spread by different organizations and individuals in Georgia, including by certain Georgian clerics,” the AAC said, stressing that such “manifestations of extremism” contradict “the spirit of friendly relations” between the Armenian and Georgian peoples.

“The Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin expects the Georgian authorities to bring all those who committed the infringement upon the Armenian Church to responsibility and to ensure the security and normal life for the Armenian Church and Armenian community in Georgia,” it emphasized.

Armenpress reported that the head of the Foreign Department of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Gerasim of Zugdidi and Tsaishi, on July 22 met with Prelate of the Georgian-Armenian Diocese, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan and discussed the attack. “The attack on the Armenian Church of Holy Echmiadzin is unacceptable and the Georgian Orthodox Church condemns that incident and calls on the parties for peace and tranquility. Besides, the Georgian Church will try to contribute to the settlement of the problem and the peaceful coexistence of all religions,” according to a statement by the Georgian Church.