TBILISI, Georgia—The Georgian Orthodox Church condemned a recent incident at the Armenian Surb Etchmiadzin Church in Tbilisi, where clerics were attacked in what was seen as a racially motivated assault. The Georgian Church has called on the participants in the confrontation to make peace.
On July 22 Prelate of the Georgian-Armenian Diocese, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanian met with representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church to discuss Saturday’s incident. The parties noted that the conflict emerged as a result of an incident and does not have a religious or ethnic basis.
“The Georgian Church condemns the incident and calls on participants in the confrontation to make peace,” says a statement by the Georgian Orthodox Church. “The Church as usual will help to solve the problem and to create peaceful coexistence of religious groups in the country.”
The Georgian human rights ombudsman earlier addressed law enforcement groups to properly and effectively investigate the attack on priests at the Armenian church on July 19. On Saturday, about 50 people attacked Surb Etchmiadzin Church in Tbilisi. The Armenian Diocese says the attack was motivated by religious and ethnic prejudice, but the Interior Ministry denies the incident was a case of discrimination.
The Armenian Diocese’s statement said that at around 4 p.m. local time on Saturday, a woman who was trying to drive her car from a parking spot adjacent to the church began hurling insults and blaming church officials for allegedly blocking her way. Two men approached the woman and helped her out of the jam but then proceeded to hurl insults at the church officials who had gathered at the church courtyard to address the issue.
Hearing insults toward Armenians, the deacons protested the man who was being belligerent. He then picked up a rock and threw it at the direction of the church and threatened to beat the deacons with a stick.
Other clerics came out of the church and an altercation ensued with one of the priests being beaten and crosses being ripped off the necks of the priests. Several people sustained injuries before the men fled the scene.
The man returned with 50 more armed men two hours later and attacked the clerics and officials of the Diocese, all the while continuing to hurl anti-Armenian slurs at those present, who were at the church for a Christening.
Church officials have urged the Georgian media to stop the spread of anti-Armenian sentiments in the country, urging the Georgian Church and authorities to condemn the attack and take proper measures. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Tigran Balayan said on Monday that Yerevan expects a thorough and unbiased investigation by the Georgian authorities.
The Holy See of Etchmiadzin issued a statement Monday expressing concern over the attacks and denouncing ethnic and religious intolerance.
“This provocative assault is a result of the anti-Armenian sentiments spread by different organizations and individuals, including some clergymen, in Georgia,” the Mother See said in a statement.
“Such radical expressions do not befit the spirit of friendly relations between the Armenian and Georgian peoples, which is one of the precious achievements of our common past,” the statement reads.
Etchmiadzin said it expected the culprits to be prosecuted and urged the Georgian authorities to guarantee the safety of Armenian citizens and the Armenian Church in Georgia.