ACTION ALERT: Religious equality and freedom of consciousness in the Republic of Georgia

ACTION ALERT: Religious equality and freedom of consciousness in the Republic of Georgia

Dear friends,

The Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada has learned of the collapse of the Armenian Church of St. Gevork of Mughni in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. Saint Gevork Church dating to 1356, collapsed as a direct result of a lack of maintenance by the government of Georgia.

During Soviet times, churches became the property of the state and the St. Gevork, Armenian Church was used as a museum during which time its physical condition was left to deteriorate. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and with the coming independence of the Republic of Georgia, the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, together with other religious minorities, has not received legal status. Consequently all Armenian churches in Georgia currently carry on under the jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church, without legal rights to safeguard their properties.

In 2002, the government of the Republic of Georgia signed a Constitutional Agreement with Georgian Orthodox Church. The Georgian Orthodox Church received the highest legal status with full legal rights to operate effectively as a religious institution. However, the traditional religious minorities: other Christian groups, Muslims and Jews were left without any legal protection to maintain their status and exercise their legal rights. Many experts view these circumstances as a source and basis for religious discrimination.

The indifference exhibited by the Georgian authorities towards the religious minorities, in general, and in particular, the Armenian Orthodox, does not correspond in any way with the adherence to the universal human values and respect for the rights of minorities; as established by the repeated statements of the Georgian authorities, on the issue of the preservation of the historical and cultural heritage of minorities.

As such, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada condemns the indifference of Georgian authorities and calls upon them to immediately grant legal status to religious minorities and return the Armenian churches in Georgia to the Armenian Diocese of Georgia, to ensure the normal functioning of national-ecclesiastical life of the Georgian-Armenian community and to secure the preservation of Armenian holy sites.

The Government Relations Office of the Diocese of the Armenian Church has initiated an online petition to raise awareness about minority rights and the issue of religious inequality in the Republic of Georgia.

We encourage our faithful throughout Canada to express their discontent and make their requests to the Canadian Government and UNESCO. Please send your letters to ask our government and UNESCO to take immediate action with respect to this new development, by writing to:
The Honorable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada
Mr. A. Bachand, Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Canada to UNESCO
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If you wish to add your voice to this petition, please see the following sample letter which may be used as a resource. You may also choose to copy and paste the sample letter below and email to both links.
Dear Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Dear Mr. Ambassador,
I, the undersigned ……. would like to bring to your attention the condition of minorities in the Republic ofGeorgia. Religious minorities: Christians (other than Georgian Orthodox), Muslims, and Jews, are experiencing difficulties in obtaining the civil registration of their religions and therefore are unable to maintain their institutions. Last week, as a consequence of the irresponsible attitude of Georgian authorities the 700 year old Armenian Church of St. Gevork of Mughni, located in Tbilisi, and which is under the control of Georgian government collapsed due to a negligent lack of maintenance. This is particularly disturbing to Armenians who have deep historical ties to Georgia.

Canada is an international champion in protecting and spearheading the values of fundamental human rights and protection of minority groups. I strongly urge you to express Canada’s concern about the disregard for the rights of religious minorities in Georgia and call upon Georgian government to address this issue, based on principles of international law.

Yours truly,