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The Role of Religions in Georgia in 1918 – 2018 PDF Print E-mail

The presence of Armenians in Georgia has a history of centuries. The contribution of Armenians in the regions of Georgia, especially in construction, beautifying and empowering of the capital, is truly invaluable. The role of Armenians in strengthening and development of the Georgian state is also great. Therefore, it is not accidental that local Armenians equally perceive Armenia and Georgia as homeland. In 1918, after the declaration of the independence of Georgia, thousands of Armenians (including about 100.000 Georgian speakers) appeared in the Democratic Republic of Georgia. At that time, they made up about 20% of the population of Georgia. In August, 1918, the National Council of Georgia, which was recognized as supreme legislative body, made a decision to include representatives of national minorities in Georgia. Armenian Eleonora Ter-Barseghova-Makhviladze was among five woman Members of Parliament and Mikich Bardoyan was a member of Founding Assembly of the Social – Democratic Party and others. In the cities of the newly independent Georgia Armenians started to make their great contribution to commercial, industrial, scientific, cultural, religious, public and political life.  
The centuries – old history of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia is eloquent testimony of the tolerance, solidarity and peaceful coexistence of Georgian people with representatives of other religions. It is important to note that when the independence, the autocephaly of the Georgian Church restored (on March 12 (25), 1917) and Catholicos - Patriarch of All Georgia Kirion II (1917 – 1918) was proclaimed as the head of the Georgian Church, Catholicos of All Armenians Gevorg V was one of the first who recognized the autocephaly of the Georgian Church, which confirms by the letter being kept in the Tbilisi Literature Museum. During that period, more fruitful cooperation between the Armenian and Georgian Churches began, and the role of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia increased. There were about 445 Armenian churches and chapels (for comparison, let's note that as in those days, there are currently 484 Armenian churches and chapels operating in Iran), 26 of them operates in Tbilisi, number of clergymen reached about 350, there were dozens of parochial schools. Nersisyan, Gayanian feminine school and Mariamian – Hovnanian schools were well-known for their importance and significance. In addition to educational institutions, a number of art and cultural centers and organizations, hospitals and public structures were operating under the auspices of churches.  The churches had their own property, real estate, and income with which the activities of the above-mentioned organizations were implemented.
 Armenian Apostolic Church as a religious organization operating out of the Motherland has traditionally played a great role and today plays important role in preservation of Armenian identity. That is why the anti-church and anti-religious policies of the Bolsheviks against the church first of all influenced the preservation and development of social-cultural and religious values of Armenians.
The Bolsheviks’ religious persecution and repressions have evidently been manifested especially in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In that period, the Soviet government published a number of laws, created anti-church structures, limiting the activities of churches and clergy.
The “free church” or “renovation flow” movement, initiated by the Bolsheviks, penetrated into the Caucasus in 1922 – 1923 as a “rebellion” against the official church, whose actions led to the massive closure of the churches.
Referring to the statistical data of that time, it should be noted that in 1923-24 in Soviet Georgia 41 Armenian churches were closed by the administration in Poti, Kutaisi, Batumi, Akhaltskha, Gori, Sghnakh, Telav, Shulaveri, Dushet and other cities and villages.  Big bell tower of Armenian temple in Telavi was demolished and temple of Sghnakh which has historical and architectural value has been completely destroyed. Only in Tbilisi in August, 1924, fifteen Armenian churches were closed. In general, in Soviet Georgia in 1923 – 1924 fifty-six Armenian churches were closed by the administration.
Catholicos of All Armenians Gevorg V wrote an alarming letter to A. Rikov, Chairman of USSR Council of People’s Commissars on the occasion of the unprecedented massive closure of Armenian churches. Many requests of the Spiritual Council of Armenians in Georgia to return the churches were denied. The property of the church was confiscated. In 1925, the administrative bodies of Georgia confiscated the Monastery’s Cathedral and the building of the Diocesan Headquarters. Tens of clergymen were expelled and deported.
The number of Armenian churches in Tbilisi, according to the report on the activities of the Diocese, written by Bishop Artak Smbatyants, in 1930, there were 25 churches in 1923-1930 and these churches were classified by the following groups: occupied and closed, closed churches which could be opened and opened churches.
Unfortunately, one of the most powerful religious structures in Georgia and particularly in Tbilisi, the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, had irreversible losses in the result of Bolsheviks policy. During the Soviet era, only two of the twenty-six churches functioned in Tbilisi – Saint George in Meidan district and Saint Etchmiadzin church in Avlabari, in Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki Saint Gregory the Illuminator and Holy Cross churches respectively were operating.
Today, despite the attention and good attitude of the Georgian government towards religious communities operating in Georgia, especially towards the traditional religious institutions, it is worth mentioning that the Armenian Diocese in Georgia, as well as other religious organizations, faces discrimination and problems the existence of which badly affects the activities of religious institutions and the reputation of the country. Certainly, the partial compensation for damage caused to the traditional religious communities (which began to operate since 2014) during the Soviet era, has particular significance. The financial means provided by the government are a great support for religious communities, which in our case help to implement numerous programs in the Armenian Diocese in Georgia and ensure daily activities of the Diocese. However, the issue of return of churches and property confiscated from religious institutions during the Soviet era still remain unsolved. Citizens of Georgia, regardless of their linguistic, ethnic, national and religious identity, are equal in social, economic, cultural and political life, which is enshrined in the Constitution. International organizations are also speaking up about the necessity to resolve the issue of compensation for confiscated property from religious minorities, including from the Armenian Diocese in Georgia. Thus, Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe states that whereas the church property of some religious communities has been compensated, the property compensation of the Armenian Church is delayed. There are significant contradictions and it should be an impetus for the Georgian authorities to take measures to compensate the Armenian churches confiscated from the Armenian Diocese in Georgia as quickly as it possible and to develop a mechanism for equally financing for religious organizations. These issues require a quick and fair solution, and in this process the state should play a role of independent mediator who provides basic human rights without any discrimination. We believe that such an approach of the state will contribute to the further democratic development of Georgia, which will become the basis for the long-term development of multinational and multi-religious Georgia.
It is worth mentioning that the Armenian Diocese in Georgia is a member of the Inter-religious Cooperation Council adjunct to the Patriarchate of Georgian Orthodox Church, as well as a member of the Council of Religions adjunct to the Public Defender of Georgia (Ombudsman), in the frameworks of which numerous issues of religious organizations are being discussed. On March 12, 2012, the Armenian Diocese in Georgia was registered in Public Register of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia as a legal entity of the public law.
As of 2018, the Diocese of Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church in Georgia has 22 clergymen and 58 operating churches and chapels. At the same time, educational, cultural and youth centers, a number of creative groups, Sunday Schools and Preschools operate adjunct to the Diocese.  
The Armenian Diocese in Georgia attaches great importance to the integration of Armenian faithful in Georgia into the Georgian public and cultural life.
The Armenian Diocese in Georgia attaches great importance to the special relationship with the Georgian Orthodox Holy Church that has been formed over the millennia and considers it an “endless treasure” (as the Gospel says) for Armenians living in Georgia.
Like the Armenian Diocese in Georgia, we are convinced that other traditional religious communities also appreciates the activity of the State Agency for Religious Issues adjunct to the Georgian Government, which inspires hope that numerous problems accumulated for decades will get their solutions.

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