PRESS RELEASE
"YERKIR", UNION OF NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
FOR REPATRIATION AND SETTLEMENT
Contact: Anahit Davidyants
Mobile: + (374 94) 45 99 94
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: http://www.yerkir.org

May 30, 2008
Yerevan, Armenia

«YERKIR» UNION APPEALS TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO FACILITATE THE
RETURN OF THE -NORASHEN- ARMENIAN CHURCH TO ITS LEGITIMATE OWNER

Alarmed on the recent developments around the -Norashen-
Armenian church in Tbilisi, Georgia, -Yerkir- Union has prepared an appeal
addressed to the international community. On May 29, 2008 the letters
containing appeal were delivered to the state bodies of Georgia (President,
Prime Minister, Chairman of the Parliament, State Minister for the
Reintegration Issues, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Education and
Science, Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister of Culture, Monument
Protection and Sport), Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, human rights
defender of Georgia, embassies of European Union, France, Germany, Italy,
Russia, Swiss Confederation, United Kingdom, USA, Vatican, representations
of the Council of Europe in Georgia, United Nations, OSCE, human rights
organizations and NGO's operating in Georgia.

Below is the full text of the appeal.

To All International Organizations, Embassies and Other Concerned Structures
and Persons Operating in Georgia

Although Georgia has joined and ratified numerous international documents on
freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the situation regarding the
protection of religious rights of minorities is distressing. In comparison
with the Georgian Orthodox Church, other religious confessions, and,
particularly, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic Churches (AAC and RCC
respectively) in Georgia continually suffer from discrimination: they do not
have a status of public legal entity, their churches, nationalized by the
Soviet regime, 17 years after the destruction of the Soviet Union still
remain unreturned to their legitimate owners.
The Armenian Apostolic Church demands return of -Norashen-, -Surb Nshan-,
-Shamkhoretsots Surb Astvadzadzin-, -Mughno Surb Gevorg-, -Surb Minas-
churches in Tbilisi, and -Surb Nshan- church in Akhaltsikhe.
Numerous international organizations, human rights institutes are
acknowledging the legitimacy of these religious claims and continually
recommending the Georgian government to solve these issues.
The UN Human Rights Committee in its 91th session (October 15-16th, 2007)
considering the third periodic report on Georgia about how that State Party
is fulfilling its obligations, under the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, called upon Georgian authorities
1. To take steps to ensure equal enjoyment of the right of freedom of
religion or belief and ensure that its legislation and practices conform
fully with the international standards
2. To address the problems related to the confiscation of places of
worship and related properties of religious minorities.
The issue of registration of the AAC and RCC and return of their property is
also raised in the US department's International Religious Freedom Reports
(2005-07), in the Georgian Ombudsman's reports and various other documents.
In spite of all these recommendations and appeals, the Georgian Government
continues its discriminatory policy, the apparent manifestation of which is
the recent crisis over the -Norashen- Armenian Church in Tbilisi. Father
Tariel Sikinchelashvili, a senior priest of the Georgian Orthodox Church,
has initiated construction works on the immediate proximity of -Norashen-
and temporarily halted them down after the insistence and public protests of
the Armenian community.
To clarify the situation, on May 21-22, the fact finding group of -Yerkir-
Union of NGO's has visited Tbilisi. During the interview with Father Tariel
we have found out that the construction works he was carrying were
authorized by the municipality of Tbilisi.
And although the construction of the surrounding fence (carrying Georgian
religious symbols) has been suspended, it still continues in the inner yard
of the church.
We have carefully documented the above mentioned facts. In the attached DVD
disc, you can find the following:
1. Permission of construction works given by the municipality of
Tbilisi
2. Georgian ombudsman's statement affirming that Georgian authorities
do nothing to implement international recommendations
3. Documentary shots showing that construction works are still in
progress
(To get online version of the film, please visit:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om1GzTHuJ5Q ).

Taking into consideration the above mentioned facts, -Yerkir- Union of NGO's
calls upon the UN, EU, OSCE and Council of Europe appropriate structures and
all concerned international organizations and human rights bodies to take
immediate and direct measures for solving all ethnic minority rights issues
in Georgia and above all facilitating the registration of the AAC, the RCC
and return all confiscated places of worship to their legitimate owners.