Vestnik Kavkaza, Russia
July 30 2014

Relations between Georgian and Armenian churches

30 July 2014 - 2:02pm

A sketch with an incident in the background

By Georgy Kalatozishvili, Tbilisi. Exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza

Recent events at the Surb Echmiadzin church in Tbilisi city center
drew attention to relations between the Georgian and Armenian
churches. The clash between Georgians and Armenians in the Avlabar
District of Tbilisi is unique and was followed by an uncompromising
stand in finding the causes of the conflict. Any professional
conflictologist can say that even if it was an ordinary quarrel, it
was based on the interests of two communities.

This is why this ordinary quarrel has such broad interpretations. The
Georgian side asserts that a local Georgian woman was irritated by an
Armenian cleric blocking a drive by parking his car. The Georgian
Eparchy of the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) said that two
congregants tried to help the woman and a conflict started. Imagine
two courteous young men helping a lady and she just keeps shouting and
insulting Armenians and their church.

There is no point in searching for all the nuances and huddles of
motivations for the quarrel. What is more important is that it
highlighted religious tensions between the two states and communities.
If we do not look so deep as into the schism of the Dyophysites and
the Miaphysites and take the last 25-year history, we can say that
differences were first seen at the start of the construction of the
St. Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi in 1989.

The patriarchy of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) decided to build
a huge temple on a hill near an Armenian cemetery. The territory of
the church, Armenian officials say, will take part of the territory of
the cemetery. The sides managed to keep that problem down. The St.
Trinity Cathedral was built and Georgia cannot be imagined without it,
the building fits so well into the architecture and the ecclesiastical
life of the Georgian capital.

There are no dogmatic disputes between the churches, because the
differences had long been established and recognized. The Armenian
church insists on the return of closed churches on Georgian territory,
mainly the Surb Norashen Church in Tbilisi.

The fate of the church became tragic after the failure of the AAC and
the GOC to decide its ownership. According to the Georgian narrative,
often cultivated by Georgian clerical and near-clerical confidants,
the Surb Norashen and other churches in Georgia were actually Georgian
until they were bought by Armenian clerics with lies and gold. One
needs only to see the architecture of Surb Norashen to be confident
that it is an Armenian church.

The Armenian diplomacy is to keep the church closed if it cannot be
handed over to the AAC. So the statuesque Christian church remains
empty, gradually becoming desolated and crumbling. Armenian officials
visiting Georgia often visit it and stand at the half-broken chancel
with stern faces.

Armenian Patriarch Karekin II discussed the problem during his visit
to Georgia. It almost turned into a row when it appeared on social
networks. In the recording, the Armenian patriarch was scolding his
Georgian counterpart for refusing legal status to the eparchy of the
AAC. Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II is a soft and polite man, he tried
to object.

Georgian President Saakashvili decided to intervene and, with the help
of the parliamentary majority, he gave the Armenian eparchy legal

In its turn, the GOC patriarchy declared the foundation of the
Agarak-Tashir Eparchy, stretching throughout the Lore Province that
Georgia and Armenian had fought for in 1918. The GOC assures that the
region has Georgian Orthodox churches and they should be under the
control of the GOC. The Holy Echmiadzin, expressing no doubts that the
churches there exist, said that they do not belong to Georgia.

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili proposed restoration of all Armenian
churches in Georgia at his own expense. The GOC did not give him the
permission. But even if his benevolent project succeeded, the problems
of ownership of churches, control of the AAC eparchy and renewal of
worship in Surb Norashen would have not been resolved.

Unlike in the age of the Council of Chalcedon, when there were no
Georgians or Armenians in their modern understanding and there were
Dyophysites and Miaphysites instead, the relations between the GOC and
the AAC are affected by their nation-building function, based mainly
on ethnicity.