From left to right: Armenian Church leader Karekin II; President Saakashvili and Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II in Tbilisi, June 10. Photo: Armenian Church website.
Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, indicated on June 19 that resolving dispute with the Armenian Church, involving ownership of several churches and legal status, would take more time.
Commenting on a recent visit to Georgia by the Armenian Catholicos, Karekin II – the first one by the Armenian Church leader over a century, Ilia II said in his Sunday sermon in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi, that Karekin II was clever, but young, who needed to gain more experience.
“He is young person and he probably still needs to gain more experience,” Ilia II said.
“He is a clever man, but he wants everything to be done fast, but it does not work. I told him that I have a huge experience – 33 years [of being the Patriarch], so calmness is the best [option].”
“We talked about relations. Armenians have a desire to open more churches in Georgia. We offered them to have such an attitude: what will be done here for the Armenian [churches], the same should be done in Armenia [for the Georgian churches]. If the [Armenian] churches open here, there [in Armenia] too Georgian churches should be opened. We have agreed that in the future we will have a better cooperation,” the Georgian Church leader said.
Ilia II said during the visit of the Armenian Catholicos, that the legal status of the Georgian Church in Armenia should be the same one that the Armenian Church would have in Georgia.
On June 19, Ilia II also said that the Georgian Church was “open” for cooperation for everyone, but “the Georgian Church will not allow putting our country and the nation in disadvantage.”
“We have bilateral dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, with the Anglican Church and with various other [religious groups]; so the Georgian Church is open; we are engaged in bilateral dialogue with pleasure with various nations and we are not saying no to that, but at the same time we should maintain and take care of our faith, culture and spirituality," Ilia II, 78, said.
Karekin II, who will turn 60 this August and who became head of the Armenian Church in 1999, visited Georgia on June 10-15.
One of the issues discussed during the meeting with Ilia II, as well as during the talks with President Saakashvili was a disputed issue of ownership of several churches. The Armenian Apostolic Church’s main concern remains the return of five churches in Tbilisi and one in Akhaltsikhe. According to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, the status of at least 30 other churches claimed by the Armenian Apostolic Church remain disputed.
The Georgian Orthodox Church claims ownership over several medieval churches in the province of Lori in northern Armenia, bordering with Georgia, including the one in the village of Akhtala.
Another sticking point is the legal status of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia. In order to receive a legal status, religious groups other than the Georgian Orthodox Church can be registered as a noncommercial entity of private law. But these religious groups, including the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Roman Catholic Church, complain that such form of registration is depriving them the privilege to be recognized officially as religions.