Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, expressed regret over hasty approval of legislative amendments on religious minorities’ legal status, saying that the law “is dangerous” and it required thorough consideration.
“This law is so important and so dangerous that lawmakers should have thought about what its consequences might be in ten, hundred years… We lack analytical thinking. Analysis should be made before doing something and not afterwards,” Ilia II said.
“You all know my [July 4] statement… We are not saying that religious [minorities] should not be granted with [legal] status. We are saying that we should sit down, invite academicians, clerics and specialists and discuss it.”
“It is regrettable that lawmakers were so in hurry that they passed [the legislative amendments] in one day,” the Georgian Patriarch said.
He also said that the Georgian Church’s position should not be interpreted as being against the Armenian Church or Armenians.
A senior cleric from the Georgian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Zenon, linked hasty approval of the legislative amendments by the Georgian Parliament to Armenia, suggesting that after a failure to agree with the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church managed to achieve its goal of gaining legal status through the consent of the Georgian authorities. Georgian Church officials also say, that the legal status would now pave the way for some religious minority groups, particularly the Armenian Apostolic Church, to formally claim ownership over several disputed churches in Georgia. The Georgian Patriarchate was insisting that the Georgian Church too should have been granted a legal status in Armenia in parallel to the similar decision by Georgia.
“My statement in no way contains any opinion against Armenians. Despite of all conversations, Georgians and Armenians have always been and will be brothers; this is necessary. When Armenians are in trouble, we provide our help and when we are in trouble they provide us help,” the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church said on July 7.
“What I said was that this is so complicated and important law and this law may be misused,” Ilia II said.
“For that reason everything should have been taken into consideration and the [Georgian Orthodox] Church should have also been involved in discussion, because in many cases it also concerns the Church,” he said.
“Some say why the Church is touching upon the issue which is a matter of the state. That’s not the issue only related to the state; that’s the issue which concerns the entire nation – the Church and especially the state. And the process, which was being discussed yesterday have strained relations between the religions. That should not happen. The Georgian people have always been protector of other small nations and national minorities; the Georgian people have always been protecting Armenians, Russians, Azerbaijanis, Jews.”
“I want to request the President to veto this law unless discussions take place. The main responsibility lies on the President and I want him to be in calmness – he and our country. I hope everything will be all right,” the Georgian Patriarch said.
At the time when the Patriarch requested President Saakashvili to veto the bill on July 7, the document was already signed into law and published, meaning that all formal procedures are now completed and the bill is already the law.