Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, suggested on Tuesday that “sooner or later” Georgia will have to face broad public debates on whether there should be minarets in the country or not.
She said that although minaret of a mosque in the village of Chela in Adigeni municipality was built “illegally”, removing it forcibly by the authorities was “completely unacceptable” for her.
“Regrettably there is a tense situation in Chela. [Case] of Chela is probably the first one and it is not ruled out that other specific situations over this issue in Georgia may lead us to the need of resolving such a general issue like it is the issue of minarets,” Tsulukiani told journalists on August 27.
“I think this topic should not be a taboo. Sooner or later the Georgian society will have to discuss without any emotions, hysteria and confrontation the following issues – should there be minarets or not in our country. Various European states resolved this issue at various times through various means – some of them rejected minarets through referendum. Georgia should take a decision on its own through involvement of all the citizens of all the confessions,” she said.
“It does not depend on minarets whether there will be or not a prayer in a mosque. Nothing hampers prayer in the Chela mosque and it is the most important issue at this stage,” Tsulukiani said.
Formally the reason for removal of the minaret was a decision by the Revenue Service at the Finance Ministry, which said that the minaret was removed for the purpose of its inspection to verify if the metal construction materials, used for building of the minaret, were properly declared when cargo was imported into Georgia from Turkey on July 14.
“As far as minaret itself is concerned, if the cargo was sneaked through customs, responsibility of concrete customs officers should be raised,” Justice Minister Tsulukiani said and added that customs officers should have performed their duties properly even if the cargo “was sneaked through the customs with changed [product] code, which on the Turkish side was classified as minaret and after being imported into Georgia it was classified as metal construction [material].”
“But after this construction [material] was imported into Georgia and after it was already attached to the mosque, I, as an Orthodox Christian, would have been afraid to touch the minaret [for the purpose of its removal] even if it was erected through violation of law; that’s my personal stance over this issue,” she said.
“This minaret was attached to this mosque illegally; the local municipality and Sakrebulo, which remain [United] National Movement [party’s] strongholds in Adigeni took the decision” that the minaret was constructed without formal permission from the local authorities, Tsulukiani said.
“What has happened is regrettable. But it should also be noted that not a single illegal building in Georgia, no matter what the pretext is, should be constructed illegally, but I would have preferred to have more efforts directed on preventive measures in order to then prevent forcible approach towards the issue,” she said.
“I want to call on the Muslim community and Muslim clerics – if I were them I would have been insulted too over what has happed, but I want to express my regret that Muslim clerics allowed to erect minaret stealthy overnight without informing neither local residents nor local authorities about it. We should understand one simple thing – regardless of our faith, we are all compatriots of this country and we have nothing to hide.”
“But I want to repeat once again that the way how [the minaret] was disassembled is completely unacceptable for me,” Tsulukiani said.
Meanwhile, on August 27 dozens of people gathered outside the state chancellery, housing PM’s office, to protest against removal of the minaret from a mosque in the Chela village.