A group of demonstrators gathered on August 29 in Akhaltsikhe to protest against possible return of removed minaret back to a mosque in the village of Chela in Adigeni municipality of Samtskhe-Javakheti region.
Muslim community leaders in Batumi said that PM Ivanishvili conveyed to them via head of government of Adjara Autonomous Republic, Archil Khabadze, that the minaret would be returned back to Chela by Thursday evening.
But protesters, who are now gathered on a square in the entrance of Akhaltsikhe at local bus terminal, say they will not allow the minaret to be transported back to the village of Chela. The protest is led by two individuals – Goderdzi Kublashvili, who runs Adigeni-based non-governmental organization Public Hall for Development of Adigeni, launched earlier this year, and Giorgi Kopadze, a town mayor back in early 2000s, who has close links with local Orthodox clerics.
Earlier on August 29, protesters were initially gathered outside the police headquarters in Akhaltsikhe and then moved towards the bus terminal at the entrance of the town, threatening to block the road not to let the minaret being transported back to the village of Chela.
As dozens of protesters were marching towards Akhaltsikhe bus terminal, one of the participants, speaking through megaphone, was calling on others: “Brothers and sisters, Georgian citizens, everyone who does not want the minaret to be erected in the village of Chela of Adigeni municipality, join us. Everyone whose heart beats for the homeland and our religion, join us. Long live Christian Georgia.”
The minaret was forcibly removed from the mosque in Chela on August 26 sparking Muslim community’s protest. On August 20 a local city council (Sakrebulo) in Adigeni passed a decision according to which the minaret was constructed illegally without obtaining permission from the local authorities. But 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.
Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, condemned the way how the minaret was removed and said that even though there was “legal ground” for removal of the minaret, the authorities should have acted otherwise in such a “delicate” situation. He told journalists on August 29, that “such a rude meddling” by the authorities “insulted Georgia’s Muslim community.”
Small village of Chela with about couple of hundred people, like several other nearby villages in Adigeni municipality, is populated by ethnic Georgians – some of them Muslims, who resettled there from Adjara and others are Orthodox Christians, who migrated from Racha region.
After the minaret was erected in Chela in July, Adigeni-based non-governmental organization chaired by Goderdzi Kublashvili, started a campaign demanding its removal. Kublashvili was planning a protest rally in Adigeni to demand minaret’s removal, but on August 6 he told Akhaltsikhe-based Channel 9 TV that he decided to cancel the rally “to prevent provocations” and to “give the authorities reasonable timeframe to resolve the issue.” Signatures of citizens were reportedly also collected requesting minaret’s removal, but locals in Chela were telling the Akhaltsikhe-based Samkhretis Karibche newspaper that they were not aware who was behind the campaign and that they were not joining it.