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Minaret Returned and 'Stored', Not Re-Erected
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 30 Aug.'13 / 19:58

Minaret is being unloaded from a truck about couple of kilometers from the village of Chela on August 30. Photo: Samkhretis Karibche (SKnews)

A minaret that was forcibly removed by the authorities on August 26 from a mosque in the village of Chela of Adigeni municipality was brought back and stored outside the village, but when, if at all, it will be re-erected remains unclear.

The minaret was brought and unloaded from a truck about couple of kilometers from the village of Chela on August 30, the Akhaltsikhe-based newspaper Samkhretis Karibche (SKnews) reported on its website, which also said that the area where the minaret was stored would remain under police protection.

The return of minaret comes a day after the Revenue Service, which claimed responsibility for its removal, said it completed inspection of metal structure and the minaret was being returned. Also on August 29 a meeting was held between senior Georgian Orthodox and Muslim clerics who announced that an agreement was reached to return the minaret, but not to re-erect it before relevant legislative basis is elaborated.

This meeting in Tbilisi was held amid anti-minaret protest in Akhaltsikhe, led by individuals with close links to local Orthodox clerics. Later on the same day, when two high-ranking Orthodox clerics, who attended talks in Tbilisi, arrived in Akhaltsikhe, told demonstrators that the minaret should be returned back to its owner, but it would never be re-erected.

A screengrab from Akhaltsikhe-based TV station Channel 9’s video showing a mosque in the village of Chela with its minaret before the latter was removed on August 26.

Although return of minaret was welcomed by the Muslim community, there have also been reports about frustration among the Muslim community about the Georgian Orthodox Church having its say on a matter which actually has to be settled between the Muslim community and the state.

Some local Muslims residents of the Chela village complained that the minaret was stored outside the village and not in the village itself.

The minaret in the village of Chela was built in July.  On August 20 a local city council (Sakrebulo) in Adigeni found that the minaret was constructed illegally without having a permit from the local authorities, fined an owner of land where it was erected with GEL 200 and ordered it to be disassembled. On August 26, when police flooded the village and the authorities started the minaret’s removal, accompanied by clashes with local Muslim community, it was thought that the authorities were enforcing Sakrebulo’s decision. 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.

Meanwhile in Batumi, local Muslim community called on the authorities on August 30 to allocate a plot of land in this Black Sea town to build a new mosque as the existing one in Batumi, they say, fails as handle large number of prayers.

The authorities came under fire from the civil society organizations, which have called on the prosecutor’s office to investigate “illegal” removal of the minaret.

Republican Party, which although is a member of Georgian Dream ruling coalition, released a statement separately from its political partners condemning minaret’s removal. It also criticized anti-minaret demonstration in Akhaltsikhe, as well as some senior Orthodox clerics for their remarks at that protest rally.

GD’s presidential candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, struck a different note by praising senior Orthodox clerics for, as he put it, “sowing culture of tolerance.”

“And naturally the perish follows them. In these processes the state will only be a guarantor of religious tolerance and legal processes. Of course we will always try to regulate this very delicate function of the state,” Margvelashvili said on August 30.

UNM’s presidential candidate, MP Davit Bakradze, has slammed the government for a failure to prevent tensions on the religious grounds.

“Religious tensions are on rise in the society in recent months. It is very regrettable that often it is caused by wrong actions of the government and state agencies,” Bakradze said. “Religious tolerance has always been the foundation of our state’s strength and if the government fails to curb this violence, which is on the rise, it will be a heavy blow for the sustainability of our statehood.”

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