Etchmiadzin Condemns Georgian Priest’s Destruction of Armenian Graves

Georgian group uses a bulldozer to remove Armenian graves from the Norashen Church courtyard.

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–The Holy See of Etchmiadzin condemned on Friday the actions of a Georgian Clergyman who attempted last Sunday to forcefully remove Armenian graves from the courtyard of the Norashen Armenian Church in the Georgian capital,Tbilisi.

Arriving with a retinue of workers and bulldozers, Father Tariel Sikinchelashvili set about removing two graves bearing the names of Mikayel and Lidia Tamamshyan. The group was soon confronted by a group of local Armenia’s.

According to witnesses at the scene, Father Sikinchelashvili is said to have stated that, “Armenia’s have always set about removing that which belongs to others”.

When delegation from the Armenian diocese in Georgia and Armenian Deputies from the Georgian Parliament arrived on the scene, the Georgian priest claimed that he was only temporarily removing the stones in order to clean up the Armenian Church courtyard and the ground below the gravestones. Georgian police soon arrived on the scene and made an official report of the incident. Also on hand was a representative of the Georgian Ombudsman’s office.

In May of 2005, Father Sikinchelashvili had transported gravestones with Georgian inscriptions to the Norashen’s courtyard, while moving the Armenian gravestones that had been in the courtyard for centuries and vandalizing their inscriptions.

“The Armenian Apostolic Church condemns the actions of the Georgian clergy in Norashen Church in Tbilisi, Etchmiadzin spokesperson, Father Vahram Melikian told reporters Friday during a press conference."We are hopeful that the Georgian church hierarchy will prevent further %u218initiatives’ of father Tariel Sikinchelashvili.”

Earlier in May, the Norashen Church was illegally fenced off by a group of workers, led by Georgian Orthodox Church priest Fr. Tariel Sikinchelashvili. The group constructed a concrete-metal fence with wicket-gates along the whole perimeter of the church. The priest claimed Norashen belonged to the Georgian Church.

“The encroachmen’s against [Armenian] cultural sites in Georgia are not new cases they have deep roots and Armenian Church has many times responded to the issue both through letters, phone calls and visits of Armenian delegations,” Melikian said.

On May 23, Armenia’s Prime Minister, Tigran Sargsyan, met with his Georgian counterpart Lado Gurgenidze in Minsk for talks regarding the incident. Sargsyan told Gurgenidze that his country’s encroachment on the rights of an Armenian Church threatened to spur unnecessary tension in Georgian society, particularly among its large Armenian minority. The Armenian Premier stressed that such violations of the rights of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Church would have negative consequences and requested that Gurgenidze intervene in the matter.

Founded in 1467, Norashen is located in Tbilisi, on Leselidze Street, flanked on the left by a Greek church, now transformed into a Georgian orthodox one, on the right by the Georgian Church Sioni and a few more meters further down the synagogue the mosque.

Over the past 15 years, the Georgian clergy has occupied and consecrated several Armenian churches in Tbilisi–including Kusanats Surb Stepanos, St Bethlehem, the Khikhoy chapel, and several other churches. Many close to the situation say the same is expected to happen to Norashen.

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