TBILISI, Georgia—Clerics at the Holy Etchmiadzin Church in the Georgian capital were attacked in what is being called a racially-motivated assault by the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Georgia in an announcement issued immediately after the incident on Saturday.
The Diocese statement said that at around 4 p.m. local time a woman who was trying to drive her car from a parking spot adjacent to the church began hurling insults and blaming church officials for allegedly blocking her way. Two men approached the woman and helped her out of the jam but then proceeded to hurl insults at the church officials who had gathered at the church courtyard to address the issue.
Hearing insults toward Armenians, the deacons protested the man who was being belligerent. He then picked up a rock and threw it at the direction of the church and threatened to beat the deacons with a stick.
Other clerics came out of the church and an altercation ensued with one of the priests being beaten and crosses being ripped off the necks of the priests. Several people sustained injuries before the men fled the scene.
The man returned with 50 more armed men two hours later and attacked the clerics and officials of the Diocese, all the while continuing to hurl anti-Armenian slurs at those present, who were at the church for a Christening.
The men attacked those who came out of the church while the women and children hid under the pews
Diocese and church officials urged Georgian authorities to launch a hate crimes investigation, but an internal ministry officials has refused saying the incident occurred on public grounds and was related to a misunderstanding stemming from the parking matter. Law enforcement has launched an inquiry into the assault.
Church officials urged the Georgian media to stop the spread of anti-Armenian sentiments in the country, urging the Georgian Church and authorities to condemn the attack and take proper measures.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Tigran Balayan said on Monday that Yerevan expects a thorough and unbiased investigation by the Georgian authorities.
The Holy See of Etchmiadzin issued a statement Monday expressing concern over the attacks and denouncing ethnic and religious intolerance.
“This provocative assault is a result of the anti-Armenian sentiments spread by different organizations and individuals, including some clergymen, in Georgia,” the Mother See said in a statement.
“Such radical expressions do not befit the spirit of friendly relations between the Armenian and Georgian peoples, which is one of the precious achievements of our common past,” the statement reads.
Etchmiadzin said it expected the culprits to be prosecuted and urged the Georgian authorities to guarantee the safety of Armenian citizens and the Armenian Church in Georgia.