YEREVAN (ArmRadio)–Recent deman’s by a Georgian political group for the return of Georgian Churches in Armenia are baseless, according to historian Alexander Kananyan.
Georgia’s National Christian Movement party staged a demonstration at the Armenian Embassy in Georgia on December 11 demanding the return of some 10 Orthodox churches and chapels located in Armenia’s northern Lori region.
The protests come in response to recent demonstrations in Armenia, as well as official and religious condemnations of the destruction of the St. Mary’s Armenian Church–also known as the Norashen Church–in Georgia.
The group claimed that the “historic and architectural components” of the churches “indicate that they belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church and not the Armenian Apostolic Church.” The group also alleged that the Armenian government had let the churches fall into ruin.
But the origins of the churches are, in fact, Armenian, Kananyan said, explaining that the churches were temporarily placed under the jurisdiction of the Georgian monarchy during the Turco-Mongol invasions that followed the collapse of Bagratuni Armenia.
“The question, of course, refers to temporary authority,” he said.
With the collapse of the Armenian kingdom of Ani in the 12th century, Armenia’s nobility allied with the Georgian branch of the Bagratuni dynasty in an effort to counter the Seljuk invasions plaguing their lands.
It is in this period of Georgian-Armenian interlude, “from the end of the 12th to the start of the 13th century” when “those churches were under the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church,” Kananyan explained.
The clergy of the churches, however, “remained Armenian, spoke Armenian, but sang Masses in Georgian because of diplomatic principles.”
It was also during this period that Armenian and Georgian armies were able to recapture much of occupied Armenia, paving the way for the rebirth of an Armenian kingdom. But a new wave of invasions, now from the Mongols, overran the budding Armenian kingdom and left the Armenian churches under Georgian jurisdiction.