09TBILISI538, GEORGIA: GOG TO RECOGNIZE OTHER FAITHS, COULD LEAD

WikiLeaks Link

To understand the justification used for the classification of each cable, please use this WikiSource article as reference.
Discussing cables
If you find meaningful or important information in a cable, please link directly to its unique reference number. Linking to a specific paragraph in the body of a cable is also possible by copying the appropriate link (to be found at theparagraph symbol).Please mark messages for social networking services like Twitter with the hash tags #cablegate and a hash containing the reference ID e.g. #09TBILISI538.
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI538 2009-03-20 14:29 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO5537
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0538/01 0791429
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 201429Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1227
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000538 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPART FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/18/2019 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KIRF AR RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: GOG TO RECOGNIZE OTHER FAITHS, COULD LEAD 
TO IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH ARMENIAN CHURCH 
 
REF: A. 08 TBILISI 2438 
     B. 08 TBILISI 2269 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili 
told the Ambassador on March 18 that the GoG is working on a 
change to the Civil Code to recognize additional churches, 
namely, the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC), Catholic, 
Jewish, and Muslim faiths.  Currently, only the Georgian 
Orthodox Church is recognized as a church, and all others may 
register as a not-for-profit or for-profit organizations. The 
ACC would welcome such a step, as under law they would be 
recognized as "official bodies," and the amendment would 
permit the institution to own property and import items tax 
free.  The ACC noted that this could be a first step to 
settling long-disputed church restitution issues between the 
AAC and the Georgian Orthodox Church.  Although Father Narek 
Kushyan, an AAC priest in Tbilisi, speculated that this 
change would happen as soon as the end of March, Yakobashvili 
did not offer a timeframe.  A recent visit to Norashen church 
in Tbilisi (reftels), revealed that controversial GOC Priest 
Father Tariel Sikinchelashvili had been moved to a different 
church, but that another new fence that limited mobility 
around the church had recently been constructed.  Recently 
broken windows permitted a glimpse inside at the priceless 
paintings adorning the Norashen walls, which will likely 
suffer decay and damage the longer discussion are protracted. 
 End Summary. 
 
 
YAKOBASHVILI--WE'RE GETTING THERE 
 
2.  (C)  In  a March 18 meeting, Minister Yakobashvili told 
the Ambassador that the GoG had already drafted a amendment 
to the civil code to recognize other faiths.  This amendment 
would recognize four other faiths as "official bodies" and 
extend to them some of the privileges currently enjoyed 
exclusively by the GOC.  (Embassy note:  According to the 
Bishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the four faiths to be 
covered by the amendment Judaism, Islam, Roman Catholicism 
and the Armenian Orthodox Church.  A future amendment would 
be needed in order to address Protestant denominations, 
including the Baptists, and Jehovah's Witnesses among others. 
 End note.)  Yakobashvili said the draft needed to be 
circulated to the cabinet and then sent to Parliament.  He 
did not estimate how long this process would take.  The new 
statute would permit the four additional faiths to own 
property and to receive certain tax breaks.  (Comment:  It is 
interesting to note that Yakobashvili himself seems to be 
involved in the issue although it does not fall within his 
portfolio.  It may simply be that, with many reintegration 
initiatives currently on hold, Yakobashvili has the time.  He 
is also the only Jewish member of the Cabinet.  End Comment.) 
 
CHANGE IN THE AIR 
 
3.  (C)  At a March 5 reception honoring the release of the 
Human Rights Report, Armenian priest Narek Kushyan told 
Emboffs that he had already heard the GoG was working on such 
changes to the law.  He speculated that the Baptists and 
others would be next, but would not be included with these 
initial four.  He believed that Georgians were not quite 
ready to accept some "non-traditional" religions and this 
process could take longer.  Father Narek was noticeably 
upbeat, something not witnessed in earlier meetings.  Father 
Narek was told that this change would happen as soon as the 
end of March.  Additionally, he said that he hoped that such 
as change would open the door to the long stalemate on 
Qas change would open the door to the long stalemate on 
settling the six disputed churches between AAC and GOC. 
 
NORASHEN CHURCH 
 
4.  (C)  On March 13, DCM and Emboff visited Bishop Vazgen 
and Father Narek, both of the AAC.  They recounted the 
problems associated with Norashen, but added that Father 
Tariel Sikinchelashvili, a GOC priest who worked at the 
Georgian Church next door (ref A) had been moved to another 
parish which had helped reduce tensions.  (Note:  Emboffs 
were told that Father Tariel now works at Samoeba Church 
(Trinity) in Avlabari, near the Presidential Administration 
Building.  End note.)  A walk to the church revealed that the 
rubble which was on one of the Armenian graves in the fall of 
2008 was still there, and that another two-story building to 
the side had been remodeled, and now houses an NGO on the 
first floor and Georgian priests on the second floor. 
 
5.  (C)  The front of the church complex has a new gate, and 
further inspection revealed that some of the church windows 
had been broken since emboffs' last visit in November 2008. 
 
TBILISI 00000538  002 OF 002 
 
 
Through the broken window it was possible to see a 
breathtaking view of wall murals.  In 1994, upon mutual 
agreement, disputed churches had been locked until their 
status could be resolved.  Since
then, no one from the 
Armenian side has been inside the church until in early 2009, 
Armenian Prime Minister Sakisyan visited the church 
accompanied by the Georgian Minister of the Environment Goga 
Khachidze.  Father Narek said that damage had occurred since 
the church was shut in 1994, most notably to the altar.  At 
the completion of the Armenian Prime Minister's visit, the 
entrance had been boarded up and a new lock had been placed 
on the door to deter vandals. 
 
BREAK-DOWN IN COMMUNICATIONS 
 
6.  (c)  Arnold Stepanian, NGO Multinational Georgia, told 
Emboff in the latest scuttle of attempts to resolve the 
Norashen Church issue, that it was the Armenian side that had 
objected to forming a historical commission to study the 
origins of the disputed churches.  According to Stepanian, 
the Armenian side wanted to open up the study to include 
other churches besides the six which are the usual points of 
contention. 
 
COMMENT 
 
7.  (C)  If the changes to the law permit a recognition of 
other faiths, this would be a major step forward for some 
faiths in Georgia and for the Saakashvili administration in 
improving relations with Armenia.  Coordination with the GOC 
could be thorny, but such a step would only be the first of 
many needed to resolve the disputed churches issue.  While 
the Armenian side is hopeful, future success will be measured 
over a distinctly longer period which will begin when the law 
is amended. 
TEFFT

Wikileaks

Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: