The Dark Side of the Change

Adjara: Tensions Between Muslims and Christians

Following the outbreak of religious tensions between the Christian Orthodox majority and the Muslim minority in several regions of Georgia almost simultaneously in summer 2013, Go Group Media invited journalists from the South Caucasus mainstream media to visit two places, where the tensions have run highest – Ajara and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions. In numerous conversations with local authorities and experts, and, more important, with local population in several cities and villages, the participants of the expedition have discovered many facts that remain hidden from the wider public.

So, Muslims in rural Ajara speak about a blatant falsification of reality. Specifically, they have denounced as misleading and untrue the recent slew of Georgian media reports alleging mass conversions into Christianity among the local Muslims and demand that an open discussion of this and other issues be held. The major stumbling block in the relations between the two communities is a possibility of building a new mosque in Batumi. The Muslims say the one mosque they have now is too small to accommodate all the faithful, and many regularly end up praying in its yard.

The Christians, in their turn, suspect Turkey’s influence on Ajara’s Muslims and say they wouldn’t have another mosque built. The journalists proceeded from Ajara to the Samtskhe-Javakheti region – specifically, to the village of Chela that had been the scene of some very dramatic developments late in August. Heavily-armed police units backed by helicopters had descended on the village to dismantle the minaret the Muslim villagers had put up just a week earlier.

Many local Muslims were beaten and arrested during the operation, and criminal charges were later preferred against some of them. The Muslims say they have fallen prey to religious persecution. To date, a series of thousand-strong rallies have been held, whose participants, the local Orthodox Christians, say they will stop at nothing to prevent new minarets appearing in the region.

Earlier, Muslims in several villages in Kvemo Kartli claimed to have been receiving threats from their Christian counterparts. The journalists learnt that the assaults have been increasing in frequency and ferocity; in the areas of joint settlement, mob rule has often taken over the villages and cities. Communities in the two regions remain essentially segregated to this day.

So far, the government as well as local authorities has done little to address either the root causes or the consequences of Orthodox-Muslim infighting, to investigate and prosecute those responsible for violent religiously motivated misdeeds conducted by either of sides.

Moreover, there are experts who ask whether some of local administration figures were personally responsible for recent incidents. The scale of the anti-Muslim sentiment in the country as displayed in the summer of 2013, and the inadequate response of the government and security forces mean that further clashes are possible.

An escalation of inter-religious tensions in Georgia has the capacity to undermine Georgia’s regional strategic partnerships. The journalistic expedition has become a first step in an investigation for understanding religiosity in Georgia as a multidimensional concept.

Watch this short video filmed during the expedition

 

Expedition participants:

Idrak Abasov,  Bizim Yol newspaper, Baku –

Ani Areshidze, Green Wave radio, Tbilisi

Edita Badasyan, Caucasian Knot online magazine, Tbilisi

Nino Edilashvili, Georgia Today newspaper, Tbilisi

Anna Muradyan, Hetq.am news agency, Yerevan

Mari Nikuradze, Ftwatch online magazine, Tbilisi

Mubariz Rahimli, Turan news agency, Baku

David Stepanyan, Arminfo news agency, Yerevan

 

Materials published by the Participants:

 

Caucasus media to study the Chela developments – 9th Channel TV

Journalistic Expedition to investigate religious tensions – Southern Gates newspaper, Akhaltsikhe

Religion, Society and the State – Ajara Television, Batumi

Azərbaycan və Türkiyədən imdad diləyən acarlar – Bizim Yol newspaper, Baku

Yeni təlatümlər ərəfəsində olan Gürcüstan – Bizim Yol newspaper, Baku

Bakı-Tbilisi qatarında biabırçılıq – Bizim Yol newspaper, Baku

Chela village residents have different opinions about minaret restoration – Caucasian Knot online magazine, Tbilisi

 

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