The Georgia diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church has welcomed the recent amendments passed by Georgian lawmakers granting a legal status to the local Armenian church.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Monday Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanian, the primate of the diocese, described such an approach of the Georgian authorities is one “typical of democratic countries.”
He said not only the Armenian church, but also other traditional religious communities had been waiting for the decision for years.
At a special session on July 1, the Georgian Parliament voted in the first reading in favor of amendments in the Civil Code granting the status of legal entities to five religious groups, including the Armenian Church.
The move came about two weeks after the issue was high on the agenda of talks between the Armenian and Georgian church leaders as Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II paid a pontifical visit to Georgia. However, contrary to expectations, no document in that regard was signed between the Armenian supreme patriarch and his Georgian counterpart Ilia II.
According to Bishop Mirzakhanian, while the Armenian Church’s de facto presence in Georgia had been acknowledged by this South Caucasus state’s authorities, clergy and society also in the past, the final adoption of the amendment will provide opportunities for registration and a gradual acquisition of ownership rights in regards to churches currently belonging to Georgia’s Ministry of Culture.
The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church’s diocese in Georgia disagreed that the decision in the country’s legislature was an unexpected development. He explained that he had never subscribed to the critical and negative opinions voiced in the media in both countries and beyond about the results of Karekin II’s visit.
“I must say that people here, both Armenians and Georgians, were quite satisfied,” he said, acknowledging the contribution of the head of the Armenian Church in settling the matter.
Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandarian also took the Georgian Parliament’s move in its stride, but ascribed it to an agreement reached between the Georgian Church and state authorities.
“It was a process that, not apparently, but was ongoing in Georgia for quite a long time, because the country has longstanding problems concerning the relations between the Georgian Orthodox Church and other religious communities, and these problems have existed not only for Armenians, but also for Catholics,” Iskandarian said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
“If it only were the decision of the Church, I am afraid nothing of the kind would have happened,” the analyst added, stressing that the Georgian Church, unlike the Armenian Apostolic Church, is a far more influential and independent institution and has not always held the same opinions as the state authorities.
Georgian lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill in the second and final reading on Wednesday.