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Removal of minaret causes controversy

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, August 29

The dismantling of a minaret in the Adigeni region on August 27 resulted in a protest among the Muslim residents of the region. They stated that the action was carried out brutally and that they lacked information concerning procedural obligations.

The statement issued by the Revenue Office reads that the entrepreneur, Jambul Abuladze, on July 14, purchased the steel material in Turkey and brought it to Georgia in order to construct a minaret. After studying the customs declaration and import documents, the Revenue Service concluded that there is “reasonable doubt that the goods might have been incorrectly classified in the documentation, which may have caused a reduction import taxes.”

“It is impossible to define the amount of reduced taxes without physically examining the goods and without the appropriate examination,” the statement reads, adding that Jambul Abuladze was informed about this information on August 21.

The local municipality of Adigeni claims that they warned the Muslim residents over possible outcomes soon after the minaret was erected.

According to municipality representative, Givi Andelidze, they warned Muslim residents to present documentation concerning the legality of the minaret. However, they did not provide the information.

“We had no information that permission was needed for the minaret,” Samtse-Javakheti Muslim leader, Mamuka Vashakmadze, told Rezonansi newspaper. He stressed that the dismantling process should be carried out through the court’s decision and not by “special units.”

“We had no project. We filled-out an application concerning the preparation of the project. However we could not fulfil it due to the recent situation,” Vashakmadze said.

The dismantlement of the minaret caused dissatisfaction among the Muslim residents of Georgia, and they opposed police. Up to twenty people were detained and finally released with fines.

Position of church

The Georgian Orthodox church stresses that removal of the minaret from the mosque in the village of Chela were incited by “certain forces”, provoking confrontation between Muslim and Christian population of the country.

“Some statements made in connection to developments in the village of Chela in the Adigeni municipality make us think that certain forces want to portray these events as an insult to religious people and the infringement of Muslims rights,” the Patriarchate stated, and appealed to the “flesh and blood,” Muslim Georgians and non-Georgian Muslims from other villages and towns to go on living as peacefully and as brotherly as before.

Governmental assessments

Georgian government members state that the issue is “legal” and should be regulated by the law.

Minister of infrastructure, Davit Narmania, stated that all the related structures with the issue should provide all afforts to regulate the problem peacefully.

Head of Parliament’s Human Rights Committee chairperson, Eka Beselia, stated that the fact has nothing in common with religious expression. She stated that while constructing the religious structure, public opinion should also be taken into account.

Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, suggested on Tuesday that “sooner or later” Georgia will have to face broad public debates on whether there should be minarets in the country or not.

She said that although minaret of a mosque in the village of Chela in Adigeni municipality was built “illegally”, removing it forcibly by the authorities was “completely unacceptable” for her.

“It does not depend on minarets whether there will be prayer in a mosque. Nothing hampers prayer in the Chela mosque and it is the most important issue at this stage,” Tsulukiani said.

President’s and opposition’s assessments

Mikheil Saakashvili accused the current government in the situation and assessed the fact as an “illegality committed against the Muslim residents of Georgia.”

“The fact that such things were not happening under the previous government was not because of fear, but because of our repeated reiteration that everyone is equal in Georgia, Saakashvili said. The president called on the Georgian Dream government to stop talking in the language of hatred and revenge.

“I call on all sides for dialogue,” Saakashvili said. The same aspiration was voiced by the United National Movement. The party “shifted the blame on the coalition.”

Public defender and civil sector

Public defender stressed that based on the sensitivity of the issue “the actions both sides should be framed in the law.” The Public Defender recalled the appropriate bodies that religious rights is one of the most essential, and the facts of possible abuse of Muslims from the police side during the rally should be studied.

Lina Ghvinianidze, Head of the Human Rights Studies and Monitoring Centre, states “even in the case that the government was formally right, it needs studying how adequate was the involvement and actions carried out in this regard.”

Mamuka Areshidze, analyst in conflict issues, states that there is “information” that after the former official’s mobile call the minaret was passed on the customs.

“I have an important information I cannot voice at the present moment, notes in the customs document regarding the Minaret makes us think on the former government was somehow linked to the issue,” Areshiodze said.