As is known, in Georgia, the Armenian Apostolic Church has no legal status, and for this reason it has had no possibility to function properly. In other words, it is not registered as an organization that has the right to property, expanding this property, carrying out economic activities and operational management of its movable and immovable property.
It is the absence of legal status that does not make it possible not only to legally own property, but also to defend it that has led to the demolition of dozens of Armenian churches in Tbilisi alone – Vank Cathedral, St. Gevorg Church of Dzorabash, Navtlug’s St. Gevorg Church, St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, Zrkiyants Church, St. Karapet Church, St. Sarkis Church and many others.
Catholicos Karekin II met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II at the start of a weeklong visit to Georgia on Friday. The two pontiffs held a more detailed discussion in the presence of high-ranking Armenian and Georgian clerics on Saturday.
On this occasion, Saakashvili said that whatever status is given to the Georgian Church in Armenia, the same status will be given to the Armenian Church in Georgia.
Georgian Patriarch Ilia II said that “speaking of churches, we should not forget that both sides have demands – there are documents that in Georgia there are Armenian and in Armenia there are Georgian churches.”
The Catholicos expressed his satisfaction with the meetings as he and Ilia made public statements at the Georgian patriarch’s official residence in Tbilisi.
In a separate statement, Catholicos Karekin II’s press office said the two sides agreed that the Georgian authorities should finally grant a “legal status” to the local diocese of the Armenian Church.
The statement said the parties also agreed on the need to grant an official status to “the Georgian religious community in Armenia.” It was not clear if it referred to Armenia’s tiny ethnic Georgian community or Armenian adherents of Greek Orthodox faith that were subordinate to the Georgian Church during the Middle Ages. Very little is known about them at present.
According to the press office, the Georgian side also pledged to preserve several medieval churches previously used by the Georgian-Armenian community “until their return to the diocese.” “The issue of the return of the churches will be discussed at the next stage,” read its statement.
Catholicos Karekin II visited two of those churches located in Tbilisi later on Saturday. One of them partly crumbled last year, while the other was severely damaged by a fire in 2001.
The Catholicos did not inspect another, more famous Tbilisi church built in the 15th century and known as Norashen. It has been the largest source of tensions between the two ancient Christian institutions.