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Dispute about Aziziye Mosque

21.03.2012

Salome Achba, www.religiebi.info

Negotiations between Turkish and Georgian Culture Ministries about restoration of Turkey based Georgian temples have reached last phase. Representatives of the Georgian Ministry of Culture state the parties are working on the final version of the agreement which will be signed in near future.

The negotiations are going on about restoration of Akhaltsikhe based Ahmediye Mosque and reconstruction of Batumi Aziziye Mosque in exchange of the renovation of Georgian temples – Oshki and Ishkhani in Turkey. The Patriarchate of Georgia and part of Georgian society had negative reaction about the construction of Aziziye Mosque.

Aziziye Mosque was first constructed in the 1860s in Batumi under the order of Turkish Sultan Abdul Aziz for Turkish military servants deployed in Batumi.  The Mosque, which is also called as Aziziye Camii, was located in the current Liberty Square in Batumi. According to historical sources, the soviet government destroyed the Mosque in the 1930s. Today, the old Mosque does not exist and residential buildings are constructed on its place.

According to the information of the Georgian Culture Ministry, Turkish side requests restoration of the Akhaltsikhe based Mosque and construction of Aziziye mosque in Batumi in exchange of the renovation of Georgian temples – Oshki and Ishkhani in Turkey. Although the agreement was not officially signed yet, Georgian side accepted this proposal. According to the ministry, the Mosque will be reconstructed based on historical sources; the Georgian party is authorized to find proper place for the new mosque.

“Aziziye Mosque, which is completely ruined by now and is particularly important cultural heritage for Georgian Muslim community, will be restored in accordance to historical materials and the Georgian side will select the proper place for its construction. The agreement between the governments envisages functioning of the restored temples as culture centers,” the statement of the Ministry of Culture reads.

Turkish-Georgian negotiations about the issue caused controversial reactions of the Georgian society. Georgian Patriarchate assessed it as illegal negotiations because the Patriarchate was not involved in the process.

“We would like to remind the society that the negotiations between Georgian and Turkish authorities have been underway for more than two years through violation of the Georgian law (Constitutional Agreement between the State and Orthodox Church) because the Georgian Patriarchate, to be the owner of all Georgian churches-monasteries, was not involved in official negotiations. Despite all that, we always had our principle and constructive position with regard to this issue,” the official statement of the Georgian Patriarchate reads.

Religious scientist Beka Mindiashvili said the government did not breach the Constitutional Agreement with the negotiations but executed all requirements of this agreement. “The position of the Patriarchate about the negotiations, as if it was illegal and breached the Constitutional Agreement, is beyond all criticism. The state does not breach the Constitutional Agreement with these negotiations; just the opposite, they met its requirements to take care of Georgian culture and religious monuments located outside the Georgian territory,” Beka Mindiashvili said.

The Georgian Patriarchate thinks the construction of Muslim mosque in Adjara in exchange of the restored Ishkhani and Oshki Temples is not right decision. The Patriarchate requests to construct Basilica in Lazistan (Turkey) and take part in the negotiation process in exchange of the mosque construction. “If it is unacceptable for the Turkish side for certain reasons, we will also oppose the construction of Aziziye Mosque in Batumi, which is symbol of the hardest period of our history, in exchange of renovation of Oshki and Ishkani,” the statement of the Patriarchate reads.

In reply to them, the Ministry of Culture stated that the Patriarchate was always informed about ongoing negotiations. “The Patriarchate of Georgia, as well as the society interested in the protection of Cultural heritage, was informed about ongoing negotiations. The Culture Minister held the last meeting on the issue at the Patriarchate two days ago because it is issue of national importance and aims to revive our temples; so the opinion of the Patriarchate is urgently important for us. In future, the Ministry is ready to update all interested parties with the information,” February 10 statement of the Culture Ministry reads.

Citizens negatively thinking about the ongoing negotiations between Turkey and Georgia say that the government should not have turned the process into bargain. The problem was to be resolved by international law instead similar agreements. The Georgian Patriarchate also shares the opinion. “The allegation as if it is done for sake of Oshki and Ishkhani Churches cannot be justified because international law obliges Turkey to protect world culture and natural heritage. So, the government had to appeal to the UNESCO years ago (which we reminded them many timeს) and not to make it topic of current negotiations,” the statement of the patriarchate reads.

Doctor of Historic science and director of the National Center of Manuscripts Buba Kudava has different position about the issue. “I would like to underscore that restoration of monuments has nothing to do with the UNESCO. Due to its nature and action principles, the UNESCO does not restore temples. As for including the monument on the UNESCO list, the country, where the temple is located, shall apply to the UNESCO for it. In this particular case, it was Turkey. Let us be realist and never forget that Turkey has plenty of other monuments on its territory besides Georgian ones. There are a lot of Islamic, ancient Khet, Greek, Armenian and other monuments. Most of them are in terrible conditions and they are monuments of universal importance. So, I cannot understand why should Turkey put only those temples on the list, which we want?! Naturally, it will not be priority for Turkey to take care of Georgian monuments located on their territory for a long time onward. Turkey has its own priorities and we should acknowledge it.”

Another issue, which is raised in the official statement of the Georgian Patriarchate, with regard to Georgian-Turkish negotiations, is about possible controversy between Muslim and Christian resident of Georgia.

“It is also noteworthy that similar activities artificially tense relation between Muslim and Christian people. Muslim people, regardless their ethnic origin, as well as believers of other religions, have never been restricted in Georgia. In the contrary, they have always lived very comfortably here and many of them scarified their lives to Georgia. The same situation is today and it is first of all result of tolerant nature of Georgian people,” statement of the Patriarchate reads.

Beka Mindiashvili cannot see any threat of controversy between Muslim and Orthodox resident of Georgia. ‘I see real threat from failed politicians to take advantage of this issue for their political purposes. They try to play on religious and national feelings of people. On the other hand, I also see that the Orthodox Church of Georgia will not clear up real situation and encourages escalation of emotions. Besides that, I think Russia will also be interested in this issue. You know that Turkey is a NATO member state with democratic values. Of course, Russia is eager to create a gap in Georgian-Turkish relations. I think these threats are more real,” Beka Mindiashvili said.

Another argument of opponents is that by 1868, when Aziziye Mosque was constructed in Adjara based on Sultan Abdul Aziz’s order, Adjara was under jurisdiction of Turkey and consequently, the restored Mosque will be symbol of Turkish occupation. Former Public Defender of Georgia, journalist Nana Devdariani wrote in the publication Aziziye Mosque – Vivid Temple of Turkish Occupation”  on the online edition “Georgia and World”: “Saakashvili opened “Occupation Museum” in Tbilisi and all exhibits there tell about Russia as if Georgia has not seen any other occupant in its history! Adjara, which was gained back to the homeland with the support of Russian military campaign, will have a vivid monument of Turkish occupation if Aziziye Mosque is restored there,” Nana Devdariani wrote.

Buba Kudava has different opinion about this issue: “Sultan Abdul Aziz was one of the most unsuccessful sultans of Turkey, under whose leadership Turkey lost much on the international level: they lost Belgrade, lost their influence over Egypt, suffered diplomatic failure with Greece, etc. Finally, Abdul Aziz had to resign and people doubt he was even murdered. I cannot understand why the reconstruction of his mosque should be symbol of Batumi occupation. Additionally, we should recall that in the XIX century, when the Aziziye Mosque was constructed, Turkey had already invaded Batumi for more than three centuries. So, it is unclear why the mosque can be a symbol of invasion, which was constructed there three centuries later?! During Soviet Union, Russia constructed a lot of Russian churches in Georgia; for example Aleksandre Nevel Church in Tbilisi. Russians constructed it when they had occupied Georgia. Have you ever heard anybody say that it was symbol of Russian occupation?! The same situation is about Aziziye Mosque; but there is one difference, in Russia’s case, they had constructed Christian Churches and not Muslim mosque. So, if we do not call Russian Churches located in Georgia symbols of Russian occupation, why should we call Aziziye Mosque a symbol of Turkish occupation?!” Buba Kudava told religiebi.info.

A representative of a Muslim organization expressed his position about Aziziye Mosque in his interview with religiebi.info. He said, not a single religious temple worldwide is and cannot be symbol of occupation. “Our state is authorized to protect historic monuments regardless their ethnic/religious origin. As for cultural value of the Aziziye Mosque, it was the most important Muslim Cultural Monument in Batumi. It was supervising other Mosques in Georgia. Today, our several politicians and some representatives of the Orthodox Church declared it is symbol of Georgia’s occupation. I, local Muslim person, ask everybody not to call Mosque a symbol of occupation because it is house of the lord and symbol of religious service and nothing more.”

Later, our respondent refused to publish his comment because he could face problems with his Orthodox neighbors/acquaintances. Editorial board of religiebi.info believes that this comment cannot create any problems for the respondent and decided to publish it. However, we refrained from publishing his name.

Despite controversial opinions of society, the construction of Aziziye Mosque in Batumi and renovation of the Mosque in Akhaltsikhe is almost settled. MP Nugzar Tsiklauri made statement during parliament session on March 14 and underlined. “Protection of these monuments is important for the past, present and future of Georgia, that we will never miss this chance.” The exact date, when renovation of Oshki and Ishkhani Churches will start, will be announced as soon as parties sign official document.

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