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Who Needs Political Speculation with Bagrati Church


Statement about the threat of removing Georgian temples from the UNESCO Heritage List

Salome Zurabishvili

At the press-conference two days ago, alongside much false information, Minister of Culture of Georgia Nikia Rurua stated that issue of Bagrati Church is subject of political speculation. However, Georgian President is speculating with this issue and not “certain individuals” [as culture minister claimed].

Pompous entry into “New Bagrati” [what is done with the temple is not restoration and rehabilitation] is the principle caprice of the President. This caprice became particularly acute after Ivanishvili became his political rival with St. Trinity Church on the background. Our cultural heritage and Bagrati Church, first of all, became victims of this personal caprice and slavery approach to similar issues by our experts and other responsible persons.

Frequently made false statements about Bagrati Church and misinterpreted UNESCO conclusions aim to stupefy people and to camouflage real threat imposed not only on Bagrati Church but on entire Georgian culture monuments and heritage.

Bagrati Church has become a symbol of all our modern diseases when decisions are made in compliant with the taste of only one person through neglecting the opinions of all other people and position of the Orthodox Church [though this particular issue is within the competence of the Church]; when already finished projects are presented to the society through neglecting their opinion.

In order to demonstrate the real threat, the society should know several circumstances:

1) UNESCO has two lists. Bagrati in combination with Gelati Church - as one and inseparable complex [this is very significant] was put on the world heritage list in 1994 (before Saakashvili’s era started). The second one is List of Endangered World Heritage and it lists those temples which lost its authenticy and value either because of natural disasters or for some other circumstances or for incorrect conservation of temples in most cases. Bagrati and Gelati Churches were moved to the second list after conservation activities started there. Temples will be removed from the second list only by two reasons: the heritage returns to the first list after UNESCO recommendations are met and negative results of incorrect reconstruction are amended; or in the second case – if UNESCO concludes that irreversible negative processes started with regard to the heritage and nothing can survive the world heritage, they will finally remove the temple from the list. And Bagrati Church is awaiting this second option and this is the main problem.

2. Supposedly, Bagrati Church will not be removed from the List by UNESCO at the upcoming session in Petersburg. But it will not happen not because UNESCO appreciated the vision and activities of the Georgian government. Their conclusion about Bagrati Church (as well as many qualified experts) contains the following texts: “irreversible process,” “authenticity of Bagrati Church lost,” “you could not protect world heritage.” Let Vacheishvili and others clarify why they believe their activities are right and UNESCO is incompetent in this field. We must be concerned by the fact that fate of Bagrati Church is already settled though formal procedures about this issue are postponed. Do not think that this postponing is result of the government’s diplomatic success or their next victory. However, they will try to convince you in it. It is just kind will of the UNESCO and international institutions in order to protect Gelati from sharing the same fate as Bagrati Church. So, the UNESCO demands Georgia to work out an action plan before February 2012 how to separate Gelati and Bagrati from each other… they are eager to maintain at least Gelati on the list of world heritage without Bagrati. “Incompetent” UNESCO is bothered with the fate of Gelati church.

3. Adjournment means adjournment. UNESCO conclusion does not contain new requirements whose implementation could guarantee revision of Bagrati Church issue. So, dispute and compromises about removal of lift and glass outbuilding are just for internal use and not for the implementation of UNESCO’s recommendations.

4. Irreversible and poor reconstruction of Bagrati Church does not put an end to the epopee of our temples. Issue of Mtskheta is not less alarming. Mtskheta was also enlisted on the World Heritage List in 1994 and in 2009 it was moved to the List of Endangered World Heritage. UNESCO documents describe the threat as follows: improper management mechanism, privatization of surrounding lands and loss of authenticity as a result of incorrect restoration activities… With regard to Mtskheta, particular attention is paid to Mtkvari embankment, territory between Svetitskhoveli and Jvari monasteries which have heritage status and no new constructions were to be launched in the area in order not to damage historic landscape. The same report states that despite this warning, new buildings of police station, court and conference halls were built in 2012 in that particular place; local government also plans to construct new museum and hotel complex. Tourist Information Center was constructed at the entrance to Svetitskhoveli Church. Construction activities are going on “in the most significant perimeter that is visual corridor unifying Svetitskhoveli and Jvari Monasteries.” UNESCO underlines that nobody had warned the international organization about planned and implemented construction activities in the area. The status of endangered world heritage will be suspended with regard to Mtskheta too. However, UNESCO is concerned about ongoing construction activities and requests the authority to immediately stop it and to provide a new plan which will envisage Mtskheta and Jvari monastery in complex due to their too sensitive environment and the plan shall be submitted for endorsement.

Unlike Bagrati Church, UNESCO did not evaluate the ongoing construction as irreversible process but it is up to vigilance of our society what will happen and what conditions this unique complex will be during the next UNESCO session. Bagrati Church already convinced us that unless we protect our heritage, even UESCO cannot protect them from our government.

5. Tragedy of Bagrati Church will have some other follow-up results: how can we hope for or complain if UNESCO will never assist us in the revival of Georgian churches in Abkhazia or in Tao Klarjeti where we cannot enter without involvement of international community? Who will assist us when we cannot protect our monuments on our own territory with everyday activities? How can we hope for revival of Jvari Monastery [in Jerusalem] where even template with Georgian script, Rustaveli’s fresco and some other Georgian scripts were removed due to our poor diplomacy?

6. And finally, it should be obvious that we do not just lose opportunities to acknowledge and protect our heritage not only nowadays but we also deprive our next generations from the opportunity to enlist other valuable temples in the World Heritage List, like: Nekresi, Ubisi frescos, Ateni Sioni, icons in Svaneti and plenty others. It is known that if a country loses trust of UNESCO and international community in the field of protection of culture heritage, will have meager chances to submit new temples for recognizing them as world heritage.

One question and three recommendations

My question is about camouflaged plan of the government. It is already beyond incompetence and ignorance and looks like purposeful plan of deconstruction because simultaneously done several actions – endangered Mtskheta and Jvari monastery, lost authenticity of Bagrati Church, unprepared reconstruction of Svaneti Museum and unprotected treasure in it, exponents taken out of the Manuscript Institute and disseminated, Pirosmani taken out of the State Museum… Old Tbilisi and Signagi with lost original face, Kutaisi Center with changed view in Russian way, damaged unique bay in Batumi by the newly-constructed mosque-like hotel and maybe I have forgotten some places in this list or they [government] have much more to destroy… Georgian heritage is disappearing as well as its tourist potential where authenticity is lost and poor taste is raging. What is the purpose of all these activities? Who plans and benefits from it?

And three recommendations:

1. Parliament of Georgia [of course the new one to be elected in the fall of 2012] shall immediately draft national law about the protection of Georgian and World Heritage in accordance to the UNESCO requirements and any other civilized nations.

2. New government shall immediately set up national commission with representatives of all interested parties – government and all ministries, church and society.

3. To immediately set up independent nongovernmental organization whose purpose will be protection of interests of Georgian citizens and heritage for future generations and will do it.

Before similar institution is set up in Georgia and takes responsibility to protect interests of our population, I considered it was my duty to share my opinion and concern of Georgian population about this issue with the UNESCO deputy director general in order to assure him that not only barbarians live in Georgia.

Source: News Agency “Pirveli”

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