TIBLISI, Georgia - Facing Muslims' anger, the Georgian Orthodox Church issued a statement on Wednesday, August 28, appealing for Muslims calm after authorities forcibly removed minaret from a mosque in the village of Chela of Adigeni municipality.
We appeal to our flesh and blood, Muslim Georgians from the village of Chela and to Georgian and non-Georgian Muslims from other villages and towns, the statement issued by the Georgian Orthodox Church was cited by Civil Georgia website.
We are all children of Georgia, where even during those times when many centuries ago our nation had to tackle invasions of various Muslim countries.
Muslims living in Georgia were not oppressed.
Clashes erupted between local residents and police last Monday in Chela when Muslims tried in vain to prevent authorities from removing a 24-meter long minaret from a mosque in the village.
The minaret, brought in from Turkey, was assembled and attached to the mosque in Chela in July.
But on August 20 a local city council (Sakrebulo) in Adigeni passed a decision according to which the minaret was constructed illegally without obtaining permission from the local authorities.
Sealing the village off by the police on August 26, there was a heavy police presence inside the village at the mosque as the authorities were disassembling the minaret amid protest of local Muslim community, according to local media reports.
Prayer [place] was destroyed, one protester was telling policemen, who were guarding the gate leading to the yard of the police station, Civil Georgia reported.
Are you going to return Abkhazia with such [moves]? another protester was saying.
During the clashes, at least six locals were beaten and at least 11 men arrested. The men arrested were released later on Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday evening the Revenue Service released a written statement saying that the minaret was removed for the purpose of its inspection to verify if the metal construction materials, used for building of the minaret, were properly declared when cargo was imported into Georgia on July 14.
Because weight of minaret's construction and its product code might possibly not match with declared data, it [the minaret] was disassembled on August 26 upon the decision of the Revenue Service. The Revenue Service is providing disassembling and then its restoration works, the Revenue Service said in a statement.
The Patriarchate accused what it termed certain forces as the main player behind the recent clashes in Chela in Adigeni municipality.
What is now happening is an attempt to incite religious strife - somewhat similar to those processes that was tried to be developed in [the villages of] Nigvziani, Tsintskaro and Samtatskaro, it said in its statement.
It is impossible not to see it for those who follow these developments.
We request the Muslim leaders in Georgia to oppose provocative actions both in Adigeni and in other parts of Georgia and not to contribute to it, the Patriarchate added.
Since November, 2012 there have been several cases in three villages with mixed Muslim and Christian population when local Christian community confronted Muslims and barred them to perform prayer in houses converted into mosques.
Such incidents occurred in Nigvziani in western Georgian region of Guria, Tsintskaro in Kvemo Kartli region and Samtatskaro in Kakheti region.
Unlike those cases, no conflict between local Muslim and Christian residents of Chela was reported.
Protesters in Akhaltsikhe, who were rallying outside the local police headquarters after the minaret was forcibly removed, agreed to disperse on August 27 after a Muslim scholar from Khulo in Adjara arrived and called on them to stop street protest.
According to local Muslim leaders, the total population of Muslims in Georgia is around one million out of total 5 million.
However, government sources say that Muslim population is between 400,000 and 500,000.
A majority of Muslims inhabits in the towns, and villages bordering Turkey and Azerbaijan, and hails from Turkish and Azeri origins.
There are native Georgian Muslims, who have recently embraced Islam, but their numbers are in hundreds.
Mosques in Georgia operate under the supervision of the Georgian Muslim Department, established in May 2011.
In 2010, Turkey and Georgia signed an agreement by which Turkey will provide funding and expertise to rehabilitate three Mosques and to rebuild a fourth one in Georgia.