Reaction of the Armenian Church in Georgia to President Saakashvili’s statement on release of Vahagn Chakhalyan is “incomprehensible” and causes surprise, Georgian President’s administration said in a statement on January 28.
The Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia said on January 26 that President Saakashvili’s “incorrect” statements on the release of Chakhalyan, an activist from Georgia’s pre-dominantly ethnic Armenian populated region, who was serving a prison term for charges related to weapons, armed hooliganism and acts against public order, were contributing to “dissemination of anti-Armenian sentiments.”
Chakhalyan was released on January 24 as a result of a broad amnesty passed by the Georgian Parliament late last year after serving four and half years of his ten-year prison term. President Saakashvili condemned on January 25 release of Chakhalyan and described him as “the enemy of the Georgian state”. He said that Chakhalyan was released upon the request of head of the Armenian Apostolic Church Karekin II to Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili; he also said that PM Ivanishvili “committed a grave misconduct” by allowing Chakhalyan’s release and added that the PM did so in order “to please” Russia.
“First of all we want to express our deep respect to our compatriot ethnic Armenians and the Diocese of the Armenian [Apostolic Church] in Georgia. Multi-ethnic and multi-confessional [society] is the cornerstone which strength and freedom of the Georgian state is based on,” President Saakashvili’s administration said in its written statement on January 28.
“Every citizen of this country, regardless of ethnic origin and fate, is equal,” the statement reads. “The Georgian President has noted for multiple times exemplary devotion shown by our Armenian compatriots in fight for freedom and independence of our country and in building of new Georgia.”
“The Georgian society is also aware that there have been and still are political groups which build their political perspective on fomenting all kinds of phobias, including Armenophobia. The Georgian President has stated for multiple times that such approach is strongly unacceptable,” it said.
“Against such a background, the recent statement of the Diocese of Armenian Church about the release from prison Georgian citizen Vahagn Chakhalyan causes astonishment.”
“The Georgian President has stressed in his statement that Chakhalyan’s ethnic origin did not matter. It concerns criminal acts committed by the Georgian citizen.”
“The Georgian President has expressed his negative attitude towards the amnesty [act passed by the Parliament in December], especially towards the release of Russian spies, majority of whom are ethnic Georgians.”
“The Georgian President has stressed for multiple times that there also were non-Georgian citizens among the released persons, who were convicted for espionage in favor of Russia and for other grave crimes (among them Yuri Skrilnikov, Armen Gevorkyan) and whose release have long been demanded by the Russian Federation,” the President’s administration said.
The Armenian Church in Georgia also criticized President Saakashvili for mentioning in his remarks in negative terms Armen Gevorkyan. Unlike Chakhalyan, who was released based on a broader amnesty which applied to thousands of inmates, Gevorkyan was released after he was included in the list of those 190 persons, who were recognized by the Parliament as political prisoners. The Armenian Church in Georgia said that leader of Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, had also “motioned before the President with a request for releasing” Gevorkyan.
“Georgia’s current government has not even tried to swap spies of foreign country on Georgian citizens who serve their prison term on fabricated charges of espionage in Russian jails,” the statement by the President’s administration continues.
“Reaction of the leadership of the Diocese of the Armenian Church in Georgia to this political position is incomprehensible. It is incomprehensible why the fact of release of specific criminals and Russian spies, as well as justified criticism of Georgia’s new government became motive of such a politicized statement by the leadership of the Diocese [of the Armenian Church in Georgia],” it said.
“We hope that this misunderstanding was caused by lack of information,” the Georgian President’s administration said.