Georgian media reported that three locals were injured during a skirmish over religious grounds on January 12 between Christian and Muslim residents of Buknari village of Chokhatauri Municipality in the western Guria region.
Nearly a month-long religious dispute between the two communities, both ethnic Georgians, has been fuelled by the demands for mosque construction in the village, causing discontent among the local Christians, the same sources reported.
“If Muslims are to live in this country and in this village, perhaps we deserve having a shrine,” one of the locals told media. Another local from the Christian community told journalists that “there are enough mosques” in the proximity of the village where Muslims can pray, thus arguing there is no need to build another place of worship.
The Interior Ministry announced police have arrested one person for inflicting head injuries on two village residents using a rock during the January 12 clash. An investigation has been launched under article 126 (I) of the Criminal Code of Georgia, involving battery or other forms of physical violence, envisaging a punishment of 6 months to a year of imprisonment.
Chokhatauri Municipality Mayor Irakli Kuchava said he had held seven meetings with the interested parties to resolve the dispute, albeit noted that there are “principal topics” over which a deal could not be reached. He said another meeting was scheduled to take place between the communities but violent incident complicated the negotiations.
The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), Tbilisi-based human rights watchdog, said Muslim residents of the village have been requesting the construction of a mosque since 2007.
The civil society outfit called on the Georgian authorities to “prevent violence, deescalate the conflict, and ensure a timely and effective investigation into the incident,” adding that relevant measures must be taken for the Muslim community to conduct worship in a safe and peaceful environment.
The Public Defender of Georgia also urged law enforcement agencies “to take appropriate measures for the prevention of violence, deescalation of the conflict and timely and effective investigation of the incidents,” as well as to “ensure that Muslim religious rituals are performed in a safe and peaceful environment.”