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Holy Relics

A clutch of historic Tbilisi churches crumble while Georgian and Armenian clergy fight over their provenance. A TOL/Liberali multimedia presentation. by Iago Kurashvili 30 March 2010

TBILISI | Virtually since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgian and Armenian religious leaders have been fighting for the rights to a half-dozen houses of worship, five of them here in Georgia’s capital.


The argument takes in tangled history and messy modern relations between the two communities. The Armenian Apostolic Church contends the historic structures were built centuries ago under its aegis. Some Georgian authorities claim the churches only became Armenian during the 19th-century period when Georgia’s Orthodox patriarchy was made subject to Russia’s. Armenian tombstones, altars, and other features have been removed from some sites. State officials have shown little inclination to wade into the dispute.


In the meantime, the disputed Tbilisi churches stand unused, floors littered with debris, walls crumbling. Their precarious state was dramatized in November, when the dome of the 18th-century St. Gevorg of Mughni Church collapsed. This audio slide show, a collaboration between TOL and Tbilisi magazine Liberali, documents the deteriorating conditions of buildings that might soon be neither Georgian nor Armenian, but merely memories.


Iago Kurashvili is a freelance journalist in Tbilisi and a Liberali contributor. Funding for this project was provided by the Czech Foreign contributor. Funding for this project was provided by the Czech Foreign Ministry as part of the Czech Republic's Transition Promotion Program.

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