GEORGIA: Orthodox Priests Lead 'Pogrom' Against Pentecostal Church and Catholic Pilgrims.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 8 July 2002

Two Orthodox priests led a three-day attack on a Russian-language Pentecostal church in the Nadzaladevi district of the Georgian capital Tbilisi over the weekend (5-7 July), witnesses have told Keston News Service. "They arrived to blockade the house on Friday evening," the daughter of Pastor Nikolai Kalutsky told Keston on 8 July. "On Saturday, incited by the priests, the mob of about thirty or forty people burst into the house, beat people, frightened the children, stole Bibles, rummaged through people's bags and uttered very many threats - to the believers and to our family. It was a pogrom." Unlike in previous attacks on religious minorities in Georgia - which have plagued the country for the past three years (see separate KNS article) - the local police did come to the help of the Pentecostals. In a separate incident, two Orthodox priests were reportedly behind attacks on a Catholic pilgrimage in eastern Georgia in which the apostolic administrator was taking part.

Oleg Khubashvili, head of the Pentecostal Union, said the attack on the Tbilisi Russian-language Pentecostal church was the first on any member congregations of his union since last year. "We rang government structures about this attack and the police are informed," he told Keston from Tbilisi on 8 July. "We are working to stop such attacks." He said it had not yet been established whether the two priests who led the raids were from the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate, as some reports reaching Keston had claimed. "No-one knows which jurisdiction they were from - they didn't give their names. The police should know."

The Orthodox Patriarchate said it had no information about the attack on the Pentecostal church or about the attack on Catholic pilgrims. "This is the first I've heard of this," spokesman Giorgi Andriadze told Keston on 8 July. "We are in regular contact with the Catholics and they haven't told us anything about this." When Keston recounted details of the attack on the Pentecostals, Andriadze's first question was whether those attacked were Georgian citizens. Asked whether - if it were proved that any Patriarchate priests had been involved in such attacks - the Patriarchate would condemn their activity, he declared: "Of course." He added that if it were proved, he could not say what action the Patriarchate would take. "I'm not a priest. I can't say what church punishment would be meted out to them." He then volunteered that such incidents might be "provocations to discredit the Orthodox Patriarchate". He pointed out that the rebel priest who has led or incited dozens of attacks on minority faiths, Basil Mkalavishvili, was defrocked by the Patriarchate.

Andriadze also pointed out that Metropolitan Atanase Chakhvashvili, who is based in the town of Rustavi south east of Tbilisi, who said on television in February that all "sectarians" in Georgia should be "killed" (see KNS 13 February 2002) had retracted his comments. "He issued a statement apologising for his thoughtless remarks," Andriadze told Keston. "He is very old and is preparing for retirement."

Kalutsky's daughter reported that during the raid on the church, some 100 Pentecostals were present in the sanctuary - located on the ground floor of the Kalutsky family home - when the mob burst in. The mob was mainly made up of young men who live near the church. The younger of the two Orthodox priests also lives nearby, Kalutsky's daughter noted. "They told us not to meet again. 'Go back to your Russia! This is our Georgia!' they told us, although we are Georgian citizens. They threatened my husband, who is Georgian, that his family would cut off all relations with him. They threatened that something could happen to our children out on the street or that our house could burn down."

She added that the mob showed no mercy to anyone. "They didn't care if you were old or young - they even beat pregnant women." Kalutsky's wife Vera was one of those injured by the attackers. "My mother is still in hospital - she suffered an injury to the head and yesterday couldn't even walk. She suffered a great physical shock."

Kalutsky's daughter said church members had rung the local police on 6 July and that police officers had arrived within minutes, among them the deputy head of the local police Shalva Rukhadze. "It would have been far worse had they not been there. They calmed the mob down and stayed all day." She reported that the mob had blocked the path of an ambulance summoned to take her mother to hospital, but the ambulance driver had insisted to the mob that his duty was to take the injured person to hospital and forced his way through. The police helped the Pentecostals trapped inside to leave the building in safety a few at a time.

In a separate incident, a group of Catholics - among them the Apostolic Administrator Bishop Giuseppe Pasotto - who were on pilgrimage to the mainly-Catholic village of Sanavardo of Kvareli region in eastern Georgia on 3 July were physically attacked by a group of people reportedly sent by two Orthodox priests. They told the pilgrims they had no right to walk in their diocese. "The two priests stopped us, thinking we were Jehovah's Witnesses," Bishop Pasotto told Keston from Tbilisi on 8 July. "We had a discussion - they didn't say anything bad to us - and then said we could continue. It was only later that the crowd of people arrived." Bishop Pasotto said the two priests were from the local diocese of the Orthodox Patriarchate. He added that he was due to deliver a letter detailing the attack to the president's office on 9 July, after which he would make it public.

Keston was unable to reach the local Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan Sergi Chekurishvili of Nekrisi, at his office on 8 July to ask why his priests felt they had the right to prevent members of other faiths visiting his diocese. (END)