AKHALKALAK, Georgia— On September 30, locals from the Armenian populated village of Gumburdo (called Kumudo by Georgian) in Georgia’s southern province of Javakhk (called Samtskhe-Javakheti by Georgians) clashed with the police after they were stopped from placing a Khachkar (Armenian cross stone) in the yard of the local church, reported Akhalkalak based JNews.ge.
According to Jnew.ge reporters, villagers walked over to Surp Hampartsum Church (Holy Ascension) expecting to place the Khachkar but were unexpectedly met with the police. Clashes ignited and several Armenians were beaten by batons as a result. Many sustained injuries and few others were detained.
Georgian authorities claimed that the church is on the list of cultural heritage, hence any changes made to the temple itself or the yard requires formal authorization, which has not been given.
However, co-chair of the unregistered Georgian Virk Party, Davit Rstakyan, told Armenia’s News.am that there were discussions with Georgian authorities in which they had agreed for the placement of the Khachkar.
“As you know, during restoration of the church, Georgians destroyed the Armenian cemetery, after which the Armenian community wanted to set up a new burial place with the Khachkar they had planned to place,” said Rstakyan. “The Georgian authorities want to make this Armenian church Georgian.”
After riot police were called to disperse the crowd, Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs, Giorgi Mgebrishvili, arrived at the scene to negotiate with representatives of the locals.
Tensions calmed down the following day, as authorities agreed to recall riot police and hand the duty of guarding the site to the police units from nearby Akhalkalak.
Locals on their part agreed to temporarily disband pending negotiations about what to do with the Khachkar, negotiations that will also involve the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Diocese of Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia.
A final decision is expected to be made on October 5.
Surp Hampartsum Church has been under renovation since July 2016. It was built in the 10th century and is currently in dilapidated condition. In 2015, human bones were excavated at the church property. This church is one of the several churches that are disputed between Georgians and Armenians.
Gumburdo is a village in Akhalkalak municipality with a population of about 2,000, almost exclusively Armenian.
Gumburdo has also been home to Armenians for centuries, but was boosted by displaced arrivals from the Shakav village of Erzerum.