Muslims are under pressure and suffer oppression virtually everywhere. We look at the situation of Muslims in Georgia by interviewing Mirtagi Asadov, Chariman of the Supreme Administration of Georgian Muslims.
Monday March 23, 2015, 18:43 DST
The Republic of Georgia is often referred to as the “Lebanon of the Caucasus”. This is due to the presence of many ethnic groups of the Caucasus within its borders. Generally diverse religions and ethnicities coexisted peacefully in Georgia for centuries. Recently Crescent International began receiving news from Georgia about the artificial marginalization of Muslims in Georgia. In order to get some clarity on the situation Crescent International contacted Mirtagi Asadov, Chairman of the organization, the Supreme Administration of Georgian Muslims (SAGM).
The Republic of Georgia is known worldwide for being a very multicultural society. In general terms, what kind of interaction exists between various ethnicities and religious groups in Georgia today?
At a superficial level it appears that Georgia is a place where all religions and ethnicities live harmoniously, but unfortunately today things are not as harmonious. Religions other than Orthodox Christianity are not being treated equally. For example, it is hard for Muslims in Georgia to get their places of worship recognized as religious sanctuaries. Muslim places of worship have even been attacked and a minaret of a mosque was damaged. We had an ancient mosque demolished and a library built in its place. When Muslims try to demand their religious rights we are told that there is no law on religion and Georgia is a Christian state. Unfortunately, many Muslims do not know their constitutional rights and this combined with state pressure marginalizes Muslims in the country.
Crescent International has received reports that recently Muslims in Georgia were being subjected to government pressure. Can you explain what type of pressure Muslims currently face?
The past government in Georgia created a state institution for Muslims in order to control the Muslim minority in Georgia through that state entity. However, they have not been successful in this venture. Muslims in Georgia wanted to form independent Islamic associations and communities. The government, however, created artificial barriers and prevented Muslims from doing so.
When the present government came to power, we managed to register our community as an independent Islamic community and this is how it should be. Georgia in theory is a secular state where religion and state should be separate from each other. However, the current government in Georgia is still trying to control the Muslim community by forcing them to become part of the government-created Muslim institution. The current government’s security apparatus is actively involved in selecting the Mufti and religious leaders for Muslims. It pretends that these so-called “religious leaders” are being elected, but in reality everyone knows that the government appoints them and pressures the communities to “elect” them so that on paper things look clean.
I would like to point out that Georgia is the only state amongst the former USSR states that did not adopt a law on religious freedoms. Therefore, many of the mosques could not be constructed as mosques, but instead were built on private land as private houses or homes for elderly people. Many of these mosques lack proper documentation because the government does not provide a proper legal infrastructure for the Muslim community to exercise their religious rights fully and independently.
Many of the so-called “illegal” mosques have been taken over by the current government as properties without ownership and handed over for 49 years to a government controlled Muslim institution without solving the issue of the legal status of mosques in Georgia. Our organization has protested against this. We do not consider it correct that the state which claims to be secular, uses force to subjugate Muslim organizations to its bodies and hands out the Muslim properties as a gift to organizations pledging loyalty to the government.
I also want to point out that in 2014 the government gathered Muslim organizations for a meeting which we also attended at which it stated that it wants to allocate money for Muslim communities. At that meeting we were told that the money can be transferred only to an account of one organization, so we were offered to join the government created body in order to receive the money from them, once money is transferred to the government created institution. We refused to be part of this plot and are against the fact that government is taking sides amongst religious organizations as this type of dirty politics will further create feelings of alienation in the Muslim community. This type of action violates the constitution of our country.
How do you see the solution to these issues and what are your specific proposals?
We want adoption of a law on religious freedoms and we demand that the government return the mosques and prayer halls it took. SAGM wants the mosques to be recognized as independent and the religious leaders should not be pressured into pledging allegiance to a certain organization favored by the government.