The three major unresolved issues of importance to the Armenian community are the ability to use Armenian as an official language at local levels, educational opportunities for ethnic Armenians, and the return of disputed church properties, said Primate of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church Vazgen Mirzakhanyan in a May 20, 2009 meeting with former US Ambassador to Georgia John Tefft, according to a Jun. 16, 2009 diplomatic cable recently published by WikiLeaks.
During the meeting, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan cited the Georgian government’s increase in budgetary support to the Samtskhe-Javakheti region as major positive step for his community, but added that education in the region remained at a basic level. “He proposed a joint Armenian-Georgian University in Akhalkalaki which would raise Georgian language skills in the region and provide advanced education to help ethnic Armenians be more competitive for mid and upper level jobs in the Georgian economy.” The US ambassador notes in the cable that they will raise these issues with Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili.
On the matter of returning church properties, Bishop Mirzakhanyan said he expected a law to have been amended in March allowing the Armenian Apostolic Church, Roman Catholics, Jews, and Muslims to register as official religions, but that this has not yet happened. (Note: a law providing legal status to religious associations in Georgia was amended and approved by parliament in early July of this year.)
Tefft concludes the cable by noting that the Georgian government has shown a willingness to engage the “previously largely-ignored” Armenian minority:
“Nonetheless, the refusal to legally recognize faiths other than the GOC [Georgian Orthodox Church] has long been a contentious issue. The Ministry for Reintegration prepared to present a new proposal to the cabinet in early April to resolve the issues of recognition of other religions formally as Entities of Public Law. However, the deputy State Minister for Reintegration was advised not to present the proposal to the cabinet without consultation with the Patriarchy. Upon consultation, the Patriarchy advised that with protests taking place, times were too tense and the proposal should wait. We will continue to encourage all sides to work towards an equitable and mutually acceptable solution.”