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Georgians Concerned About State Of Religious Sites In Abkhazia

Paata Davitaia: "If we do not act now, it will be too late."

Paata Davitaia: "If we do not act now, it will be too late."

TBILISI -- Georgian officials are expessing concern over the condition of historical monuments in its breakaway region of Abkhazia, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports.

Paata Davitaia, deputy speaker of the Georgian parliament, said he is "deeply concerned" over the fate of Georgian Orthodox churches and monasteries in Abkhazia. He said many of them are in danger of losing their original form.

Davitaia, head of the opposition party We Ourselves, said in Tbilisi that a renovation process being instituted by Abkhaz officials does not preserve the original state of Georgian historical monuments.

Davitaia said "if we do not act now, it will be too late." He added that he sent an appeal to Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, urging him to intervene and "stop the process of renovation of Georgian churches in Abkhazia."

The Russian Orthodox Church recognizes the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Abkhazia and Georgia's other breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Ethnic Abkhaz mainly belong to the Eastern Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox branches of Christianity.

Some Georgian art historians say they fear the renovation process is the facade for an effort to eradicate Georgian cultural traces in Abkhazia.

"We fear that the illegal restoration process will erase very important documents that prove the Georgians have lived and worked there," Giorgi Gagoshidze, of the Georgian Agency for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, told RFE/RL.

"Frescos [on the church walls] could be painted over and in the future it would be much easier to claim that Georgians did not ever live [in certain areas]," Gagoshidze said.

There were some 240,000 ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia in 1989, most of whom fled during the 1992-1993 war when the pro-Moscow region broke away from Georgian control.

Georgian art historians say the last time they had a chance to visit the Georgian monuments in Abkhazia was 1997 when a delegation from UNESCO, the UN cultural organization, visited Abkhazia.

But Demur Bzhania, head of Abkhazia's agency for the Protection of Historical Monuments, said that no one is renovating Georgian religious sites in the region.

"So far there are no restoration works in progress," he told RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus. "This is 100 percent true and that is how it is."