>>The removal of a minaret from a Georgian village sparks a debate about religious tolerance
On Aug. 26, the authorities in Chela, a town in the region of Ajara in south-west Georgia, removed a minaret from a mosque. The official reason was to inspect whether the minaret had been constructed legally.
Protesting Muslims claimed the removal was an attack on their right to worship and a debate over religious freedom kicked off.
Most of Georgia’s 4.5 million people belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church and are guided by the Church’s relatively conservative views. A Muslim minority, roughly 10% of the population, lives in Georgia, mainly in the south-east near the border with Azerbaijan or in the south-west along the border with Turkey.
The authorities dismantled the minaret from Chela and drove it to Tbilisi for inspection. There they decreed that, although the minaret had been made of illegal material, it should be resurrected.
And so they loaded the minaret back on to a truck and drove it back to Chela. Near Chela, though, a group of Orthodox Christians, stepped in and blocked the road. They don’t want the minaret to be resurrected.
The minaret now lies in pieces a few kilometres from Chela. Meanwhile, Georgia debates its view on religious tolerance.
>>This focus story was first published in issue 150 of The Conway Bulletin. Click here for details on how to subscribe