GEO

Property transferred by state into ownership of religious organizations in Kakheti in 2011-2016

02 August, 2016

 

On 20 June 2016, the media reported that the Council of the self-governing settlement of Telavi rejected the request of the National Agency of State Property to transfer the ownership of a public garden in the centre of the village of Ikalto in Telavi District. The Agency of State Property was going to transfer the ownership of this territory free of charge to the Georgian Patriarchy on the basis of a letter by a vicar of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia.

According to the Council’s explanation, the property request letter sent by the Patriarchy did not properly substantiate the purposes for which the religious organization requested the property. The [Council’s] letter also says that the park represents principal property of the municipality and the municipality does not have the right to transfer its ownership with the exception of special cases. Given these circumstances, Telavi Council did not grant the request submitted by the Agency of State Property on the transfer of property to the Patriarchy.

Transparency International Georgia decided to examine whether transfers of state property to religious organizations occur in an appropriate and substantiated manner. The study covered the region of Kakheti for which we requested information about the transfer of property by LEPL National Agency of State Property to religious organizations between 1 January 2011 through 15 June 2016.

According to the information received, property has been transferred only to two religious organizations: the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Administration of Muslims of All Georgia. Of these, property was transferred to the Administration of Muslims in the form of a 49-year lease while to the Orthodox Church – into ownership, for a symbolic price of GEL 1.

Since 2011, in 11 municipalities of Kakheti, LEPL National Agency of State Property transferred to the Georgian Orthodox Church 11 land plots with a total area of 185,784 sq. m and buildings located on them with a total area of 3,406.58 sq. m.

The distribution of transferred land plots by municipality is as follows:

Georgian Patriarchy

Municipality 

Number of properties

Dedoplistskaro

1

Gurjaani 

3

Kvareli

1

Sighnaghi 

1

Akhmeta

3

Sagarejo 

1

Lagodekhi 

1

 

On 31 December 2014, on the basis of an application submitted by the Sheikh of All Georgia, LEPL National Agency of State Property, taking into consideration the recommendation by LEPL State Agency for Religious Issues, transferred 21 facilities of religious purposes (mosques) with a total area of 25,426 sq. m to the Administration of Muslims of All Georgia in the form of a 49-year lease.

The distribution of these facilities in the region is as follows:

Georgian Muslims’ Union

Municipality 

Number of properties

Lagodekhi 

4

Sagarejo

8

Sagarejo

7

Telavi 

1

Kvareli

1

 

The letters make it clear that the Georgian Muslims’ Union is asking for the transfer of buildings and land plots solely for religious purposes; as for the land plots in Kakheti transferred into the ownership of the Orthodox Church, religious facilities were built/renovated only in Gurjaani, Lagodekhi and Akhmeta. In the rest of the cases, property was transferred to the religious organization for entrepreneurial, economic activities and/or residential purposes. Specifically, the following properties were transferred for religious purposes:

  • In Lagodekhi, the Patriarchy on 27 March 2015 requested a transfer of a 3,423 sq. m land plot in the village of Chadugiani for the construction of a church. The request was granted one week after the letter was submitted – on 3 [April] 2015;
  • Also, in Gurjaani, on 25 May 2015, based on the application submitted by the Patriarchy on 22 April 2015, the Agency transferred to the Patriarchy a 1,156 sq. m land plot located at 9, Tamar Mepe Street, for the purpose of building a church;
  • A letter submitted by Bishop Iakob on 9 July 2014 states that an old, damaged church and several agricultural buildings in the village of Alvani in the Akhmeta Municipality already belong to the Alaverdi Eparchy. According to the bishop, the territory adjacent to the church is likely to represent an important archaeological zone containing the remains of historical buildings (it is noteworthy that no expert conclusion was attached to the letter). Based on these circumstances, the Patriarchy requested the transfer of ownership of two land plots (total area of 103,072 sq. m) to it. The request was granted on 7 August 2014.

Other properties were transferred into its ownership for entrepreneurial and other purposes:

  • In the village of Ozhio of the Akhmeta Municipality, with the aim of expanding the wine cellar of the Alaverdi Monastery complex, the Patriarchy on 14 May 2014 requested a land plot of 2,574 sq. m and 190 sq. m of buildings (warehouses of the previous establishment) located on it. The organization’s request was granted on 23 July;
  • According to the letter from the Monastery of the village of Khashmi in the Sagarejo Municipality, the Monastery produces agricultural goods and needs an area of 20,325 sq. m for expanding. The application submitted on 17 November 2014 was satisfied on 19 December of the same year;
  • On 21 July 2015, the Patriarchy addressed the Agency of State Property with the request to transfer into its ownership a 3,220 sq. m land plot and a building of 460 sq. m located at 10, Tavisupleba Street in Gurjaani with the purpose of fitting out an eparchy residence. The request was granted on 25 August 2015;

Cases when request for property was not substantiated:

  • In a letter sent to the National Agency of State Property on 23 April 2012, the Georgian Patriarchy did not indicate the grounds for requesting 8,311 sq. m of land and buildings located on it in the village of Gremi in the Kvareli Municipality. Despite this, the organization’s request was granted on the same day. It is noteworthy that the aforementioned facility is located on the territory of the Gremi Church and of the historical trade town and is an important tourist site for the region. Due to the site’s tourist potential, the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation carried out large-scale rehabilitation works on this territory in 2011: historical baths of Gremi, its market counters (kulbaks) and an old church were restored, the historical trade district of Gremi was also restored to its original state. A café and a hotel complex were built and, later, the renovated infrastructure and the whole territory, as we said above, were transferred into the ownership of the Orthodox Church.
  • On 12 March 2014, the Orthodox Church requested from the National Agency of State Property to transfer 12 properties (land plots and buildings) in various municipalities into the ownership of the Patriarchy. Despite the fact that the application did not provide any substantiation, the request of the religious organization was granted in three weeks’ time (on 4 April).
Author: Transparency International Georgia