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Police Investigates Deconstruction of the Christian Chapel in Jokolo Village of Pankisi Gorge


Information Center of Kakheti

Akhmeta municipality police department is investigating the fact of ruin of Christian chapel in Jokolo village, Pankisi Gorge under the Article 187 of the Criminal Code of Georgia. Resident of Jokolo village Makvala Tsiskarishvili did not confirm with the Pankisi Community Radio that ethnic Kist residents of the village had threatened her with burning the house if the construction of the chapel continues. Different versions of the incident are spread in the Gorge.

Chief specialist at the Monument Protection Unit of the legal entity of public law Culture Center of the Akhmeta municipality administration Eldar Tchatchiashvili said the church was going to be constructed on the ruins of the St. George temple in Jokolo village.

“It is place of medieval settlements. Apparently, a noble family lived here, who had an entire complex of estate here. You can find ruins of church, palace and wine-cellar in the area. According to ancient renditions, there was St. George Church on the site of current ruins of the chapel. Even nowadays, Christian people from across the Pankisi Gorge and different municipalities of Kakheti region come there to pray. 

The local woman Tsiskarishvili decided to construct a church on that place. She believed it was place of her family chapel but as we found out, certain people asked her to stop construction or otherwise they threatened her to burn her house. I do not know who threatened her but she continued construction. On the eve of the Easter she stopped construction and in the morning of the Easter Holiday she found ruins when she arrived to pray there. Unidentified people had come and ruined the church. 

Has the local self-government body received a notification about the planned construction? Did you issue permission? Were you informed about the planned construction?

No. She started construction based on her individual decision. We learned about it only after it was destroyed. We did not know anything before the incident. However, it does not mean that somebody can insult the holly place.

There is the 19th century Church in the village of Jokolo. There were several incidents about it too. Unidentified people tried to break windows; the door was removed once. Nobody investigated those incident,” Eldar Tchitchiashvili and added that the ruins of the church in the village do not have the status of the cultural heritage.

Attorney of the Akhmeta municipality governor in Jokolo village Otar Mutoshvili said the Pankisi Gorge residents sometimes went to the site of the constructing church and prayed there. 

Resident of Duisi village Jaraf Khangoshvili said if anybody in the Gorge, which is mostly inhabited by muslim people, has anything against Christians, they would have destroyed the church in the center of Jokolo village long time ago. 

“Here, in Jokolo, Church has been functioning for more than one century. If anybody fought against Christians, they would have destroyed that church first of all. But nobody has ever insulted the church. Thus, it is not correct that locals fight against Christianity or against any other religion. I think it was done by unserious people, irresponsible youth, who tried provocations but now try to blame and discredit others. We have similar people in our gorge. Everybody has right to pray and we cannot interfere in it. The real perpetrators shall be identified and punished,” Jaraf Khangoshvili said. 

Member of the Elders Council of the Pankisi Gorge Khaso Khangoshvili does not exclude possibility that the incident happened because of conflict between paganism and Islam. 

“In the past, there was simple chapel there. During religious holidays, when I was young, people used to gather there to have parties instead carrying out any religious rituals. Then the building ruined or was deconstructed and now certain people from Jokolo tried to restore it. They just destroyed the wall. There cannot be any religious controversy or incidents. It may be conflict between paganism and Islam; otherwise the Islam never opposes Christianity or any other monotheist religions. It is clearly stated in the Koran. I think it was not correct to start such a noise about this fact as if it was a church and somebody fought against it. I remember very well what we had there. I have been there many times – it was small, very small temple, where you could enter only bended.
Kists never touched religious temples; they even never cut twig. If you pay attention, you will see similar buildings in the Pankisi Gorge and nobody has cut the trees in the forest around those churches either. Maybe, adults had different views about it and destroyed something. It is absolutely possible that somebody did it because of that concrete person [the woman who started the construction]. There is a church in the center of the village but nobody insults it.

But, specialist at the Akhmeta municipality Monument Protection Unit Eldar Tchatchiashvili said, there were cases when the windows of the church were broken and the door was removed.

I think it was one incident when the cross was removed. It happened during the crisis in the Pankisi Gorge, when criminal was mixed up with the new movement. Similar incidents happened at that time. I sure, even the new movements will not like it because regardless the fact the chapel belongs to Christians or other religions, it was constructed to warship the God,” Khaso Khangoshvili said.

Pankisi Community Radio interviewed Makvala Tsiskarishvili too, who was constructing the church. 

“There was a chapel in that place, which destroyed. I go there every Easter and pray. I will keep on going there until I am alive. Nobody can deprive people from the right to pray. I decided to restore the church on that place. My son-in-law also helped me. I wanted to construct a place for candles and protect the area from cows. We managed to construct about one-meter high walls just before the Easter. When I arrived there in the Easter morning, it was destroyed.

Has anybody ever threatened or intimidated you and demanded to stop the construction? 

No, neither oppression nor intimidation facts had happened. I restored the church in the middle of Jokolo center either. We even placed icons there and installed iron door there. When I am in Pankisi, I try to go to the church during holidays.

Do you plan to continue the construction?

I will be in the Pankisi Gorge in a week time and I will make decision after that. 

Have police interrogated you?

Yes, I was interrogated at home. I told the same to them what I say now to you – I have no complaints. 

Husband of Makvala Tsiskarishvili’s daughter is businessman Gia Gvichia, who lives in the Russian Federation. According to Russian media, Gia Gvichia has the property of 65 million USD. 

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, police interrogated several people about the incident and the investigation continues. The investigation was launched under the Article 187 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (damage or deconstruction of other’s property) that is punished by fine or the labor for the good of public from 100 to 180 hours or correction labor up to one year or imprisonment from one up to three years in length. 

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