Two Turkish citizens wanted in Turkey for ‘terrorism’ had been hiding in the Tbilisi residence of Georgian Patriarch Ilia II, Georgian opposition TV channel Rustavi 2 reported on 16 September. Giorgi Andriadze, an academician with close ties to the Patriarchate, has claimed that the suspects were not terrorists, but members of a persecuted ethnic minority.
According to Rustavi 2, the two persons were given shelter in the residence of the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church back in April 2016 with help of the secretary of the Patriarch, Shorena Tetruashvili and the chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Patriarchate’s Georgian University, Giorgi Andriadze.
The accusation was made by the head of the Patriarch’s personal guard Soso Okhanashvili during his speech at the court hearing for Irakli Mamaladze — who has been declared guilty of plotting to murder Tetruashvili — in early September. Okhanashvili said that the two terrorism suspects, also accused by the Turkish authorities of kidnapping and murder, were assisted by Tetruashvili and Andriadze in applying for Georgian citizenship.
[Read on OC Media: Georgian archpriest found guilty in ‘Church poison plot’]
Andriadze denounced the accusations on 16 September saying that the two suspects were not ‘Islamists’, but Laz — an ethnic group with a language related to Georgian, indigenous to the Black Sea coastal regions of Turkey and Georgia, ‘whose ideology contradicts Turkey’s’. He also contradicted earlier reports by saying that the suspects entered Georgia legally, which was later confirmed by the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office.
The Turkish Ambassador to Georgia Zeki Levent Gümrükçü told Rustavi 2 on 21 September that one of the suspects has already been extradited to Turkey, with the other one awaiting the Georgian court’s decision.
‘Both persons are accused of being members of a terrorist organisation. Their extradition was followed by the decision of Turkish court. We provided the Georgian side with every document needed. Both persons were arrested in Georgia in the spring of 2016. One of them has already been handed over to Turkey. As for the second one, the process of their extradition is ongoing and we will learn about the [Georgian] court’s decision very soon’, Gümrükçü said.
On 20 August, the Georgian Patriarchate released a statement by Ilia II saying that ‘the recent negative developments [directed] against the Church have caused a painful impact on Georgians living abroad’. In Georgia, the Laz people are widely considered a subgroup of the Georgian people due to linguistic, cultural, and historic ties, similar to Mingrelians and Svans. The majority of Laz are Muslims and live in Turkey.
He called on the Laz people to remember that ‘Georgia and the Georgian Church love them wherever they are’.