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Batumi Muslims reject ‘discriminatory’ deal for stalled mosque construction

23 April 2018
Muslims of Orta Mosque pray outside the mosque in Batumi (Mari Nikuradze/ OC Media)

An initiative group of Georgian Muslims in Batumi has rejected an offer from Mayor Lasha Komakhidze for a building permit for a second mosque in the city. Komakhidze said in a meeting on 3 April that if land bought by the group for the mosque was transferred to the state sponsored Administration of All Muslims of Georgia, and if they withdrew a court appeal over previous building permit rejections, a permit would be issued.

On 20 April, the initiative group issued a statement saying that they were rejecting the Mayor’s ‘ultimatum’.

‘The preconditions the mayor gave, that building a mosque on that land could be approved for a different organisation but not for us, were a clear sign of the discriminatory approach of the authorities’, the statement said. They also said that trying to bypass the initiative group was insulting and a ‘negligence of public interests’.

For over a decade, Muslims in Batumi, the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, had demanded land be allocated to construct a second mosque in the city. They say the city’s only current mosque, Orta, is too small to accommodate the local Muslim population, and every week during Friday prayers, worshippers are forced to stand outside. Despite repeated promises from the local and central governments, the problem has remained unresolved.

[Read on OC Media: Muslims in Batumi are becoming impatient for second mosque]

In 2016, the community formed the initiative group that collected money and bought a plot of land to construct a second mosque. Batumi City Hall rejected their application for a construction permit, arguing that the area was a high density residential zone, and not suitable for a religious building. In June 2017, the group appealed the rejection in court, arguing it represented discrimination on religious grounds.

A ‘lack of trust’

In their 20 April statement the initiative group reiterated their distrust towards the Administration of All Muslims of Georgia — a state funded organisation that they said the government controls. They said distrust towards the organisation is a result of a state policy that ‘uses the organisation as a tool’.

[Read on OC Media: Opinion | Georgia’s Muslim authority should represent the interests of Georgia’s Muslims, not the government’s]

‘A clear example occurred back in 2014 when the Administration of all Muslims demanded a residence for themselves and a madrasa [school] building, (which doesn’t even function today), as an alternative to a new mosque’, the statement said.

They said they suspect the government might be trying to stop the building of the mosque by taking legal mechanisms away from them and handing them to the Administration of All Muslims of Georgia.

‘We can hardly recall the government bringing about just resolutions to important challenges Muslims have faced. Moreover, we have been seeing the government’s interest in halting the building’, the statement reads.

Tamta Mikeladze, a lawyer from the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), who are representing the group in court, says the government is trying to halt the process through the Administration of All Muslims of Georgia.

‘When the government speaks about the Muslims’ Administration as a solution to this issue, it strengthens the argument that the government is trying to use this entity as a tool’, Mikeladze told OC Media.

She said that the government is trying to transfer any rights to legal recourse over the permit into the hands of an organisation that is more ‘loyal’ to them.

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