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The remains found in an archaeological study of Kumurdo Cathedral will be buried in a tomb outside the church grounds, according to a statement from Georgia’s National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation. The agency says the remains belong to people shot during the Soviet period.
Kumurdo is a predominantly ethnic Armenian village in Georgia’s southern Samtskhe–Javakheti Region. Clashes broke out between locals and police on 30 September which left several people injured, including police.
The confrontation began after police prevented a group of local people, who say the remains belonged to relatives of theirs, from installing a khachkar, an Armenian cross-stone, in the local churchyard where the remains had been reburied. The 10th century church is undergoing restoration work.
After the group refused to leave, riot police were called in and a physical confrontation ensued. During the clashes, people threw stones at police leading to damage to a number of cars. Two men were detained and taken to a local police station. Both were later released from police custody.
[Read more about the clashes in Kumurdo on OC Media: Violence flares over Armenian cross-stone in southern Georgia church]
The Ministry of Culture has denied that any talks have taken place over ownership of the church, claiming the dispute was about the khachkar alone.
On 5 October the Patriarchate of Georgia said in a statement that the ‘problem was triggered by the attempt from a certain group of people to install a traditional Armenian cross-stone — a khachkar without preliminary agreement’.
They say confusion was stirred by disinformation regarding the origins of the church, claiming that the ‘Armenian Apostolic Church confirms they don’t claim it and consider it to be Georgian’.
‘It is not debatable that ancestors’ graves should be honoured, but it should be considered that for hundreds of years Georgians, Armenians, and people of other ethnicities have been buried in this churchyard and it is our duty to respect all of them’
The Patriarchate says they have met with representatives of the Armenian Church and the Government and are ready to make a joint decision on the issue.
In April 2017, the newly built Surb Khach (Holy Cross) Church was consecrated in Kumurdo by the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia. According to their website, it’s the 58th functioning church of the Armenian Diocese in Georgia. The website also states that prior to this, the local Armenian community offered their prayers in the now-ruined Holy Ascension Church, which stood near the Kumurdo Cathedral.