Where to bury the dead?
The situation in Adigeni has calmed down. After a two-day standoff between the local Christians and Muslims, the human rights activists and reporters have finally left the village. Although the mobile patrol police are still there.
This is already the third conflict on religious grounds, that occurred in Adigeni over the past three years. If in the first two cases the reason for dispute had been a Muslim prayer house, in the third case the Christians and Muslims stepped into conflict over the territory of the cemetery.
The conflict has been settled at this stage – the Muslim community will be allocated a burial area, adjacent to the Christian cemetery. Each of the cemeteries will have its individual entrance and they will be separated by a barrier in between.
However, the human rights activists see no grounds for optimism about this decision. In their words, recently increased number of religious conflicts proves that there are system problems.
The situation in Adigeni (Samtskhe-Javakheti region) first aggravated after a Muslim resident of the village, Revaz MIkeladze, had died last spring and there had been no place to bury him.
There are more than twenty Muslim families in Adigeni. They are the eco-migrants, who moved here from Ajara 30 years ago. During those three decades, the Muslims have never had their own place to bury their dead in Adigeni – some buried their family members in mountainous Ajara, others – in their own backyards.
However, the family members of late Revaz Mikeladze, a representative of the local Muslim community, decided to act differently – they selected a vacant place for burial within the village. It was decided that local Muslims would organize a cemetery there.
This caused quite a stir in the village. The fellow villagers – Orthodox Christians did not allow late Mikeladze’s family to bury him in the place they’d chosen. Instead, they suggested burying him at the village cemetery. Mikeladze’s family rejected that proposal, since, as they put it, Muslims are not allowed to bury their dead at the Christian cemetery. Mikeladze’s body was taken to the neighboring Zanavi village and was finally buried there.
One year passed after this incident, but the tensions over the cemetery issue did not relax. It came to a mass brawl last week. The villagers even called the ambulance. The situation calmed down only upon interference of the police.
‘There is no place for a Muslim cemetery in our village. Being the Orthodox Christians, we firmly insist on it and will not let anyone do anything! There is another cemetery in the village, so let them bury their dead there. If allocate a separate area, they will build a mosque there later, ‘- says Tina Janashia, an Orthodox Christian resident of Adigeni village.
The Muslim community members claim, allocation of land for the cemetery is the only thing they request. They say, they are not going to build a mosque there.
The religious leaders of both communities have been involved in the process:
‘According to our religious rules, one is not allowed to bring wine and other spirits to the cemetery, as well as to put crosses there. Just as it is unacceptable for the Christians to read the Quran, it is equally unacceptable for us to read the Bible. That’s the reason, why the Christians and Muslims should not be buried side by side. That will create greater problems in future, ‘- says Mamuka Vashakmadze, Samtskhe-Javakheti Mufti.
Father Antimoz, the religious leader of Adigeni village Orthodox Christians and prior of Chule monastery, has a different position with that regard: ‘There is one common cemetery in the village, where both, Christians and Muslims, shall be buried, and that’s how it should be either from the state or human point of view. Burying a Christians side by side with a Muslim is not a problem even from the religious point of view.’
Muslim community has been officially requesting allocation of a land plot for the cemetery over the past few months.
On February 25, representatives of the community received a letter, saying that the Religious Affairs Agency met their request and Adigeni municipality administration (Gamgeoba) was instructed to allocate a land plot for the cemetery to the Muslim community.
This response caused escalation of the conflict.
‘You want to have a separate prayer house – no way! Twenty people going around and secretly collecting signatures won’t work. You will never be allocate a separate place in this village. If anybody wants to do it, let them allocate you places in their houses, yards and office, ‘- that’s how Beka Tabidze, the Christian community member, addressed the Muslim neighbors, who had gathered in the village center.
‘I’ve been living in this village for 22 years and I have always had good relationship with everyone. It’s a shame that a two-meter land plot belongs to a deceased! ‘- replied Lia Iakobadze, a Muslim.
The situation in Adigeni village escalated by about 7 p.m., after the Head of Adigeni municipality administration (Gamgebeli), Zakaria Endeladze, visited the village.
‘Those were Muslims, who brought Gamgebeli here – they wanted to settle the issue right away. I told them not to do that. I warned them, that some guys were drinking in the village and that would bring no good. But they did not listen to me. Gamgebeli came and all that brawl started. The police and ambulance arrived, says Zurab Tabidze, a member of the Christian community.
Some people got eye injuries, others got concussions as a result of confrontation.
‘My head is broken. I don’t know what I was striken with. I lost my consciousness and the ambulance took me to hospital, ‘- recalls Avtandil Iakobadze.
Georgian Interior Ministry launched a inquiry into the case under part 1, article 156 of the Criminal Code of Georgia – human persecution. Several villagers were questioned, but no one was arrested.
On that day, Adigeni village turned into a real battlefield and was divided into two camps. Muslims from the neighboring villages – Mokhe, Apieti, Tsikhisubni, Dertseli, Zedubni, Chela, Chechla, Kikibio, Ghortubani, came to support Adigeni population. Local Christians gathered opposite them, at the upper part of the road. The police were in between. The law-enforcers made a live chain to separate the opposing sides.
The situation relaxed only two days later – the representatives of the two communities and their religious leaders gathered in Adigeni municipality administration building. Following one-hour talks, it was decided that a new cemetery would be arranged in the village, that would be divided between Christians and Muslims.
‘We had agreed about that from the very beginning. But then there was a misunderstanding, followed by a confrontation,’- says Avtandil Kochalidze, a representative of the Muslim community.
‘Do you think we would be able to live side by side for so many years, if we hated each other? Are they supposed to bury their dead in the air?! It’s good for us too, that there will be a separate cemetery, since our old cemetery could barely fit the dead,’ – says Ketevan Gakhokidze, a representative of the Christian community.
There have been opinions, that someone purposefully tensed the situation for gaining political scores. Both, Muslims and Christians are pointing to that, without, however, specifying the names of those, who could benefit from those disturbances.
‘We’ve been living side by side for 30 years … I guess, it’s politics that should be blamed. Someone has interfered badly, but I don’t know, who exactly,’- says Merab Kurashvili, a representative of the Christian community.
The Muslims also blame the young people from the local Christian community, who were drunk and attacked the Muslims, for escalation of the situation.
‘They came up and started cursing us, calling us Tatars. I have been living here for so many year, but I have heard nothing of that kind for the older generation. They were drunk. A drunk man can do anything, ‘ says Mziuri Vashakmadze, a local Muslim.
The law-enforcers have to reveal those, responsible for the incident.
However, no one has been arrested by the police yet.
This is the circumstance, that the representatives of NGOs focus their attention on: as the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) stressed in its statement, ‘up to date, none of the persons has been granted a victim status. Also, it is disturbing that medical examination of victims has not been conducted yet, while, the examination must be conducted instantly so that the injury is assessed properly. Therefore, all the above-mentioned give grounds for a reasonable doubt that the authorities have no intention to investigate the facts timely and impartially, like other facts of persecution of Muslims’. ‘
The situation in the village has calmed down. Adigeni is now getting ready to arrange a new cemetery. Christians and Muslims will have to work side by side.
At this stage, the representatives of both communities claim, the incident will not affect their good-neighborly relations.
‘There won’t be any complications on our part and I believe, it will be the same on their part, too,’ – says Badri Kakhadze, a local Muslim.
However, the human rights activists do not share this optimism and call on the authorities to profoundly study the religious minority problems. ‘This is not just a single case. Conflicts on religious grounds have become frequent and that indicates more to system problems, ‘ the lawyers from the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) believe.