Tskhinvali Authorities Ban “Unsanctioned” Visit to Orthodox Church

The Russian-backed authorities of Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia have turned down the request of residents of village Adzvi in Gori Municipality to allow a visit and a church service at an Orthodox chapel located in the outskirts of the village, close to the occupation line.

Adzvi lies on the Tbilisi-controlled territory, but the village chapel has fallen behind the occupation line since 2014, when Russian FSB forces installed a boundary marker in the vicinity, making it impossible for local residents to travel to the site.

Since then, visits to the area have frequently been discussed in the Georgian-Russian diplomatic talks – especially ahead of religious holidays, including the St. George’s Day celebrations on May 6, which is widely marked across the country.

The KGB, the region’s security service, reported yesterday that Tskhinvali authorities were informed on May 4 of the intention of locals to visit the site. The notification, according to the KGB, was communicated by Tbilisi through the European Union Monitoring Mission to Georgia (EUMM).

“On the same day, the government of the the republic of South Ossetia has informed Tbilisi, as well as the EUMM, that violation of the South Ossetian state border and unsanctioned activities by Georgian residents and the Georgian Orthodox Church, were inadmissible,” reads their press release.

The KGB also noted that its officers had tightened “the border protection regime” beginning from May 5 in connection with the announced visit, as well due to the security arrangements ahead of the May 9 parade, which Russia and some other post-Soviet countries mark as the end of the World War II in Europe.

Murat Jioev, the region’s chief negotiation with Tbilisi, commented on the matter as well, saying the announced visit “can be assessed as intentionally provocative, which could seriously worsen the situation, especially ahead of the important political events and the celebrations of the Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War.”

“We call on to the EUMM, which is mandated with monitoring security issues in the areas adjacent to state border from the Georgian side, to take the necessary measures for preventing the unwanted consequences,” Murat Jioev added.

Metropolitan Andria Gvazava, who leads the Eparchy of Gori and Ateni, said Jioev’s assessment was “strange.” “I would like to underline that we were planning to visit the church together with children, women and clergy; it is strange, if this can be considered as a provocation,” he stressed.

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