UCSJ Action Alert!
Georgian Authorities Fail to Return Synagogue

Join in Campaign to Return Historic Building to the Tbilisi Jewish Community

TO: Supporters of Human Rights
FROM: Maureen Greenwood, Director for Research & Advocacy
DATE: September 15, 1997

RE: GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES FAIL TO RETURN SYNAGOGUE

Jewish leaders from Tbilisi, Georgia, report that the Tbilisi city government, in contravention of a lawful order, now refuses to take action to return a synagogue building to the Tbilisi Jewish community. Chief Rabbi of Georgia Ariel Levine, who is also Director of the UCSJ's Caucasus-American Bureau on Human Rights, reports that the 100-year old building originally was constructed to serve as an Ashkenazi synagogue. Currently, the Theater of the King's Region (the troupe) sublets the building and refuses to evacuate it.

The dispute over the synagogue has provoked verbal attacks against the Jewish community. For example, on June 23, 1997, the television program "Alioni" claimed that criminal elements stood behind the Jews. Furthermore, Dato Turoshvilli, one of the leaders of the Georgian Youth Movement, said on television that the struggle for the building was a fight between good and evil forces. Tbilisi Mayor Badry Shoshitaishvilli said on television that he had cancelled the 1995 city government decision, opening the possibility that the Tribunal of Arbitration may cancel its decision as well. Jewish leaders assert that the city government has failed to take decisive actions to implement the Arbitration Court's 1995 decision to return the former synagogue to the Jewish community.

Immediate Action Requested

The Tbilisi Jewish community leaders urgently request that letters protesting the refusal of City Government officials to enforce the return of the synagogue to the Jewish community be sent to the Georgian President, Edward Shevarnadze. The community urges that copies of the letters be sent to the UCSJ to be forwarded to the Jewish community in Tbilisi and to the U.S. Embassy there. Community leaders fear that without such confirmation, the President will deny having received any protests. (A model letter is attached for your convenience).

Please send your letter to:
The Honorable Edward Shevarnadze
President of Georgia
7 Ingorokva Street
Tbilisi 380034
Georgia 
Please send your copy to:
Union of Councils for Soviet Jews
1819 H St., NW Suite 230
Washington, DC 20006
email: ucsj@ucsj.com

Background

Several years ago, the Tbilisi Jewish community initiated legal steps to obtain the return of a former Ashkenazi synagogue built in the city's historical downtown during the Nineteenth Century. Currently, the troupe uses the building as a theater. In the 1930s, this building was transformed into the Beria Club, and later into the Metekhi Theater. Several years ago, the private Institute of Economy rented the building with the Theater of the King's Region. Since 1992, the troupe has used the building for theatrical performances. In 1995, Georgia's Supreme Arbitration Court ordered the troupe to vacate the building and return it to the Jewish community.

SAMPLE LETTER

The Honorable Edward Shevarnadze
President of Georgia
7 Ingorokva Street
Tbilisi 380034
Georgia

Dear Mr. President

I am greatly disturbed by the Tbilisi city government's refusal to abide by the Georgian Supreme Tribunal of Arbitration's 1995 decision and its failure to enforce its promise to return to the Jewish community the building that was formerly a synagogue.

In the 1930s, this building was transformed into the Beria Club, and later into the Metekhi Theater. Several years ago, the private Institute of Economy rented the building with the Theater of the King's Region.

Tbilisi Mayor Badry Shoshitaishvilli recently announced on television that he had cancelled the 1995 city government decision, opening the possibility that the Tribunal of Arbitration may cancel its decision as well. In theory, the Georgian judiciary is independent from the control and influence of political leaders. In practice, however, political leaders such as Mayor Shoshitaishvilli have powerful influence over the judiciary's decision-makers. Consequently, I am fearful that Mayor Shoshitaishvilli's decision to renege on the city government's decision will influence the Arbitration Court to overturn its 1995 decision as well.

In the interest of greater cooperation among Georgia and the West, and the development of democracy and respect for the rule of law and an independent judiciary, I strongly urge you to assure enforcement of actions that guarantee the return of the Tbilisi synagogue promised to the Jewish community.

I urge you, Mr. President, to instruct the Tbilisi authorities to fulfill the Court's 1995 decision, and to return the old synagogue building to the Jewish community.

Sincerely,

CC: Ariel Levine, Chief Rabbi of Georgia; Director of the Caucasian-American Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law


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