UCSJ Action Alert!
UPDATE: TBILISI JEWS STILL DENIED RETURN OF SYNAGOGUE

Join campaign to help Georgian Jews get their synagogue back

TO: Supporters of Human Rights
FROM: Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews
DATE: December 8, 1997

RE: UPDATE: TBILISI JEWS STILL DENIED RETURN OF SYNAGOGUE

UCSJ's Caucasus-American Bureau on Human Rights in Tbilisi, Georgia reports that local officials continue to refuse to return a building that once housed a synagogue to the Jewish community. In spite of previous positive judicial decisions, on November 14, 1997, the Georgian Court of Arbitration ruled that the Jewish community had no right to the building, which was seized by the Soviets in 1923 and which today houses a local theater troupe.

Now Chief Rabbi and Caucasus Bureau director Ariel Levine, deputy Bureau director Igor Klebansky, and more than thirty other Georgian Jewish leaders are appealing to President Eduard Shevardnadze to enforce the Court's earlier decision. This action represents the first time in the post-Soviet era that the Georgian Jewish community has organized a public protest against the government.

Immediate Action Requested

The Union of Councils calls on defenders of religious freedom to write letters to President Shevardnadze and Georgia's diplomatic missions in the United States and ask that the Jewish community of Tbilisi be given their synagogue back. Please forward copies of your letters to UCSJ.

The Honorable Edward Shevardnadze,
President of Georgia
7 Ingorokva Street
Tbilisi 380034	 
Georgia
Fax: 011-(995) (32) 989-380
 
Ambassador Tedo Japaridze
Embassy of the Republic of Georgia
1511 K St., NW, Suite 424
Washington, DC 20005
Fax: 202-393-4357
E-mail: 73324.1007@compuserve.com

Dr. Peter Chkheidze
Permanent Representative of Georgia to the United Nations
136 East 67th Street
New York, NY 10021
Fax: 212-288-8319
E-mail: geoun@undp.org

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. 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, but the Theater of the King's Region has refused 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 to return synagogue.

The November 1997 decision reverses the 1995 ruling, which was never implemented by local officials. Georgian Jewish activists note that while several religious buildings have been returned to Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine, they are still awaiting for the return of a single synagogue in their country.

SAMPLE LETTER

The Honorable Edward Shevardnadze,
President of Georgia
7 Ingorokva Street
Tbilisi 380034	 
Georgia
Fax: 011-(995) (32) 989-380

Dear President Shevardnadze

We appeal to you to return the synagogue on Abesadze Street in Tbilisi to the Jewish community. We wish to inform you that on November 14, 1997, the Georgian Court of Arbitration considered for the third time a case about the restitution of the synagogue. This judgement, which reversed two prior decisions, failed to direct restitution of the synagogue to the Jewish community. The building was confiscated by the Soviets in 1923. This synagogue has been recognized as Jewish property by the Cabinet of Ministers, the Mayor and the Court of Arbitration (twice).

The Jewish Community of Georgia raised the question of restitution of this religious building, relying on the process of democratization comparable to that of other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Several religious buildings have been returned to Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union. But in Georgia, not even one synagogue has been returned.

We ask you, as President of the Republic of Georgia, to uphold justice and direct authorities in Tbilisi to return the building to the Jewish community. Georgia is home to many ethnicities and religions; we ask that Georgia's Jews be permitted to practice their religion today as they have for centuries.

Sincerely,


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