Paata Zakareishvili

State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civil EqualityZakareishvili

In 1984 he graduated from Kazan State University.In 1993 he graduated from Tbilisi Ecclesiastical Academy and Seminary.

In 1992-1995 was Head of Division of Religious Rights Protection, State Committee on Human Rights and inter-ethnic Relations.In 1992-1997 was Head of Commission for the Protection of Civilians in the Conflict Zone, Missing Persons and Prisoners of war during the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.In 1995 he held the position of Adviser to the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia on issues of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees.In 1995-2000 he was Head of Staff of the Committee for National Minority Issues and Human Rights Protection of the Parliament of Georgia. In 2000-2001 he was Deputy Chairman of Penitentiary Department of Georgia. In 2002-2006 he was a member of Tbilisi Sakrebulo (City Council).

In 1995-1997 he was the Forced Migration Project Coordinator at the Open Society Foundation (New York). In 2000-2004 he became a member of the Executive Board of Open Society Institute - Georgia. In 1995-2012 he was Georgian Coordinator of California University (Irvine) Georgian-Abkhazian Civil Dialogue project. In 1998-2012 he was Georgian coordinator of Conciliation Resources (London) Georgian-Abkhazian projects and Georgian coordinator of the "Shlaining Process". In 2000-2004 he became a member of executive board of Open Society Georgia. In 2009-2012 he was Chairman of the Institute for the Study of Nationalism and Conflict (ISNC).

 

Release

On June 17, 2014, representatives of the Armenian community of Georgia met with Mr. Paata Zakareishvili, the State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civil Equality at Hayartun center. The meeting focused on Georgian policies concerning ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities and conflict regions within Georgia.

The meeting was organized within the framework of the “Political Participation through Dialogue” project supported by the Open Society - Georgia Foundation. Project’s website: www.ardzagank.ge

Mr. Zakareishvili commended the Government’s decision to provide partial compensation to four religious organizations (Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Islamic communities) for damages caused during the Soviet period. The Minister mentioned that the system of compensation that existed for years only for the Orthodox Church was insufficient. As a result, a decision to support religious organizations was made and the State Agency on Religious Affairs was established. Mr. Zakareishvili added that the issue of return of undisputed property to religious organizations remained on the agenda. He went on to say that the State has to study issues that disturb its citizens and to adopt decisions based on their interests.

In regard to identity preservation the Minister mentioned that one of the most important components is language. Within the framework of the European integration, Georgia made certain commitments which should be honored.

Concerning the conflict regions the Minister stressed that the situation is complex. In this regard Georgian authorities’ policy has three parts including: promoting dialogue with Abkhaz and Ossetian societies, Georgia’s European integration related to democratization, and settlement of relations with Russia.

Representatives of the Armenian community highlighted several issues during the meeting including the need to promote citizen-level diplomacy with the conflict regions.

Armenian community representatives also raised the issue of Azeri officials’ interference in Georgia’s domestic affairs including their protest against celebration of the Shushi Liberation Day by the Georgian Armenians, and the Georgian authorities’ passive behavior regarding third parties’ interference in Georgia’s affairs. Mr. Zakareishvili responded that the celebration event took place and if the Georgian authorities were against it would not have taken place. It was not in the State’s interest to prohibit citizens from celebrating any occasion. He stressed that Georgia is a country where freedom of expression exists and the State does not limit its citizens in organizing events, based on their personal interests, as long as they are not against the Georgian State. In regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Minister mentioned that the Georgian State is waiting for the Minsk Group’s decision. He added that Georgia’s position is different from that of other states, because both Armenia and Azerbaijan are Georgia’s neighbors and friendly states. Georgian citizens, Armenians and Azeris organize certain events, including those dedicated to the processes that have taken place in other countries, and the State respects its citizens’ freedom of expression. In the future it would be better if organizers informed Georgian officials in advance of any events in order to defend the citizens.

Another issue was the hate speech against Armenians. Mr. Zakareishvili mentioned that although it is not acceptable, freedom of expression makes it impossible for the State to punish for such expressions.

Instances of discriminations against Georgian Armenians by representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were also brought to the Minister’s attention. Mr. Zakareishvili asked to be provided with additional information and promised to react.

During the session, representatives of the Armenian community expressed disappointment that the State continues to hold churches and other property belonging to the Armenian Diocese which were confiscated during the Soviet era. The Minister mentioned that all the churches located in the Georgian territory represent Georgia’s cultural heritage and the State is obliged to protect them. Currently, the State prioritizes physical maintenance of these churches. Mr. Zakareishvili stressed that to him personally it is clear who the owner of these churches is and they must be returned to their rightful owner. He said that he believes the ownership issue will be resolved soon.

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