US Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, visits Muslims in Tsintskharo for Friday prayers. (Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch — A religious conflict has broken out in a village in Georgia after orthodox Christians started interrupting Muslims in their Friday prayer.

The conflict started a few weeks ago. Tariel Nakaidze, leader of the Georgian Muslims, wrote on his Facebook page about the conflict in the village Tsintskharo in the Kvemo Kartli region. He expressed concern over the actions of the orthodox population, who interrupt religious services at the mosque.

November 28, the local population came to the mosque and verbally and physically abused the Muslim cleric there. Later a number of confrontations took place among the Muslim and Christian population.

Locals demand to close the Mosque and to abolish the Friday prayer. Tariel Nakaidze explained that in this village, there are living people who are eco-migrants from the mountainous regions and villages in the Adjara region, where many of the population are Muslim. They have left because of the high risk of a river flooding their homes.

Shortly after the incident, local Christians promised not to let Muslims pray at the Mosque on the next Friday.

Local media reports that there was a smaller incident a bit earlier: The Muslim and Christian graves were fenced separately from each other, but a few months ago crosses were installed at the common gate into the cemetery, which Muslims took offensive at. The next day, the crosses were removed, but this did not please the Christians.

Locals claim that Tsintskaro has for years been a Christian village and they won’t allow a Mosque there.

There have been several incidents between the Muslim and Christian population.

The non-government organization Union of Georgian Muslims last week published an appeal to the President, the Prime Minister and the Church as well as to the population, which says that the local population strictly demanded to cancel Friday prayers and close the Mosque.

According to the statement it has become a trend among locals in different regions to be intolerant to Muslims; there are threats of bloodshed and attacks.

“Muslims in Tsintskharo want to pray but do not feel safe,” the statement reads, explaining that this affects Georgia’s image as a democratic country and may have a negative influence internationally.

They appealed to government officials hoping for them to react, and called on the population to be tolerant and express their solidarity with Muslims: ‘Do not put peace between religions in danger, protect freedom of religion and the safety of every Muslim citizen.”

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said in a statement that the recent conflict seems like a provocation meant to discredit the Georgian state.

“Such type of confrontation is not familiar for our people. This is not a Georgian phenomenon. For centuries, representatives of other religions lived in peace with orthodox Christians and history hasn’t recorded even a single case of religious confrontation,” he said, adding that this may be a provocation.

Prime Minster remarks that freedom of religion is a constitutional right of each citizen of Georgia and the government won’t allow the restriction of this right. He promised that law enforcement will investigate each case and punish the guilty.

He called on each citizen of all religions to avoid confrontation, respect the traditions of the country and not let a provocation to take place.

The religious conflict became a subject of criticism for the ruling party. Representatives of the National Movement party, which held power until recently, criticized government officials for saying that the conflict is artificial and a provocation. They criticized the Justice Minister, who said that this type of conflict should be resolved between religion confessions.

The National Movement says the new government’s irresponsible approach to this case may jeopardize the security of the country. They called on officials to arrest the guilty and defend the rights of minorities.

Members of parliament (MPs) for Georgian Dream organized a meeting between the Muslim and Christian population in the village where the conflict has taken place.

One of them, Zakaria Kutsnashvili, explained that they have reached agreement about ending the conflict. Muslim Georgians demand to reveal who placed the crosses at the cemetery and punish them, while Orthodox Christians said they won’t interrupt to conduct of Muslim rituals.

Friday, the ombudsman’s office released a short statement saying that the office’s representatives arrived in the village to witness that an agreement was achieved. They write that Friday prayers were conducted in peace at one of the houses.

Richard Norland, US Ambassador to Georgia, also arrived in Tsintskharo on Friday and met with the Muslims there to pray. The Ambassador said that it is important that the government insures the rights and freedoms of every person.

Meanwhile on Friday, an initiative group of youth organized a small rally at a Mosque in Tbilisi to express solidarity with religious minorities and condemn harassment and aggression.

This was the second religious conflict which has taken place in Georgia after the parliamentary election. The first one took place in October, 2012 in the village Nigvziani.

A recent survey of public attitudes carried out by National Democratic Institute (NDI) shows that 51 percent of the population thinks that Georgian Muslims should be given the opportunity to conduct religious services at their own places, while 29 percent are against. 19 percent don’t know.