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On 19 September 2016, as a part of GDS TV’s election project, Bidzina Ivanishvili met with journalists from the Samtskhe-Javakheti region in Akhaltsikhe. FactCheck

asked Mr Ivanishvili the following question: "Given the situation when the former Prime Minister of Georgia is the most proud of Georgia’s improved international prestige and image, do you think it wise to give a candidate who has been seen to be xenophobic (the Georgian Dream’s candidate in Akhaltsikhe-Adigeni) the chance to enter the Parliament of Georgia? Do you not think that this would endanger the Georgian Dream coalition government’s reputation as well as Georgia’s in general?"

Bidzina Ivanishvili stated that “this would, of course, be bad;” however, he quickly added that he is not familiar with the topic and does not agree with FactCheck

’s journalist. “I hope you do not mind but I cannot agree with your assessment. As far as I know our team and their views, they would certainly not support anyone with such ideas. If they made such a grave mistake, this would, of course, be bad but I am very sceptical about your statement. I am not familiar with this specific topic and the views of the candidate in question; however, I am familiar with the Georgian Dream, I know their staff, their leader and their collective approach to all of this,” said Mr Ivanishvili.

FactCheck

looked into this issue once again.

The question concerned the Georgian Dream’s Majoritarian candidate in the Akhaltsikhe-Adigeni Municipality, Giorgi Kopadze, who, in 2013, was the organiser of a protest meeting against returning the minaret to the village of Tchela. In Adigeni, where 23 of the 55 populated areas are mixed and 15 of the 23 are overwhelmingly Muslim, the Muslims were outraged by the fact that the Georgian Dream would name Giorgi Kopadze as their Majoritarian candidate. FactCheck has already prepared an article

about this issue (available in Georgian only).

There are numerous articles and reports to be found in the media about the events unfolding in the village of Tchela after the removal of the minaret in 2013. There are videos where Giorgi Kopadze expressly speaks using anti-Muslim rhetoric.

We would like the remind our readers that on 26 August 2013, a minaret in the village of Tchela in the Adigeni Municipality was forcefully removed with the support of a special forces unit. The motive for such an action was that the minaret had been brought to the country in violation of customs regulations. The removal was followed by a physical confrontation for which certain members of the Muslim community were arrested. This was followed by a protest meeting organised by the Muslim population. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the then Prime Minister of Georgia, was actively involved in these events.

Parallel to the protest meetings led by the Muslim population, part of the Christian community also started protesting on 28 August 2016. They were against returning the minaret to the village. Giorgi Kopadze was one of the organisers of these protest meetings, saying that they would block the roads if anyone attempted to bring the minaret back to Tchela. In that same period, he was also proposing holding a referendum on the issue.

Videos from the Archive (Available in Georgian Only)

Giorgi Kopadze saying that the minaret in Tchela was removed on the basis of signatures gathered in the municipality.

Giorgi Kopadze: "They can pray wherever they see fit but calling on us from their chapels is wrong."

Giorgi Kopadze: "The minaret must not return to Tchela."

Giorgi Kopadze: "They can pray if they like. If they want to sell their souls, let them."

Conclusion When answering FactCheck’s question, Bidzina Ivanishvili pointed out that he had never heard about Giorgi Kopadze participating in protest meetings against the Muslims and expressed his distrust towards FactCheck. He also said that xenophobia and discrimination by religion are unacceptable for him personally as well as for the Georgian Dream, in general. FactCheck

does not question the sincerity of Mr Ivanishvili’s words; however, we would also like to state that the participation of the Georgian Dream’s Majoritarian candidate in the anti-Muslim protest meetings in Adigeni is beyond doubt and the governing coalition should have been aware of these facts.

FactCheck believes that a governing party’s naming a xenophobic individual as a Majoritarian candidate will negatively influence the government’s image as well as Georgia’s image as a European and democratic country.

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