June in the Caucasus: allegations of abuse swirl against a Georgian Patriarchate run orphanage3 min read

 In Caucasus, Civil Society, Editorial
A controversy has sparked outrage in Georgia surrounding the Ninotsminda orphanage operated by the Georgian Patriarchate after allegations of physical abuse and sexual violence resurfaced at the beginning of June. The orphanage is under investigation by the Office of the Public Defender on account of alleged child abuse. 

The Patriarchate has gone on the defensive, employing any sensitive issues or claims that might rile up citizens to discourage a thorough investigation into the reports of abuse. A high-ranking clergyman, the Archbishop of Skhalta Vladyka Spiridon, has denied entry to the orphanage by social workers and representatives of the Public Defender’s Office because some among them have apparently advocated for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Georgia. He stated, “Personally, I believe that such people [supporters of same-sex marriage] should not be allowed into orphanages or any family at all.”

Following protests by civil activists, the Tbilisi City Court ordered the removal of children with disabilities from the Ninotsminda orphanage. The rector of the boarding house, Bishop Spiridon Abuladze claimed that the decision to remove the children was made in an attempt to cleanse the Armenian majority town of Ninotsminda of its “Georgian genes” and “Georgian mentality.”

This is not the first time the Ninotsminda boarding house has faced allegations of violence. Bishop Seraphim Jojua was accused of sexually assaulting a minor in the care of the orphanage in 2017, still, the Bishop continues to hold services in the boarding house, and frequently visits Ninotsminda. For years already, the Public Defender’s office has been warning of violence taking place in this institution and called on the Georgian government to respond. 

The inaction of the government and speed of its reaction is alarming, to say the least. The last monitoring of the orphanage took place in June 2020 and even then, cases of violence had been reported yet no action was taken. Why has it taken so long for the government to respond?

The Georgian Orthodox Church maintains a privileged position in the country. While Georgia is a secular state, the Church is disproportionately favored by the government. And why wouldn’t that be the case? Some argue that the ruling Georgian Dream party’s success is owed to the Church’s informal support of then-party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili in the 2012 elections. The Church also enjoys high levels of support from the Georgian populace, in 2018 a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute found that 85% of respondents had a favorable view of the Church.

Detailed testimony of abuse and humiliation from a former pupil of the orphanage is particularly terrifying, alleging that a caretaker beat a boy to death. As of 7 June, 26 children have been relocated from the orphanage by the court. The Georgian Patriarchate offered another red herring as it “will not allow liberals to enslave society” and states that it plans to appeal to the Court’s decision.

Protests gathered together major civil society organizations, political parties and have beckoned the attention of international organizations such as UNICEF, all calling on the government to take action in this case. As evidence comes to light, the Georgian Patriarchate will blame any scrutiny on homosexuals, contempt for the Georgian ethnicity, or liberals but the crux of the matter remains the protection of vulnerable children. Whatever comes next, these children’s safety and well-being must be guarded, and a swift response will guarantee that not one more child is subjugated to such treatment. 

Featured image: Protest outside of the General Prosecutor’s Office in Tbilisi / Droa Twitter
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