The Kurdistan Region contributed to the cost of building the temple.
By Teimuraz Shamoian
TBILISI, Georgia – Yezidi Kurds, including new refugees recently arriving from Shingal, celebrated the opening of their first Temple and Cultural Center in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, a glass-fronted structure that blends traditional design with modern architecture.
More than 2,000 guests attended Tuesday’s opening ceremony, including representatives of other religious minorities.
“For more than a century Yezidi Kurds live in Georgia and we thank God that now they have the opportunity to gather in one place, to pray here, to study language and not lose their culture,” said Malkhaz Songulashvili, a bishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, touching on Georgia’s fading Kurdish past.
Georgia’s Civic Equality Minister Paata Zakareishvili told Rudaw that “Yezidi Kurds are part of Georgian society and this event is very important for all of us. We strongly believe that this center will give more opportunities to Yezidi Kurds to preserve their ancient religion, beautiful language and culture.”
Built on land donated by the Georgian government and named Sultan Ezid, one of the holy men of the faith, the temple becomes the third in the world after Lalish in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and a Yezidi spiritual chapel in Armenia.
The Yezidi population in Georgia, dwindling since the 1990s due to economic migration to the West by the younger generation, began climbing again after modest numbers started to arrive from Iraq, following a devastating attack on their community in Shingal by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) group last August.
Unlike the majority of Kurds, who are Muslims, the Yezidis have their own controversial and highly syncretic religious beliefs, leaving them open to attacks, especially by the Islamic fanatics. ISIS atrocities in Iraq include the abduction of Yezidi girls to use or sell as sex slaves.
Georgia has taken some of the Yezidis made homeless by ISIS in Iraq.
In 1989, Yezidi Kurds in Georgia were counted at 33,331, and 20,843 in 2002. Today, local associations estimate their numbers at no more than 6,000.
In 2009, the Georgian government provided free land in Tbilisi to the Kurdish community for a religious and cultural center. In 2012, the House of Yezidis of Georgia initiated the project, which was financed by local businessmen.
Work also was supported by financial donations by the Kurdistan Region, the Iraqi government and Mir Tahsin Beg, the spiritual leader of Yezidis around the world.
The opening was set for the day after the one hundredth anniversary of Remembrance Day, marking a deadly Ottoman massacre of Kurds and other minorities.
Georgia’s president and prime minister, who were unable to attend the temple opening due to a flood disaster in the country that has left people dead and zoo animals loose, were represented by their subordinates.