In a sign of religion’s growing influence in the South Caucasus, the founding of an organization to represent Georgia’s Muslim population has sparked an emotional face-off with the Soviet-era body for the region’s Muslims, the Baku-based Caucasus Muslim Board.
At about 9.9 percent of the population (c. 2002), Muslims make up Georgia’s second-largest religious group, after Georgian Orthodox Christians; most Georgian Muslims (about 300,000–400,000 people) are ethnic Azeris, but the community also includes ethnic Georgians from the Black Sea region of Achara, as well as Meskhetian Turks.
Since 1996, the Caucasus Muslim Board, a body set up in 1937 with semi-official links to the Azerbaijani government, has operated an office in Tbilisi, ostensibly to advocate the interests of Muslims in Georgia.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance reporter based in Baku and a board member of the Open Society Assistance Foundation – Azerbaijan. Additional reporting was added by Caucasus News Editor Elizabeth Owen in Tbilisi.