Okoni Triptych, a unique icon, may be returned to the Tskhinvali Museum provided security is guaranteed, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said at a ceremony when Switzerland returned the icon.
At the ceremony in Georgia's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, the icon was handed to the president and the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilie II.
Georgia's foreign minister, Salome Zourabishvili, thanked the government of Switzerland, which helped return the icon to Georgia, and the representatives of Georgia's government who took part in returning it.
Ms. Zourabishvili noted that the icon was taken to the Tbilisi State Arts Museum to be restored. She stressed that protection of Georgia's cultural heritage would become a direction in the Foreign Ministry's activity.
Ilie II noted, "the return of the unique icon to Georgia is very important for both the church and the state. For this reason, we attach great importance to this fact."
"The return of Okoni Triptych is only the beginning, many holy things that were taken abroad from the country, must return to Georgia," he said.
Some scientists believe that the three-paneled silver-bound ivory icon was made in the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century and brought to Georgia as the dowry of Tsarina Helen, the wife of Georgian Tsar Bagrat IV and the niece of Byzantine Emperor Romanoz Agririos.
The icon was kept in Okoni, a village in the Znauri district in the South Ossetia, until 1924 when it was brought to the Tskhinvali Museum. About 14 years ago, when an armed conflict broke out in South Ossetia (an unrecognized republic in Georgia), the icon was stolen and smuggled out of Georgia.
Representatives of South Ossetia's government requested that the leadership of Georgia "display goodwill and return the relic to the place that lost it," the Tskhinvali Museum.