For The Sake of Clarification

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By Hagop Vartivarian

For a while now, certain members of the mass media, both in Armenia and the diaspora, have publicized certain communiqués connected to the Armenian Church of Switzerland, by means of which they wish to disorient the public opinion.

The issue pertains to the decision reached during the last meeting of the Supreme Council of the Mother See, which was convened March 17-19. Alongside various internal ecclesiastical issues, the problems existing within the Armenian Diocese of Switzerland were taken under consideration. Archbishop Norvan Zakarian, Pontifical Legate to Western Europe, and Archbishop Yeznik Petrossian reported on them.

The Parish Council of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Switzerland, chaired by Eugene Papazian, had decided to declare Switzerland a separate diocese and had prepared a draft of the diocesan by-laws and submitted it to His Holiness Vazken I, then Catholicos of All Armenians. Acceding to the request presented to him, His Holiness issued an encyclical in 1993, which proclaimed Switzerland to be a separate diocese and approved the draft of the by-laws submitted. In the very same year, Very Rev. Vicken Aykazian, pastor of the Geneva parish, was appointed diocesan primate. As of September 1992, he had already been ordained a bishop. The various parishes functioning in Switzerland – Geneva, Thessen, Neuchâtel, Zurich, Baden and Kreuzlingen, as well as the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical organizations operating in Switzerland, had served as the basis for this patriarchal decision, anticipating the necessity of elevating the representation of the Armenian Church to a high level.

In light of the discussions at the Supreme Council’s meeting this March, His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, appointed Rev. Mesrop Barsamian, vice chancellor of the Mother See, as diocesan vicar, in order to undertake the reorganization of the diocesan life in Switzerland and, at the same time, to serve as pastor of the Armenian community in Geneva. It was also decided at this meeting to invite the current pastor in Geneva, Fr. Abel Manukian, to the Mother See for him to serve in another capacity.

The newly-appointed diocesan vicar, accompanied by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, arrived in Geneva on April 9. Then, on April 10, Archbishop Hovnan accompanied Father Mesrop to officially present him in the Saint Hagop Church of Geneva.

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In response to this decision made by His Holiness Catholicos Karekin, on March 25, the parish council of Geneva sent an open letter to Catholicos Karekin II, stating its opposition to the decision made and stressing that the decision to make Switzerland a diocese was unacceptable and illegal, with the argument that only the general assembly of delegates of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Switzerland could make that decision by democratic choice.

I gained an understanding of all the details of this matter by contacting certain members of the Supreme Council and Armenians living in Switzerland. I should also say that, according to the information I’ve received, all the other church parish councils functioning in Switzerland, outside of Geneva, are in agreement with the arrangement made by His Holiness.

According to the very by-laws of the Armenian Church, as is the case with all churches — Catholic, Orthodox, etc. — a parish must be subject to a diocese with a primate. In the case of Switzerland, this matter was resolved back in 1992 during the reign of Vazken I of blessed memory. In becoming a separate diocesan structure, Switzerland would remain under the jurisdiction of the Mother See.

Surely, the Armenians in Switzerland, whom we consider very respectable in other regards, will regain their sober-mindedness, and law and order will soon be reestablished within that community.

In these days especially, we must be glad that Catholicos Karekin II wishes to reestablish law and order within all the diocesan structures of the Armenian Apostolic Church, despite his busy schedule. In the final analysis, this work too remains within the realm of his obligations, as Catholicos of All Armenians. And we must be glad for this.

(Hagop Vartivarian is chairman of the New York chapter of Tekeyan Cultural Association and is chair of the ADL Press Committee.)

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