President of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, with Archbishop Vicken Aykazian

Archbishop Aykazian as Part of Delegation Meets With Cuban Leaders, Iranian Foreign Minister

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WASHINGTON — Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, participated recently in ecumenical delegations traveling to Cuba, meeting with the Cuban president, and speaking with the Iranian foreign minister.

The Council of Churches of Cuba invited a delegation from the National Council of Churches of Christ in the US (NCC) to go to Cuba from August 22 to 25 to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of the creation of the World Council of Churches. Five church leaders went, including Aykazian.

Aykazian explained that the Cuban government knew of their visit and invited them to meet with various authorities. Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla cut short his vacation to speak with them.

Archbishop Aykazian said, “We discussed how we can bridge the differences between the US and Cuba and create a peaceful coexistence between Cubans and Americans.” He said that as always on his trips and meetings, he brought up the question of the Armenians. He related that they played an important role in the life of Cubans and that Soviet leader Anastas Mikoyan was an Armenian. The foreign minister replied that of course, he knew about this very well, and that Mikoyan was a hero for Cubans.

There are very few Armenians living in Cuba now, said Aykazian. They probably do not number over 50, he estimated. He did not have the opportunity to encounter any of them.

The ecumenical visiting delegation was on Cuban television every day of its visit. It met with local people, church leaders and other governmental authorities, including ministers and former representatives of Cuba to the US. The problem of what is happening to American diplomats in Cuba was discussed. The Cuban officials assured the delegation that they had nothing to do with it and invited the US government to come and check on the spot.

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The Cubans asked the delegates to talk with church leaders in the US as well as American officials to assure them that Cuba is not a threat to the US. On the contrary, they said that they really wish a good relationship, as they are only 70 miles away from Miami. These requests were made of the delegates because the NCC has always been in touch with the Cuban Council of Churches and played a much appreciated and important role, for example, in sending back the child Elian Gonzalez to his home.

Later that month, when the president of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel, came to New York to attend the United Nations meeting, he invited a small group of US church leaders to meet with him. On September 27 the clerics had a very good conversation, Aykazian reported, in the same spirit as the meetings back in Cuba. The president repeated his desire for normal relations with the US and thanked the clerics for continuing to do what they have done for so many decades. Unfortunately, Aykazian said, relations have gotten worse between the two countries after the election of President Donald Trump.

While in New York, a small group of roughly 10 religious and civil leaders received an invitation to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran on September 30. The group included the president of the National Council of Churches, and one leader each from the Evangelical, Episcopalian, Methodist and Armenian churches. There were also civic leaders such as US congressmen and Columbus School of Law of Catholic University Prof. Marshall J. Breger. This group is involved in the Dialogue of Abrahamic Religions, which was the organizer of this meeting. The Dialogue of Abrahamic Religions works to bring the Iranian and America people closer to each other.

The group of Americans went to the Iranian mission to the United Nations, where the meeting began with a prayer offered by Aykazian. The foreign minister described the current situation in Iran, including the nullification of the accord signed with the Europeans and the US after the election of President Trump. Zarif said that his government did not know what would happen next, but that meanwhile, the sanctions were affecting the ordinary Iranian people a lot.

The members of the group began to ask questions. Aykazian thanked the Iranians for being very friendly toward the Armenians and supporting the Iranian-Armenian community for over 400 years. He said that the Armenians never have had a problem with Iran and are renewing or building churches there in the 21st century while Iran’s neighbor Turkey every month destroys an Armenian church.

He said that as an Armenian, he always worked for peace and the integrity of human beings. He promised to work for peace between the two nations of Iran and the US.

The foreign minister replied that when an Iranian says to somebody that he is like an Armenian, that means that he is a very correct person because the Armenians have been an integral part of Iran and have been a very, very correct people. By correct, the minister meant honest and hardworking.

The meeting lasted 1½ hours. The majority of the Americans present were supportive of a peaceful resolution to the Iranian-American crisis in relations, and the Evangelical delegate promised to attempt to pass a message to President Trump, whom he said it is possible to work with and is not a bad man.

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