President Ronald Reagan meeting with Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I

President Reagan Meets Catholicos of Cilicia Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I: Newly Released Video


SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – The Ronald Reagan Library has digitized the archive materials of the Presidential Library and uploaded them to the YouTube channel of the institution. A search can locate President Reagan’s references to Armenia on quite a few occasions and his engagement with Armenian Church leaders and community members. As a governor of California between 1966 and 1975, Reagan was known for his close relations with the Armenian people of the state, and participated in Armenian Genocide commemoration events. His friendship and good working relations with George Deukmejian, who became the governor of California soon after Reagan (1983-1991) made this cooperation even stronger. It is known that Reagan was the first US President to call the events of 1915 genocide (in April of 1981). It took another 30 years before President Joe Biden would do the same.

President Ronald Reagan and Governor George Deukmejian of California

The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, with the permission of the Reagan Presidential Library, which holds the copyrights of this historical archive, presents together two videos that showcase Reagan’s meetings with the leaders of the Armenian Church: the meeting with Catholicos of Cilicia Karekin II, later to be Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I, and the reception of Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I.

President Reagan receiving the Grand Cross of Cilicia from Catholicos Karekin II of Cilicia

On June 16, 1983, during the meeting with the high-ranking Armenian clergymen from Antelias, Lebanon, the Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia awarded the insignia of the Grand Cross of Cilicia, a traditional award, to President Reagan. Archbishop Mesrop Ashjian and Armenian-American community leaders were present.

“We are very happy that your government has provided our people all facilities of the United States to prosper and offer a contribution,” said Catholicos Karekin as he offered the award. “Cilicia is the ancient kingdom where my ancestors came from and where my predecessors lived. It was only after the First World War that our catholicosate moved out of Cilicia and came to be reestablished in Lebanon,” he said and passed on the Armenian historical award. President Reagan thanked the catholicos and added that he “was greatly honored.”

In 1987, when Reagan met Vasken I, his wife Nancy was recuperating from a sickness so the catholicos of all Armenians wished good health for the first lady. His speech was in Armenian although the catholicos used some English expressions like “God bless America the beautiful.” He referred to the history of the Armenian nation and the church and noted “During 1700 years, the history of our people has been a struggle for the Christian faith and liberty.”

The video shows Reagan was moved: it appears as if he wiped a tear from his eye a few times. The viewers can also notice him nodding when Vasken spoke about the 1915 persecution against the Armenian people.

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In turn, referring to the Armenian-American community, Reagan said that as you proceed through the country you will see that the Armenian-Americans are fine, very fine citizens of the country.

This was the first meeting of Catholicos Vasken and President Reagan. Vasken gifted the president a souvenir plate with the picture of Echmiadzin. They had further interactions after the Spitak Earthquake of 1988 when America rendered help to Armenia.

The video below provides a slightly shortened versions of the meetings. For the full video record, visit Reagan Presidential Library’s YouTube channel.

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