Catholicos Karekin II holds a religious ceremony on an open-air altar in Echmiadzin, April 14, 2022.

Armenian Church Warns Against ‘Humiliating’ Concessions to Baku

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YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — The Armenian Apostolic Church on Friday, May 20, warned Armenia political leadership against compromising on Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination in peace talks with Azerbaijan.

The church’s Supreme Spiritual Council headed by Catholicos Karekin II said it must not make such concessions “regardless of existing pressures and external threats.”

“Peace cannot be established through the humiliation of national dignity, amid incessant encroachments on the territorial integrity of our state, the presence of prisoners of war, and Azerbaijan’s constant threats and propaganda of anti-Armenianism,” the council said after a three-day meeting held at the church’s Mother See in Echmiadzin.

It said the Armenian authorities must make sure that the Karabakh Armenians right to self-determination does not become “a subject of bargaining” in the negotiating process.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and other senior officials have not publicly stated whether they will bring up the principle of self-determination of peoples, long championed by Armenia, in planned negotiations on a comprehensive peace treaty with Azerbaijan. They have said only that the talks should address the questions of Karabakh’s status and the security of its population.

Speaking in the Armenian parliament on April 13, Pashinyan said that the international community is pressing Armenia to “lower a bit the bar on the question of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status” and recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. He hinted at his readiness to make such concessions, drawing strong criticism from his political opponents and Karabakh’s leadership.

Opposition supporters march through Republic Square in Yerevan, May 17, 2022.

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Armenian opposition leaders charged that Pashinyan has agreed to Azerbaijani control over the disputed territory. They went on launch on May 1 daily street protests in Yerevan aimed at forcing him to step down.

The church council, which also comprises prominent laymen, expressed concern at “internal political developments” in Armenia. It urged all sides to display mutual “tolerance” and avoid violence and “disproportionate use of force.”

The ancient church, to which the vast majority of Armenians nominally belong, enjoyed strong government support until the 2018 “velvet revolution” that brought Pashinyan to power. The prime minister’s frosty relationship with Karekin has increasingly deteriorated since then.

Pashinyan openly attacked the church when he campaigned for the June 2021 parliamentary elections. He said “corrupt clergymen” are part of Armenia’s traditional political, intellectual and spiritual elites that “did everything” to prevent the 2018 regime change. Karekin’s office rejected the accusations.

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