Archbishop Vicken Aykazian

Archbishop Aykazian Urges World Council of Churches to Be ‘Moral Organization’

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KARLSRUHE, Germany — In stirring words delivered before the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which took place August 31 to September 8, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, the Eastern Diocese’s Legate and Ecumenical Director, spoke out passionately about the ongoing aggressions committed against Artsakh and the Armenian people.

He said, “Why do we forget what is happening still in Armenia?” he said. “Every other week, they occupy one or two villages. What happened to the POWs — 110 to 118 prisoners of war in the last two years? There is no government in the world that is pushing the Turkish and Azeri governments to free those young people. Where are we when 5,000 young people were killed?”

Aykazian offered his remarks during the inaugural plenary session of September 1. He spoke in the broader context of the need for the WCC to take strong moral stances against injustice done to people anywhere in the world — and to hold government bodies accountable when they fail to defend the innocent against aggression and violence.

“This organization must be a moral organization,” he urged, “and care for every nation, every minority, every people that are suffering.”

Some 5,000 participants, representing 351 Christian churches and denominations across the globe, were present at the WCC gathering in Karlsruhe, Germany — the largest, most comprehensive assemblage of the ecumenical organization’s membership.

While the World Council of Churches holds administrative meetings and consultations at frequent intervals, the WCC Assembly convenes only once every seven years. This latest gathering was postponed an additional two years from its scheduled meeting time, due to the worldwide pandemic. The 2022 Assembly went forward from August 31 to September 8, under the theme “Christ’s Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity” — a motto inspired by St. Paul’s exhortations in chapter 5 of his Second Letter to the Corinthians.

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At the conclusion of the assembly, the World Council issued an official statement on the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, which appeals for the immediate release of Armenian POWs, urges international bodies to protect the Armenian heritage in Artsakh, endorses dialogue towards a just and peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict, and enlists WCC member churches to stand in solidarity with their fellow Christians in Armenia and Artsakh. (See below for the full text of the statement.)

At the same gathering, Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, was elected as one of the eight presidents of the World Council of Churches, representing the Oriental Orthodox family of churches. Catholicos Aram has been a leading figure in the WCC and other international ecumenical bodies throughout his long, distinguished ministry.

In addition, the WCC central committee elected Aykazian as one of its two vice moderators.

An internationally-recognized leader of the ecumenical movement in his own right, Aykazian was part of the larger Armenian Church delegation representing the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, taking part in the WCC Assembly with the blessing of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

The Armenian Church delegates had active roles in the assembly — not only in its general deliberations, but also in the work of the six “coordinating commissions” of the WCC. In addition, the delegates held a caucus meeting with their colleagues in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, to build on the longstanding relations among the church families, and to explore a more coordinated interaction in the larger ecumenical arena.

As visitors to Germany, members of the Armenian delegation were welcomed by Bishop Serovbe Isakhanyan, Primate of Diocese of Germany, and attended the Divine Liturgy in the city of Kehl, where they also met with Armenian community leaders.

Joining the delegation from the Eastern Diocese, in addition to Archbishop Aykazian, was Yn. Arpi Kouzouian of Cambridge, Mass.

The full delegation membership included: Archbishop Vicken Aykazyan (Eastern Diocese of America), Bishop Armash Nalbandyan (Diocese of Damascus), Bishop Hovakim Manukyan (Diocese of the United Kingdom and Ireland), Bishop Gevorg Saroyan (Diocese of Masyatsotn), Bishop Serovbe Isakhanyan (Diocese of Germany), Fr. Garegin Hambardzumyan (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin), Dn. Sahak Sukiasyan (Diocese of France), Yeretzgin Arpi Kouzouian (Eastern Diocese of America), Dr. Diana Tsaghikyan (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin), Erika Areevna (Diocese of New Nakhichevan and Russia), and Manya Keshishyan (Diocese of Canada).

Statement on Consequences of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War

The WCC released a statement in response to the voices raised about the atrocities being suffered by Armenians in Armenia and Artsakh:

Following six weeks of intense fighting for Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, in late 2020, the WCC executive committee adopted a statement praying for wisdom, unity and calm, and grieving “with all those who have suffered terrible losses not only in the renewed fighting since 27 September, but throughout the long history of the struggle for self-determination in the region, entrenching antagonism more deeply with each precious life lost.” The WCC condemned the use of chemical weapons and cluster munitions, the targeting of civilians, hospitals and public infrastructure, and all other war crimes, beheadings, torture and other atrocities witnessed during the conflict. The WCC also appealed for respect for the holy sites and cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, in light of numerous reports of the desecration of such sites.

Almost two years after the end of the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, hundreds of ethnic Armenians are still illegally held by Azerbaijan, in violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. While the world’s attention is fixed on the conflict in Ukraine, Azerbaijani forces are reported to have launched new assaults on indigenous Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh as well as on the sovereign borders of the Republic of Armenia, with further loss of innocent lives and more prisoners taken.

Moreover, accountability for war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law — repeatedly reported by Human Rights Watch, BBC, the Guardian and many other international media outlets — has not been achieved or pursued.

The 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), meeting in Karlsruhe, Germany,

APPEALS to the United Nations, the European Union and the authorities of Azerbaijan for the immediate release of all Armenian civilian hostages and POWs in accordance with international law.

REITERATES concern for holy sites and Armenian cultural heritage in the region, and urges UNESCO and all members of the international community to take all possible and appropriate measures to protect these sites.

CALLS for the start of meaningful dialogue for a just and peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group.

REQUESTS the WCC and all member churches to remain engaged in Christian solidarity with the churches and people of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in their search for a just and sustainable peace.

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