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

Catholicos Admits to Strain between Church and Government

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YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — The Armenian Apostolic Church’s relationship with Armenia’s government has become merely “ceremonial” during Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s rule, Catholicos Karekin II said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday, February 14.

“The relations between the authorities and the Church are of a ceremonial nature,” he told the Hraparak daily. ”Yes, there are some disagreements with the authorities.”

Karekin refused to go into details. He said instead that the church has remained faithful to its traditional “calling and mission towards its believing children” and committed to the “strengthening of Armenian statehood.”

“The positions expressed by the Church in relation to national and public issues should be understood in this spirit,” added its supreme head.

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 only deteriorated since then.

Karekin and other senior clergymen joined the Armenian opposition in calling for Pashinyan’s resignation following Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 war with Azerbaijan. The prime minister openly attacked them when he campaigned for the June 2021 parliamentary elections.

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Pashinyan and members of his government and political team have since boycotted Christmas and Easter liturgies led by Karekin. They have also effectively excluded the Catholicos from official ceremonies to mark major national holidays and remembrance days.

Last year, the church repeatedly signaled concerns over Pashinyan’s conciliatory policy towards Azerbaijan and Turkey. Its Supreme Spiritual Council headed by Karekin issued a statement in November saying that “the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right to self-determination is non-negotiable.”

The statement also urged the government to “eliminate the dividing lines in our national life, stop discriminatory approaches motivated by political beliefs, overcome the atmosphere of hatred and hostility and initiate a meaningful and healthy dialogue” in the country.

Also in November, the church’s Mother See in Echmiadzin authorized one of its archbishops to address an opposition rally in Yerevan that warned Pashinyan against recognizing Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh.

 

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