WASHINGTON — The Eastern and Western Dioceses of the Armenian Church of North America participated in the annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit January 29 through February 2, and the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. The collaborative efforts helped raise public awareness about Azerbaijan’s September 2023 invasion and consequent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Christian Armenian population of Artsakh, and the continued threats against the Republic of Armenia.
During and following the national gatherings, the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin Ecumenical Director Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Eastern Diocese and the Western Diocese’s Artsakh Heritage Committee volunteer member and investigative researcher on Azerbaijan’s erasure of Armenian heritage, Simon Maghakyan, joined community leaders to spearhead a series of discussions on religious rights violations perpetrated against Armenians by Azerbaijan throughout 2023.
“The Western Diocese was pleased to return to Washington and partner again with the IRF Summit to spotlight critical issues concerning global religious freedoms and human rights violations, particularly those impacting the 120,000 forcibly displaced Christian Artsakh Armenians,” remarked Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese.
“We are pleased that our committee continues to build greater understanding among international religious freedom stakeholders regarding the ongoing existential threats facing the Armenians, and are hopeful that our allies will be even more proactively attentive in their efforts to hold Azerbaijan accountable for their ethnic cleansing crimes. We hope there will be increased support for humanitarian aid for the Artsakh refugees as we work toward the right of safe return and preempt further aggression against the Republic of Armenia,” concluded Archbishop Derderian.
In addition to Aykazian and Maghakyan, the Diocesan delegation at the IRF Summit 2024 included freelance journalist/social justice activist Jackie Abramian, scholar Tamar Purut — who managed an information booth on Artsakh heritage — and attorney Sonya Nersessian, on behalf of the Armenian Bar Association which has been actively involved since 2020 in the legal documentation of cultural heritage destruction and religious freedom violations.
Among high-profile Armenian speakers in DC during the 2024 IRF week were refugee freelance journalist Siranush Sargsyan of Artsakh, an invited speaker at a plenary panel on national security and religious liberties at the IRF Summit 2024, and the current and former ombudsmen of the Republic of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh Gegham Stepanyan and Artak Beglaryan, who addressed the IRF Roundtable at Congress. Over a dozen representatives of various Armenian organizations and allies also attended the weeklong events in Washington D.C. dedicated to religious freedoms.