New Taxes Planned For Armenian Church

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By Ruzanna Stepanian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s political team announced on May 31 plans to impose more taxes on the Armenian Apostolic Church amid continuing anti-government protests in Yerevan led by a senior clergyman.

The church officially voiced support for Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan and his supporters on May 7 as they marched to Yerevan to demand Pashinyan’s resignation over his controversial territorial concessions to Azerbaijan. Pashinyan’s political allies accused him of meddling in politics. One of them, parliament speaker Alen Simonian, said on May 21 the church should be taxed like Armenian businesses. Pashinyan hinted that such measures are imminent.

The church currently pays income tax and customs duties on goods and raw materials imported by it. It is exempt from property tax. Tsovinar Vartanyan, the chairwoman of the Armenian parliament committee on finance and budgetary affairs, said she and her pro-government colleagues want to scrap this exemption.

“At the moment, we are looking into thousands of properties managed by the church,” she said. “I’m not talking about monasteries, but commercial space, public space, manufacturing premises, many residential houses. This is being examined, and I think that this initiative will eventually have a logical outcome and we will have a bill.”

For his part, Rustam Badasyan, Pashinyan’s former personal lawyer currently heading the State Revenue Committee, backed the idea of collecting a 20 percent value-added tax from candles sold to and lit by worshipers in just about every church in Armenia. Candle sales are a major source of income for the 1,700-year-old religious institution which suffered serious human and material losses in Soviet times.

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Vartanyan claimed that the plans for the new taxes are not connected with recent political developments. However, both Pashinyan and Simonian signaled them in the context of their strong criticism of the Galstanyan-led protests.

Artsvik Minasyan, an opposition lawmaker involved in the protests, denounced the government plans. He pointed to an article of the Armenian constitution that acknowledges the ancient church’s “exceptional role” in the country’s history and social life.

There was no immediate reaction from the church’s Mother See in Echmiadzin, a historic town 20 kilometers west of Yerevan. Responding to Simonian last week, Archbishop Galstanyan argued that the church never requested or received any government compensation for the Soviet-era destruction or confiscation of most of its worship sites and other property.

Pashinyan’s relationship with the church and its supreme head, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, in particular has steadily deteriorated during his six-year rule. Tensions between them rose further last October when Karekin blamed Pashinyan for Azerbaijan’s recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh and the resulting mass exodus of the region’s ethnic Armenian population.

 

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