Catholicos Karekin II and other clergymen break through a police cordon at the Sardarapat memorial, May 28, 2024.

Pashinyan Defends Police Action Against Armenian Catholicos


By Susan Badalian, Gayane Saribekian and Shoghik Galstian

YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan defended on Wednesday, May 29, police officers who tried to physically stop Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, from visiting a key national memorial on Tuesday.

Karekin and senior clergymen accompanying him had to break through three police cordons to lay flowers and pray at the Sardarapat memorial on the 106th anniversary of the proclamation of the first independent Armenian republic. Pashinyan led an official ceremony there 30 minutes later, at around 3 p.m.

The ceremony was scheduled to take place in the morning. Pashinyan was thought to have canceled it after hundreds of anti-government protesters led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan gathered at the memorial late on Monday and spent the night there. But the premier unexpectedly arrived at Sardarapat in the afternoon.

The unprecedented police actions were strongly condemned by the church’s Echmiadzin-based Mother See and Diaspora dioceses as well as opposition leaders and other critics of the Armenian government.

Pashinyan claimed that police officials at the scene “tried to clarify whether His Holiness has come to continue disruptive and provocative actions, initiated by his political supporters and the [protest] movement led by him, or for another purpose.” He said they let Karekin through after receiving assurances that Karekin’s visit to Sardarapat “only has a ceremonial purpose.”

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Videos of the incident show no such conversation between the officials and Karekin or his entourage.

“The police did not give explanations or try to clarify anything,” insisted Rev. Yesayi Artenyan, head of the Mother See’s press office. “They just blocked the alley and wouldn’t let us through.”

Artenyan also told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that Karekin’s office had notified Pashinyan’s protocol service in advance that the Catholicos will visit the memorial in the afternoon. The service confirmed, for its part, that Pashinyan will go there in the morning, he said.

Meanwhile, Galstanyan described the police actions as “blasphemous” as hundreds of people led by him rallied outside the Interior Ministry building in Yerevan on Wednesday morning. They also protested against what they called instances of police brutality against participants of ongoing Galstanyan-led protests aimed at forcing Pashinyan to resign.

Galstanyan demanded that Interior Minister Vahe Ghazaryan come out of the building and talk to him publicly. Ghazaryan said through aides that he is only ready to receive the outspoken archbishop in his office. The latter refused the offer. The crowd led by Galstanyan left the scene after blocking entrances to the ministry building for nearly five hours.

The protest appeared to prevent Ghazaryan from presenting an annual report to members of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security. He sent one of his deputies, Arpine Sargsyan, instead.

Sargsyan refused to comment on the minister’s absence when she appeared before the committee. Opposition members of the panel denounced the no-show, provoking a shouting match with their pro-government colleagues.

“Is Vahe Ghazaryan afraid of coming to the committee meeting?” said Gegham Manukyan of the opposition Hayastan alliance.

“No, nobody is scared of you,” countered the committee chairman, Andranik Kocharyan.

The Armenian Church officially voiced support for Galstanyan and his supporters on May 7 as they marched from the Tavush province to Yerevan to protest against Pashinyan’s territorial concessions to Azerbaijan. Karekin’s office announced on Monday that Galstanyan has been relieved of his “ecclesiastical and administrative” duties at his own request. The 53-year-old archbishop, who until then headed the church’s Tavush Diocese, retained his episcopal rank.


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