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By Gayane Danielian in Echmiadzin

Catholicos Garegin II on Thursday sought to justify his recent decision to defrock the former head of the Russia diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church and said judicial proceedings are underway to thwart the latter’s efforts to create his own religious organization. Garegin, who returned to Echmiadzin last week after a month-long trip to the United States and Canada, made his first public comments on a row that threatens to split one of the biggest Armenian communities abroad.



“A separate church was being created, the authority of the Armenian Patriarch was being rejected and our ecclesiastical laws and rules were being disobeyed,” he told a news conference in his official residence.

The Moscow-based Archbishop Tiran Kyureghian was ex-communicated on May 16 after refusing to recognize the Catholicos’s authority. The extraordinary move followed Kyureghian’s decision to set up a splinter group called the Moscow Union of Armenian Churches (MUAC), which he said will only comply with the decisions of the National Ecclesiastical Assembly, the church's supreme representative body that elected Garegin in October 1999.

Kyureghian, who was last year replaced by Garegin’s brother at the helm of the Russia diocese, has branded his ouster as illegitimate, saying that the pontiff is not allowed to strip top clerics of their rank single-handedly.

But Garegin insisted that his decision was approved by the Echmiadzin-based Supreme Spiritual Council. He said the leadership of the Armenian Church is now trying to make sure that Kyureghian’s group, which has laid claim to the church property in Russia, is dissolved by the Russian authorities “in a judicial manner.” “We are working on that and we shall see that through,” he said.

The MUAC applied for registration by the Russian ministry of justice last month. It is not clear yet whether or not the application has been approved.
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