By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian Apostolic Church has denied any involvement in the upcoming bullfights in Yerevan, saying that the privately initiated show is not related to the ongoing celebration of the 1700th anniversary of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity. Responding to protests from Western animal rights groups, the church said it disapproves of the holding of Spanish corrida at the city’s Republican Stadium on September 7-9.
Four Madrid-based matadors will fight 14 bulls to be airlifted from Spain in a series of performances organized by a Spanish-Armenian joint venture, Valencia LLC.
A German anti-bullfighting group, Initiative Anti-Corrida, has launched a worldwide campaign against the planned show, linking it with the 1700th anniversary events. It is urging supporters to send letters of protest to the Armenian authorities and Pope John Paul II who is due in Armenia in late September.
In a statement issued in its Echmiadzin headquarters late Tuesday , the Armenian Church denied the claims and expressed its strong opposition to the planned bullfights, first ever in the former Soviet Union. The church said it has received protests from unnamed international NGOs and high-ranking European clerics.
“The Armenian Apostolic Church does not accept and support entertainment activities that create bloody scenes for the masses, fundamentally undermining children’s, adolescents’ and young peoples’ psyche and distorting the standards of Christian ethics and Christian lifestyle,” it said.
Organizers of the bullfights also denied any link between the corrida and the Christianity jubilee, the main reason for the papal visit. A spokesman for Valencia, which runs an amusement water park and a shooting club in Yerevan, played down the church criticism, saying the company hopes that the bullfights will not be cancelled by the authorities.
The company official, Arno Sarkisian, told RFE/RL that the main purpose of the bullfights is “to present Spanish culture to Armenia.” “Corrida is a form of art,” he said, adding that none of the bulls will be killed by the matadors during the show.
The German group argued that “although the bulls will not be killed in the bullring, they will be tortured to the extreme.” “There will be lots of blood and pain. They will be stabbed with spears from horseback and Banderillas with harpoon-like knives will be stuck in their flesh. These will have to be cut out with a knife afterwards,” it claimed in a worldwide alert on the Internet.
“Armenia is rich in culture and folklore already and does not need bloody spectacles,” said Initiative Anti-Corrida.
But Sarkisian claimed that the specially bred animals will only sustain “light injuries.” The first group of the fighter bulls was due to be delivered to the Armenian capital late on Wednesday. The organizers were meanwhile preparing the grass pitch of the Republican Stadium for what will be an exotic event for most Armenians. Part of the field will be covered by 20-centimeter thick layer of sand. Metal railings will be put up on its perimeter to preclude possible bull attacks on the spectators.
Meanwhile, plans to hold a corrida show are also causing controversy in Moscow where Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has banned Portuguese-style bullfights, scheduled for September 8-9, on the grounds that they “run counter to Russian traditions.” But organizers say they intend to defy the ban and will sue the city authorities if they are eventually prevented from doing so.