By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Catholicos Garegin II warned through a spokesman on Tuesday that the Lebanon-based Catholicosate of the Armenian Apostolic Church risks resurrecting decades-old divisions in the worldwide church that were laid to rest with the fall of Communism.
Bishop Yeznik Terterian, a top cleric from Echmiadzin, the headquarters of the supreme patriarch, criticized the number two figure in the church, Catholicos Aram I, for his unilateral decision to open a new separate structure for Canada’s Armenian community.
The move is seen by Garegin as a challenge to his supremacy and a threat to the church unity which was effectively restored more than ten years ago.
Relations between the two governing centers of the Armenian church began to deteriorate in 1956 when the Lebanon-based Catholicosate, called the Great House of Cilicia, extended its presence to North America and other Diaspora religious communities that were traditionally subordinated to Echmiadzin. The Cilicia center pointed to Echmiadzin’s alleged links with the Soviet authorities that ruled Armenia at the time.
The church already had a diocese in Canada directly controlled by Garegin. Local Armenian churches loyal to Aram’s office were part of his Eastern Prelacy of North America.
A spokesman for the Cilician pontiff, Very Reverend Grigor Chifjian, on Monday confirmed reports that those churches have been incorporated into a separate Canadian prelacy. He also sought to allay Garegin’s fears.
“We are really surprised with this outcry,” Chifjian told RFE/RL by phone from Antilias, Lebanon. “What happened was simply an administrative re-structuring. Just like when you remove a wall inside your house to make a room bigger or smaller.”
But Bishop Terterian rejected the arguments, saying that Aram risks rolling back the rapprochement between the two Catholicosates that began in 1988. “The attempt to change [the status of the Canadian churches] de jure shows that the process which began in 1956 is still going on,” he said in an interview.
Meanwhile, informed sources told RFE/RL that Aram’s controversial decision was taken at the behest of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which is particularly influential in Lebanon. Dashnaktsutyun leaders have for decades had close ties with the Cilician Catholicosate.
A spokesman for the nationalist party’s governing bureau, Giro Manoyan, denied the information. He said the Dashnak leadership in Armenia and the Diaspora has not even discussed Aram’s decision and will not comment on the church row for the moment.