By Emil Danielyan
The history of the Armenian Apostolic Church will become a mandatory subject in the curriculum of Armenian schools starting from next January, under an agreement signed on Thursday by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Catholicos Garegin II.
A statement by the pontiff’s press office in Echmiadzin quoted Markarian as saying that the introduction of religious courses is aimed at stopping the spread of non-traditional religious groups in Armenia: the church’s main preoccupation over the past decade.
“In effect, we are thus blocking the proselytizing of infant souls and bringing up our children in the national spirit, which will contribute to further development of our state,” Markarian said after at the signing ceremony.
Armenia’s laws do not contain the term “proselytism,” used by the dominant church in reference to the activities of non-traditional faiths. The country’s constitution separates the church from the state and guarantees everyone freedom to choose their religion, while upholding the privileged status of the Apostolic Church.
It was not clear whether children of parents belonging to other religious organizations will be required to attend the religious history classes -- a big novelty for Armenia’s system of secondary education. Some Armenian schools have until now offered only optional religious courses taught by Christian clerics.
Thursday’s agreement followed Markarian’s decision last week to form a special council that will advise him on religious affairs. Among its members are representatives of Armenia’s office of prosecutor-general. The premier will presumably seek their advice on ways of curbing the spread of what the church and the country’s political establishment regard as “dangerous sects,” notably Jehovah’s Witnesses.