By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, faced a rare public critique on Thursday when an opposition leader accused him of pandering to the government instead of dissuading Armenians from embracing non-traditional faiths.
Victor Dallakian, a senior lawmaker from the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, made the attack in connection with the church’s negative reaction to the official registration of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. A spokesman for Garegin said earlier this week that the sect should not have been legalized by the Armenian authorities because of its “anti-Christian” essence and illegal “proselytizing.”
“The Armenian Apostolic Church has a serious work to do on this issue,” Dallakian said. “You can’t solve a problem with bans. The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church must therefore … refrain from attending political shows.”
Dallakian referred to Garegin’s controversial decision to preside over a religious festivity that was held in the southern town of Arstashat last year as part of a campaign rally staged by President Robert Kocharian. The event took place on the eve of the February-March 2003 presidential election.
Opposition leaders interpreted Garegin’s move as an endorsement of Kocharian’s reelection, but did not express their anger in public. Officially, the Armenian Church takes no sides in political battles. But critics say its top clerics have grown connected with the ruling establishment and are too reliant on government curbs on the activities of religious groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.