By Nane Atshemian
Catholicos Garegin II was confident on Wednesday that non-traditional religious organizations can not erode the dominant positions of the Armenian Apostolic Church despite expanding dramatically in Armenia over the past 15 years.
“I am confident that the sects cannot undermine the integrity of our Holy Apostolic Church because the sons and daughters of our people remain attached to it through their hearts, souls, roots, consciousness and even instincts,” he stated during a meeting with hundreds of university students at the church headquarters in Echmiadzin.
Garegin’s confidence contrasted with the alarm regularly raised by other top clerics over activities of the non-traditional groups that have attracted a large following since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
The Apostolic Church, to which more than 90 percent of Armenians around the world nominally belong, itself has long sought government curbs on what it regards as “malicious sects.” It condemned the government’s decision last fall to legalize the most controversial of them, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The decision was taken under pressure from the Council of Europe and other international human rights organizations.
The ancient church, credited with preserving Armenian identity and cultural heritage in the absence of statehood, already enjoys a privileged status in Armenia, giving it the exclusive right to publicly and freely disseminate its beliefs.
The meeting in Echmiadzin was the first of its kind, with students asking questions on a wide range of social, economic and political issues. One of them wondered what the church thinks of Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian’s plans to organize a huge Armenian circle dance around Mount Aragats, the highest in Armenia.
Hovsepian and his Nig-Aparan organizations hope to rally more than 100,000 people around the sprawling mountain. There are already reports of various-level prosecutors, local government heads, university rectors and even school principles ordering their subordinates to sign up for the event. Some devout Christians have urged the Apostolic Church to denounce it as a pagan rite.
But Garegin saw nothing wrong in the “dance” which will highlight the top Armenian prosecutor’s growing political ambitions. “We would love to give our blessing to that event and other undertakings of this kind,” he said.