By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian Apostolic Church appealed on Friday for greater mutual tolerance in Armenia, saying that it is ready to ease political tensions sparked by this year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
"Naturally, under these circumstances the Church sees a role and place for itself in calling for national unity and leading our people to consolidation for the sake of our national interests and the strengthening of Armenian statehood," said its spiritual leader, Catholicos Garegin II.
"We must be able to address any undesirable phenomenon by harboring greater love for each other, displaying tolerance and pursuing justice," he added.
Garegin did not specify whether the Armenian Church would like to mediate in the bitter dispute between President Robert Kocharian and the opposition which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of his recent reelection. The approaching parliamentary elections have added a new twist to the standoff.
The Apostolic Church, whose semi-official status is upheld by Armenia's constitution, has rarely interfered in domestic political battles. Garegin, in particular, has never publicly criticized any of the country's political leaders and seeks government assistance in preventing the spread of non-traditional religious groups in Armenia. Some opposition supporters claim that the Catholicos and other top clerics are too close to the ruling establishment
Garegin's call for national unity came at his joint conference in Echmiadzin, the headquarters of the Armenian Church, with the visiting head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II. The two pontiffs pledged to strengthen ties between their churches which they believe are important for Armenia and Georgia.