Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian praised the Armenian Apostolic Church and acknowledged its “special significance” for many Armenians when he met with its supreme head, Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, on Wednesday.
It was apparently the first one-on-one meeting of the two men at the church headquarters in Echmiadzin since Pashinian swept to power in May in a wave of mass protests organized by him. The premier has been very critical of Garegin in the past.
“For us, for our people, for our country, the values of the Armenian Church have a pivotal significance for identity. This perception has always guided and is continuing to guide us,” Pashinian told Garegin in his opening remarks.
“The Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin has a special significance for the lives of our people, for every adherent of the Armenian Apostolic Church, including me and my family,” he said. “And in general, one must visit the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin from time to time. This is also the most convenient place to reflect on the past and the future.”
For his part, Garegin wished Pashinian success in his “patriotic endeavors.” The Catholicos also said that he will take the opportunity to discuss with him “solutions to a number of issues preoccupying our church.”
Official press releases on the meeting gave no further details.
Pashinian had denounced Garegin’s perceived acquiescence of the deadly breakup of post-election opposition protests staged in Yerevan in 2008. The 43-year-old former journalist was one of the main speakers at those protests.
Shortly after the success of the Pashinian-led “velvet revolution” Garegin came under strong pressure from an obscure group accusing him of having close ties with the country’s former government and demanding his resignation. Dozens of its members partly occupied his Echmiadzin headquarters in July. Police waited for several days before forcing them out of the premises.
The slow police reaction prompted strong criticism from representatives of the former ruling Republican Party (HHK) and other conservative critics of Pashinian’s government. They portrayed it as further proof of what they see as government contempt for “traditional Armenian values.”
HHK lawmakers went on to draft a bill that would ban any protests inside church premises. Pashinian’s cabinet rejected the bill last month.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the world’s oldest Christian denominations to which the vast majority of Armenians nominally belong. Armenia’s constitution affirms its “exceptional mission.”