The Armenian Apostolic Church rebutted on Tuesday a scathing attack on its top clergymen launched by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Pashinian on Monday listed the church among those groups -- including the former ruling regime, “oligarchs,” many media outlets and “some Diaspora structures” -- who he said are upset with his government. He claimed that the government’s policies are causing “very serious disappointment” among the clergy because they are exposing a “lack of spiritual life in Armenia.”
Pashinian also accused the church of frequently meddling in politics and hatching “political intrigues” instead of engaging in “activity stemming from the Bible and its ideology.”
The Echmiadzin-based office of the church’s supreme head, Catholicos Garegin II, responded by saying that it disagrees with Pashinian’s “evaluations.” But it said that it will not comment on them further now that the country is about to mark the 105th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
A statement released by the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin also cited Garegin as calling on all Armenians to “steer clear of discord and speculations” and instead ask the genocide victims for “intercession” for the sake of “overcoming existing challenges in national life.”
Tension between the ancient church and Pashinian’s political team rose dramatically last week after Garegin called for the release on health grounds of the jailed former President Robert Kocharian. The latter is standing trial on coup and corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.
Garegin said on April 14 that Kocharian and other criminal suspects “not posing a threat to the society” should be set free for now because they risk being infected with coronavirus in prison.
The remarks prompted angry reactions from Pashinian’s political allies and supporters. Some of them, notably deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonian, demanded Garegin’s resignation. Simonian also accused the Catholicos of putting pressure on courts.
On April 15, the National Security Service (NSS) said that it has brought fraud and money laundering charges against Archbishop Navasard Kchoyan, the controversial head of the church’s largest diocese encompassing Yerevan and southern Ararat province. Kchoyan denied the charges.
The Mother See urged government officials and media to respect Kchoyan’s presumption of innocence. It also described as “bewildering” the fact that the NSS announced the indictment one day after Garegin urged Kocharian’s release.
Several senior clergymen pushed back against the harsh criticism in the following days, accusing government loyalists of being disrespectful towards a religious institution to which the vast majority of Armenians nominally belong. They were backed by conservative groups, some mainstream opposition figures and other critics of the current government.