In a televised address to the nation aired on December 8, Garegin said Pashinian lacks popular trust after the “disastrous” war in Nagorno-Karabakh and should step down to prevent violent unrest and end the “deep political crisis” in Armenia. He said he made this clear at a face-to-face meeting with the embattled premier.
Similar statements have also been made by the two number two figure in the church hierarchy, the Lebanon-based Catholicos Aram I, and other top clergymen in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora. Some of them have denounced Pashinian in unusually strong terms.
A priest in the southeastern town of Sisian publicly snubbed Pashinian and refused to shake his hand when the prime minister visited a local church earlier this month. The Echmiadzin-based Mother See of the Armenian Apostolic Church pointedly declined to criticize the priest’s behavior.
Garegin insisted on Sunday that the church is not meddling in politics. “Just like every citizen, the church is free to express its views,” he told reporters after leading a liturgy at St. Gayane’s Church in an Echmiadzin church.
“If the expressed views are godly, in support of national interests and for the sake of our people then they are good for the homeland,” he said.
The medieval church was surrounded by hundreds of Armenian opposition members and supporters during and after the liturgy. They gathered there to counter possible protests against Garegin by government backers.
Some Pashinian supporters took to Facebook last week to call for such protests and even a disruption of the Sunday mass in Echmiadzin in response to Garegin’s anti-government stance. The office of Armenia’s human rights ombudsman deplored at the weekend the resulting “hate speech” and calls for violence” against the Catholicos circulated on social media.
President Armen Sarkissian and Armenian many public figures have also urged Pashinian to step down and hand over power to an interim government. The premier has rejected these calls while expressing readiness to hold fresh parliamentary elections.