Pashinian attacked the church during at least two of his campaign rallies held late last week.
“They are telling us that we are trying to discredit the Armenian Apostolic Church and traditional values,” he told supporters rallying in the town of Sevan on Saturday. “No, those values are discredited by corrupt clergymen.”
Pashinian claimed that those clergymen are part of Armenia’s traditional political, intellectual and spiritual elites that “did everything” to prevent the 2018 “velvet revolution” that brought him to power or make it a failure. He said the country needs another revolution to get rid of these elites.
The church responded to the accusations with a statement released by its Echmiadzin-based Mother See.
“The attitude of the current government towards the national and spiritual values of the Church is known to our people,” it said. “The behavior of the Acting Prime Minister towards the Church and the clergy should be considered in this context.”
“The Armenian Church, despite all kinds of obstacles and the attitude of the authorities, will continue to implement its soul-saving, patriotic mission in the life of the Armenian people,” added the statement.
Last Thursday, the ancient church’s supreme head, Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, and bishops based in Armenia expressed “deep concern” over they described as “hate speech” spread by political forces running in the June 20 snap elections.
In a joint statement issued after a meeting in Echmiadzin, they urged all election contenders and “especially the ruling party” to refrain from offensive statements and threats of violence, warning that such rhetoric could lead to violent unrest.
Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, likewise denounced Pashinian and his rivals for resorting inflammatory rhetoric on the campaign trail. He singled out the prime minister’s pledges to “purge” the state bureaucracy and wage “political vendettas” against local government officials supporting the Armenian opposition.
Pashinian has had frosty relations with Garegin throughout his three-year rule. They deteriorated further late last year after Garegin joined President Armen Sarkissian, opposition leaders and prominent public figures in calling for his resignation after Armenia’s defeat in the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In January, Pashinian and his associates declined to attend a Christmas mass celebrated by Garegin in the country’s largest cathedral.
And on April 24, the Armenian pontiff and other high-ranking clergymen were conspicuously absent from an official ceremony to mark the 106th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. For the first time in many years the annual ceremony attended by Pashinian and Sarkissian did not feature a traditional prayer service.