The supreme head of the church, Catholicos Garegin II, appealed to the Karabakh Armenians as he celebrated a Christmas mass at the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan.
“Dear people of Artsakh, the thoughts and gazes of our people these days are mainly directed towards you,” Garegin said. “You have never given up and never backed down in the face of difficulties. Today as well you continue to fight heroically for your free and independent life, for the sake of restoration of historical justice.”
“Following the glorious example of your brave ancestors, remain firm and unshaken in your determination to live and create in your native land. Our Holy Church with its worldwide dioceses is with you, assisting and supporting you,” he added during the annual liturgy which was again boycotted by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other Armenian officials.
The head of the ancient church’s Karabakh diocese, Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamian, echoed that message when he addressed worshippers at Stepanakert’s Holy Mother of God Cathedral. He said the Karabakh Armenians must not fall into despair because of the deepening shortages of food and other essential items resulting from the nearly month-long blockade.
“Remember how the people of Israel ate the same food for 40 years in the wilderness,” Abrahamian said in his homily read out during a Christmas mass held there.
The Karabakh authorities decided earlier this week to supply local food stores with cooking oil, sugar, rice and salt from their strategic reserves. Some of those shops are currently closed because of having run out of stock.
The Karabakh premier, Ruben Vardanyan, said on Thursday that the authorities are bracing themselves for a prolonged blockade and will not bow to the Azerbaijani pressure.
The sole road connecting Karabakh to Armenia has been blocked by Azerbaijani protesters since December 12. They are demanding that the Azerbaijani government be allowed to inspect “illegal” ore mines in Karabakh. Baku has backed the demands rejected by the Armenian side.
The Apostolic Church, to which the vast majority of Armenians around the world nominally belong, celebrates Christmas on January 6. For the third consecutive year, Pashinian and members of his government and political team were conspicuously absent from its main festive liturgy, underscoring the Armenian prime minister’s strained relationship with Garegin.
Garegin and other senior clergymen had joined the Armenian opposition in calling for Pashinian’s resignation following Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 war with Azerbaijan. Pashinian openly attacked the church when he campaigned for the June 2021 parliamentary elections.
In November 2022, the church authorized one of its bishops to address an opposition rally in Yerevan that warned Pashinian against recognizing Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh. Also, the church’s Supreme Spiritual Council headed by Garegin said that “the Artsakh people’s right to self-determination is non-negotiable.”