By Paul Goble
The wave of Armenian protests that succeeded in ousting Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister in favor of Nikol Pashinyan has now been succeeded by another wave of protest that is calling for the ouster of Garegin II (Karekin II), the catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
In a Facebook post, Garegin’s press spokesman invited the demonstrators to meet with the church leadership at the Patriarchal residence in Echmiadzin. But that does not appear to have quieted demands that Garegin, who was close to the ancien regime, leave his post, Pavel Skrylnikov reports in today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta (ng.ru/faith/2018-06-08/2_7242_armenia.html).
Instead, having tasted victory in ousting Sargsyan, the Armenian “street” is now targeting the catholicos, “not so much as head of the church as an influential politician” connected with Sargsyan. According to Armenian political analyst Stepan Danilyan, the protesters have a long list of grievances against Garegin.
First of all, he has been too close to the authorities, something almost inevitable in the caesaro-papist traditions of Orthodoxy. Second, he is said to have engaged in massive “illegal business” operations. And third, since assuming office in 1999, Garegin has notoriously not given a single press conference where he would be forced to respond.
Instead, Danilyan continues, “this is a closed and shadowy individual who has no authority. He is mixed up in business ties as is his brother in Moscow,” and that is especially irksome in the current climate in Yerevan. By suggesting a meeting, Garegin is trying to defuse the situation. But it may be too late.
According to Boris Navasardyan, head of the Yerevan Press Club, “among the protesters are both ordinary citizens and religious people who are dissatisfied with the situation in the Armenian Apostolic Church. I share the view that our church hierarchs in recent years were involved in negative phenomena that was part and parcel of the oligarchic regime in Armenia.”
“The participation of priests in the protests is indirectly confined by the Facebook page of the Echmiadzin monastery, Skrylnikov says. That page” expresses regret that some close to the church have been led astray by “personal interests.”
Perhaps more serious, Garegin has alienated many in the independent segments of the Armenian Apostolic church in Cilicia, Constantinople and Jerusalem and in the large and influential Armenian diaspora in many countries. And the hostility to him is spreading to other even more “odious” church leaders as well, Danilyan says.
This attack on Garegin suggests that the Armenian protests are truly growing into a revolutionary movement, one that appears likely to change fundamentally the power relations within Yerevan and also between Yerevan and Moscow, given Garegin’s close ties with Russian businesses.
But there are at least two additional reasons why this is important beyond the borders of Armenia. On the one hand, the charges against Garegin are of the same nature as those against Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and will likely be echoed by his religious and political opponents in Russia ever more vigorously now.
And on the other, talk about corruption among patriarchs loyal to their political regimes and to Moscow almost certainly will play into discussions about autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, undermining the position of those in Moscow and elsewhere opposed to that move and giving Kyiv an even better chance of achieving it