National Churches On Both Sides Of The Political Divides In Armenia And Georgia – OpEd

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Clergy and laity of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Georgian Orthodox Church are on both sides of the political struggles now going on in their respective countries, divisions within the two churches that reflects divisions within the two societies and that is likely to play a major role in the outcome of these struggles and beyond.

That is the conclusion that Andrey Melnikov, the editor of NG-Religii, draws after surveying the religious scene in the two countries, a conclusion at odds with those who seek to present the churches as being entirely on one side or the other of the national debates (ng.ru/ng_religii/2024-05-14/9_572_archbishop.html).

The situation in Armenia is clearer than that in Georgia, perhaps because the church includes many priests with backgrounds in Karabakh who actively oppose any concessions by Yerevan to Baku for peace and because one bishop has taken an active role in protests against border accords and suggested he should replace Nikol Pashinyan who backs these agreements. 

Some other bishops and priests have joined the protesters, but others support the government. And perhaps as a result, the AAC leadership, while long a defender of Armenians in neighboring countries, has sought to maintain a position between the government and the protesters, Melnikov says.

In Georgia, where the conflict is not over land, always an existential issue, but over whether Tbilisi will continue to pursue integration with the West or turn to Moscow by imposing a Russian-style foreign agents law as the government but not the country’s president want, the church is also divided.

Some churchmen there fear that the new law will be used against their denomination and thus back the protesters, but others take a more neutral position, hoping that the new law won’t be misused and that Georgia will be able to continue to integrate with the West as the Georgian Orthodox leadership has generally favored. 

Likely in both countries, church leaders hope that their cautious position will work to their benefit regardless of who wins the political fight; but both political leaders and foreign governments are likely to remember the positions the more active members of their churches took and thus take revenge accordingly. 

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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