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Primate Voices Support for Retaining Church History in Armenia’s Public Education

“The Armenian Church occupies a supreme place in the identity of every Armenian,” wrote Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan in a message to high-ranking officials of the Armenian government.

In separate letters to Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and to Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport Arayig Harutyunyan, the Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America voiced his grave concern over a recent government proposal to remove Armenian Church History as a distinct subject from the country’s public school curriculum.

In doing so, Bishop Daniel joined his voice to others in the Republic of Armenia who have been critical of the proposal, and who view the teaching of Armenian Church History as essential not only to public education in Armenia, but also to the cause of cultivating an Armenian identity among the country’s students.

“I register my concern as an individual Armenian Christian, born in the United States, who from a young age has been nurtured in the bosom of the Armenian Church and has now been called to be the primate of one of the largest dioceses of that Church,” the Bishop wrote, relating the value of his personal experiences learning about the church’s history and its great figures.

A Policy With International Repercussions

Armenia’s Ministry of Education came under scrutiny this year for circulating a draft law titled “New Standards for General Education,” which would overhaul the country’s public education system. Under the proposed standards, “Armenian Church History” would be removed from the curriculum as a distinct and separate subject, and would be incorporated into “Armenian History” and a new subject titled “Me and My Homeland.” The same document would replace “Armenian Literature” with a general subject titled simply “Literature.”

Armenian Church History has been taught in Armenia’s public schools since 2002, using a textbook developed by church authorities. The recently proposed educational standards have been questioned by many segments of Armenian society—including the academy and the church—and even drew a public protest before the Ministry of Education in Yerevan.

The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin has been critical but eager to cooperate with the ministry on the matter.

Earlier this month, during a ceremony blessing Armenia’s educators, His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, reaffirmed his deep concerns about excluding Armenian Church History from the compulsory curriculum, and lamented that the education ministry has not made a sufficient effort to reach out to the church in this matter.

In his letter to the Armenian government officials, Bishop Daniel affirmed that concern over the matter is not limited to Armenia itself, but has an international scope. “The proposal by the Education, Science, Culture and Physical Education Ministry of the Republic of Armenia to remove the subject of the History of the Armenian Church from the curriculum of Armenian schools has become a matter of concern in both the Motherland and in the diaspora,” he wrote.

He added that internal decisions of Armenian public policy would have repercussions in the diaspora, as well. “As the radiant source of our Armenian identity, the eyes of diasporan Armenians are focused on the Motherland. If instruction in Armenian Church History is to be deprived of school pupils in the Motherland, what will be the reaction to such a step in the diaspora? The answer to this question will be that we must be united in cultivating the study of the Armenian Church’s history, which has been the cradle of the Armenian people’s culture and identity for centuries.”

He concluded with a plea that Armenia’s government would consider the subject as “critical to the health and growth of our nation and our people.”

An English translation of Bishop Daniel’s Armenian-language letter to Prime Minister Pashinyan appears below. To read his original letter to the Education Minister, click here.

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September 19, 2020

His Excellency
Mr. Nikol Pashinyan
Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia
Yerevan

Esteemed Mr. Prime Minister,

The proposal by the Education, Science, Culture and Physical Education Ministry of the Republic of Armenia to remove the subject of the History of the Armenian Church from the curriculum of Armenian schools has become a matter of concern in both the Motherland and in the diaspora.

With this letter I express also my own personal concern as well as that of the faithful of the Armenian Church of North America and especially of the Eastern Diocese concerning the Ministry’s decision.

The history of the Armenian people witnesses to the fact that for centuries the Nation and the Church have comprised one united entity and that the Church has nourished and preserved the national identity in the souls of generations of Armenians. Since the fourth century the history of the Armenian Church has been the history of our people. The faith of our people is expressed in our culture, literature, art and especially family and national values. The Armenian Church occupies a supreme place in the identity of every Armenian.

As the radiant source of our Armenian identity, the eyes of diasporan Armenians are focused on the Motherland. If instruction in Armenian Church History is to be deprived of school pupils in the Motherland, what will be the reaction to such a step in the diaspora? The answer to this question will be that we must be united in cultivating the study of the Armenian Church’s history, which has been the cradle of the Armenian people’s culture and identity for centuries.

I register my concern as an individual Armenian Christian, born in the United States, who from a young age has been nurtured in the bosom of the Armenian Church and has now been called to be the primate of one of the largest dioceses of that Church, which stands today on the foundation established by such renowned national personalities as Khrimian Hayrig and Catholicos Karekin Hovsepyants.

In the name of the faithful of this Diocese, I join my voice to the concerned voices of educators and Armenian Studies scholars, and request that Armenia’s Education, Science, Culture and Physical Education Ministry reconsider the removal of the subject of the History of the Armenian Church from the academic program or the plan to make it simply part of a general course along with other armenological subjects, so that it may be reestablished as an freestanding subject in the schools.

My great expectation is that the Ministry will take this into consideration with all seriousness as it responds to these matters, so critical to the health and growth of our nation and our people.

With my best wishes and prayers,

Bishop Daniel
Primate

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