Scholars and religious leaders from around the world met at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin earlier this month for the International Conference on Religious Freedom and Peace.
His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, presided over the September 9-10 gathering, which was organized by the Mother See.
Topics addressed included the right of access to places of worship in conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and the preservation of cultural heritages sites. All of these topics have become matters of urgent concern for the Armenian Church in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh war. As Azerbaijan has overtaken and occupied historically Armenian territories, it has imposed restrictions on access to Armenian monasteries and churches, and has threatened the destruction of monuments and archaeological sites.
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, the Eastern Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director, opened the conference by leading attendees in a minute of silence for the Armenians who lost their lives in the Artsakh war. As a leader of the worldwide ecumenical movement, and chairman of the Mother See’s “Committee for the Preservation of Artsakh’s Cultural-Spiritual Heritage,” Archbishop Aykazian was instrumental in organizing the conference and gathering the distinguished roster of attendees.
Among these were the leaders of the World Council and (U.S.) National Council of Churches, and the European Conference of Churches, respectively Rev. Dr. Ioan Sauca, Rev. James Winkler, and Rev. Christian Krieger; official emissaries of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox churches; representatives from various Protestant denominations; clergy from the Holy Etchmiadzin Brotherhood; public figures and academics from Armenia; and noted scholars, including (from the U.S.) Dr. Christina Maranci of Tufts University, and Dr. Rachel Goshgarian of Lafayette Collage.
An Essential Effort
In his address to the conference, Catholicos Karekin II expressed gratitude international humanitarian, ecclesiasticalm and inter-church organizations that showed solidarity with the Armenian people during the war and its aftermath.
“The bombing of sanctuaries during the war, and continuing even afterwards, testifies to Azerbaijan’s policy of erasing all Armenian traces from Artsakh,” he said. “The concerted effort of the international community is essential to prevent cultural genocide and ensure the protection of religious and cultural monuments.”
He went on to acknowledge “the efforts of the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, President Putin of the Russian Federation, and the Russian peacekeeping forces, to ensure the continuing activity of our ancient historical sanctuary of Dadivank,” which had been threatened with destruction by the Azeri army.
Concurrent with the conference, His Holiness led a ceremony to award the “St. Sahag-St. Mesrob” Medal to British Parliamentarian Baroness Caroline Cox, in recognition of her decades of outspoken advocacy for Artsakh.
While in Armenia, attendees visiting the Genocide Memorial at Dzidzernagapert, the Mesrob Mashdots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, and the museums at Holy Etchmiadzin. The conference concluded by issuing a report of recommendations for promoting a religious freedom and cultural preservation across the globe.
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By C. H. Zakian