This week, His Holiness Karekin II made an official visit to Moscow, Russia, to take part in a trilateral meeting of spiritual leaders of the Caucasus region, under the meditation of the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.
On October 12, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians led a delegation from Holy Etchmiadzin to the Patriarchal Monastery of St. Daniel in Moscow, to meet with His Holiness Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.
The leader of the worldwide Russian Orthodox Church welcomed the Catholicos of All Armenians by invoking the centuries-old fraternal relations between the two churches, and the warm friendship binding the two peoples and their countries.
In his turn, the Catholicos Karekin II affirmed the strong, centuries-old friendship between Armenia and Russia, which has been consistently shown even in the greatest times of trial.
“The centuries-old friendship of our peoples and churches has been expressed in moments of both joy and sorrow. We rejoiced in our joint achievements, and together we fought for the inviolability of our friendship and brotherhood. Our meetings with Your Holiness [Patriarch Kirill] are the best evidence of that.”
“We have always felt the support of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church,” said Catholicos Karekin II.
The Catholicos went on to express gratitude to the Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch for their support of the Armenian Church and the people during last year’s Artsakh war, and its present, difficult aftermath.
“These are difficult times for [the Armenian] nation, as Your Holiness [Patriarch Kirill] knows well. However, we believe that by God’s grace—and by virtue of our faith and the support of friendly countries, first among whom is the Russian Federation—we will overcome the present crisis.”
In the conversation that followed, the two church leaders discussed ongoing efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.
To conclude the meeting, Patriarch Kirill I honored Catholicos Karekin’s 70th birthday (which took place in August) by awarding him the Russian Orthodox Church’s “Medal of Honor in the First Degree.”
Clearly moved by this unexpected gesture on behalf of the Russian patriarch, Catholicos Karekin said: “We consider this gift as a sign of Your Holiness’ respect and love for our people, and our church.”
Patriarch Kirill responded by expressing hope that the Russian and Armenian churches will continue to foster their good relationship in the future. He laid special emphasis on the importance of the Christian presence in the Caucasus, telling Catholicos Karekin: “Your church, and you personally, are a strong presence in that fragile region. For the good of the Russian Orthodox Church, we must do everything we can to make your ministry as successful as possible.”
“War is No Way to Solve Problems”
The following day, October 13, Patriarch Kirill and Catholicos Karekin met again at Moscow’s St. Daniel Monastery, this time in the company of Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pasha Zade, chair of the Board of Muslims of the Caucasus.
It marked the 17th time since 1988 that the three religious leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—the present incumbents or their predecessors—have met to promote a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. The last such meeting occurred in 2017.
Patriarch Kirill, who mediated the discussion, opened the meeting with formal remarks. “We have gathered today to discuss the issue of overcoming the consequences of the long-standing conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh, in which the peoples of Azerbaijan and Armenia are involved,” he said. “For nearly 30 years, we as spiritual leaders have been working to alleviate this tragic conflict. We are called by God to preach love and mercy, even when it seems difficult to accomplish.”
“It is well known that the sphere of religious life is a most sensitive and personal one,” the Russian Patriarch continued. “Unfortunately, there are people who justify violence, cruelty and bloodshed by religion. Accordingly, we are called to respond, jointly and unequivocally, to the attempt to link religion and war.”
In his own formal remarks, His Holiness Karekin II observed that “Not since 2017 have we had the opportunity to meet in this format as spiritual leaders, to discuss not only the problems caused by the Karabagh conflict in the lives of our peoples, but also ways to overcome those problems: to defuse the atmosphere and stabilize the region for the sake of establishing peace and security.”
He praised Patriarch Kirill, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, for their intercessions in the Artsakh war to cease the resulting bloodshed, and to establish some degree of security and stability in the region in the war’s aftermath.
Catholicos Karekin II also enumerated the ongoing Azeri policies and provocations that remain barriers to peace, security, and a genuine settlement of the Karabagh conflict.
He concluded: “War is no way to solve problems—and this war did not actually lead to a solution of problems, but only gave rise to new tragedies, and caused new problems…. Yet despite the difficulties of the current situation, we continue to hope that we will be able to overcome the challenges we face, with the support of friendly peace-loving countries, and concerned international organizations…. Today, our prayerful efforts as spiritual leaders should aim at the goal of creating an atmosphere of solidarity and mutual understanding, in order to ease tensions so that the Almighty will bless our lives with his peace, mercy, and abundant grace.”
(Read Catholicos Karekin II’s full remarks, in an English translation, below.)
To end the meeting, Patriarch Kirill issued a statement on the results of the discussions
“We have just concluded a trilateral meeting of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, which is a continuation of a more than 30-year-old tradition of peace talks mediated by the Russian Orthodox Church,” he said.
He went on: “I thank Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, and Sheikh ul-Islam Allah Shukur Pashazadeh, for their willingness to meet with us to discuss face-to-face the important issues of concern to our two fraternal peoples and religious communities.
“We are convinced that our religions have a unique potential for peace, especially for a delicate, sensitive area such as ethnicity. No matter how difficult Armenian-Azerbaijani relations are at this stage, we believe that faith in God and love can help heal wounds which arose during many years of tragic conflict. It is a very difficult road. Careful wisdom and foresight are required. The Caucasus has always been rich in diversity of peoples, languages, and cultures.
“For the Azerbaijani and Armenian peoples, there is no future other than co-existence. It is especially important today to restore people’s trust in each other. Learn to accept the neighbor again with respect and willingness to help each other. The guarantee of such an attitude is respect for the care of shrines, historical monuments, graves, people of different religions, and a dignified attitude towards the memory of the dead. Spiritual leaders are called upon to use their authority to create and maintain an atmosphere of good neighborly relations between peoples and religions.
“We call for clarification on the fate of the missing, to facilitate the release of prisoners of war, and to prevent the use of prohibited weapons, which pose a threat to the lives of civilians.
“It is necessary in the near future to avoid hate speech in any form, to refrain from belligerent calls in the conflict zone. We call on the youth not to give in to aggression or radicalism, and first of all to seek peace. Spiritual leaders are ready to be useful in reconciling the peoples of Azerbaijan and Armenia for the sake of present and future generations.
“The Russian Orthodox Church is praying for the reconciliation of its two friendly peoples, and from now on it is ready to support a lasting, just and stable peace in the South Caucasus,” Patriarch Kirill concluded.
Throughout his two-day visit to Moscow, the Catholicos of All Armenians was accompanied by a delegation of clergy and officers of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, that included Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisyan (Director of Foreign Relations), Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan (Primate of the Artsakh Diocese), Fr. Shahe Ananyan (Director of Interchurch Relations), Gevorg Danielyan (Member of the Supreme Spiritual Council), and Fr. Vahram Melikian (Director of Communications).
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Message of His Holiness Karekin II
Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians
Trilateral Meeting of Spiritual Leaders of the Caucasus Region
Moscow, October 13, 2021
Your Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia;
Venerable Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pasha Zade, Chairman of the Board of Muslims of the Caucasus;
Not since 2017 have we had the opportunity to meet in this format as spiritual leaders, to discuss not only the problems caused by the Karabagh conflict in the lives of our peoples, but also ways to overcome those problems: to defuse the atmosphere and stabilize the region for the sake of establishing peace and security. In this regard, we express our gratitude to our beloved brother, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, for organizing this meeting.
Our meeting takes place at a time when our region is again very tense. On September 27 of last year, with the open support of Turkey and the involvement of international terrorist groups, Azerbaijan unleashed large-scale hostilities against the people of Artsakh, which created a catastrophic situation in the entire region and had tragic consequences for our peoples. In heavy battle, due to the use of prohibited types of cluster and phosphorus weapons by Azerbaijan, thousands of military personnel, civilians—including women and children—were killed, wounded and disabled; civilians were tortured; about 40 thousand Artsakh citizens were evacuated and left homeless. In Artsakh, residential buildings, hospitals, maternity hospitals, churches, cultural centers, and historical monuments were deliberately bombed.
The bloody, catastrophic aggression of Azerbaijan was stopped only thanks to the personal efforts of the President of the Russian Federation, the esteemed Mr. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, to whom we again express our gratitude on behalf of the Armenian Church and people, as well as for the special attention he has shown in the preservation of the Armenian spiritual heritage in the territories now controlled by Azerbaijan.
Your Holiness [Patriarch Kirill], we would like to express our deep gratitude for your sincere intercession and for your peace-loving efforts during the 44 days of hostilities, in the cause of avoiding their tragic consequences. Your contribution to the maintenance of religious life at the historic 4th-century Armenian monastery Dadivank, on territory that came under the control of Azerbaijan, is extremely important.
As a result of the statement on November 9, 2020, adopted by the leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, the deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabagh created the preconditions for the restoration of a safe life for our people of Artsakh, and for the sustainable implementation of the mission of the Artsakh Diocese.
There is no alternative to the settlement of the Karabagh conflict, in terms of establishing stability and peace, and securing safe, serene life in the region. However, despite the readiness of the Armenian side to finally resolve the issues in accordance with all the peacekeeping efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group, the situation in the region remains alarming and tense due to the degrading and unacceptable militant rhetoric, the unconstructive policy of ultimatums, of the Azerbaijani authorities.
The question therefore, is: How can the Karabagh conflict be settled, and peace be established—
- While Azerbaijan continues to be guided by the principle of the use of force and expansionist aspirations in resolving the Karabagh conflict;
- While the status of Nagorno-Karabagh has still not been clarified, and the realization of the right of the people of Artsakh to an independent life has not been guaranteed. State anti-Armenian propaganda, violence and killings of civilians, the so-called “Spoils of War” Park in Baku, are evidence that the people of Nagorno-Karabagh will never be able to live and exist safely within Azerbaijan;
- While all prisoners of war have not yet been released, regardless of the status attributed to them by Azerbaijan, the true number of which has not been disclosed. According to our information, Armenian prisoners in captivity are regularly subjected to humiliation and torture, and in some cases are tortured to death;
- While the fate of many victims of enforced disappearances remains unknown;
- While Azerbaijan will not cease its encroachments on the state border of the Republic of Armenia, nor will retreat from the occupied territories;
- While respect for international legislation does not show due regard to the worldwide Armenian historical and cultural heritage, where our shrines are destroyed and desecrated, where history is falsified, where Armenian monasteries and churches are deprived of their identity, where despite their legal belonging to the Artsakh Diocese of the Armenian Church our children are denied the right to visit their shrines?
- The Armenian people at all times have valued peace, and striven for peaceful coexistence with neighboring peoples. They have always respected the religious freedom and cultural identity of others. The peaceful aspirations of our people are built on the conviction that there are no winners in wars, everyone is defeated, for there can be no victory where human tragedy prevails. Holy Scripture, the authority of which is not disputed by the followers of Islam, inspires humanity with a vision։“Peace on earth, among men of goodwill” (Luke 2:14).
Islam’s own Holy Book, the Koran, likewise gives instruction about tolerance in differences, peaceful coexistence, and the promotion of the common good, noting: “To each of you we have ordained a code of law and a way of life. If God had willed, he would have made you one community, but his will is to test you with what he has given each of you. So compete with one another in doing good” (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:48).
In this spirit, given the interconnected reality of the 21st century, all problems between nations should be resolved only by peaceful means, with justice and respect for the rule of law.
War is no way to solve problems—and this war did not actually lead to a solution of problems, but only gave rise to new tragedies, and caused new problems. It is impossible to create peace by military means, at gunpoint; it is impossible to achieve solidarity and cooperation by manipulating the factor of prisoners of war; it is impossible to open pathways of communication by sowing hatred of Armenians and leveling threats at the state level.
Yet despite the difficulties of the current situation, we continue to hope that we will be able to overcome the challenges we face, with the support of friendly peace-loving countries, and concerned international organizations. We also hope that in this difficult situation, the Azerbaijani authorities will abandon their expansionist encroachments, which could lead the region to a new, wider war.
Today, our prayerful efforts as spiritual leaders should aim at the goal of creating an atmosphere of solidarity and mutual understanding, in order to ease tensions so that the Almighty will bless our lives with his peace, mercy, and abundant grace.
Thank you again, Your Holiness [Patriarch Kirill], for your efforts in the cause of peace, and for this meeting.
Venerable Sheikh-ul-Islam, we believe that our meeting will provide results through your mediation before the authorities of Azerbaijan, in particular, in resolving humanitarian issues, pressing spiritual and religious problems, as well as establishing peace in the lives of our peoples.
We pray for world peace and for the restoration of a safe, tranquil, and productive life in our region. May the Lord bless all the ways of the world, and guide our people with his wisdom.
October 13, 2021
Above: Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, during their meeting at Danilov Monastery in Moscow.