Archbishop Justin Welby with Catholicos Karekin II ©Neil Turner Archbishop Justin Welby with Catholicos Karekin II ©Neil Turner 

Catholic, Anglican bishops affirm support for Armenia

As the Archbishop of Canterbury visits crisis-struck Armenia, the Catholic Bishops of Europe call for action to address the growing humanitarian emergency in the country.

By Joseph Tulloch

“I come here to say you are not forgotten.”

Those were the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, as he arrived in Armenia. 

The Anglican Archbishop is on a two-day journey to the country, which has been rocked by Azerbaijan’s recent annexation of the neighbouring enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Speaking on Thursday to His Holiness Karekin II, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Archbishop Welby said: “Armenia was the first Christian kingdom. You were the first region to have the cross as your symbol. This is a symbol of weight, pain and struggle.”

“The last weeks have seen so many Armenians suffer deeply. I have been praying for you daily. I come here to say you are not forgotten.”

Archbishop Welby is in the region as part of a five-day “pilgrimage of listening”. Earlier this week, he visited Azerbaijan and Georgia, meeting with civil and religious leaders, including the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Catholic bishops: Immediate aid for “humanitarian emergency” 

On the day Archbishop Welby began his visit to Armenia, the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, a Catholic grouping, released a statement echoing Pope Francis’ “repeated calls for a negotiated solution in the region.”

Noting that over 100 thousand Armenians have been displaced, they called on the international community to alleviate what they described as a “humanitarian emergency.”

Moreover, the bishops said, the exodus of the enclave's Armenian population “is also endangering the Christian heritage of the region”, which must be “monitored” to prevent defacement.

European Parliament: “Irreversible destruction” of Armenian heritage

In their statement, the European bishops referred to a Resolution passed in 2022 by the European parliament.

The Resolution observes that “considerable deliberate damage was caused by Azerbaijan to Armenian cultural heritage during the 2020 war.”

“Over the last 30 years,” it continues, “the irreversible destruction of religious and cultural heritage has been carried out by Azerbaijan, notably in Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, where 89 Armenian churches, 20 000 graves and more than 5 000 headstones have been destroyed.”

The Resolution also condemns “falsification of history and attempts to present [Armenian heritage] as so-called Caucasian Albanian”, in reference to Azerbaijani government claims that historical and religious sites widely recognised as Armenian in fact belong to a now vanished culture.

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06 October 2023, 16:19