Monday, December 1, 2008

The Mayor of Gyumri, the Church, and Politics

I’m not a big fan of organized religion, but this story caught my attention:

There has been an ongoing conflict between the mayor of Gyumri, Vardan Ghukasyan, and the primate of the Diocese of Shirak, Archbishop Michael Ajapahyan, that is now coming to a head. With the blessing of Serj Sargsyan and Arthur Baghdasaryan, the mayor has started a campaign to replace the independently minded prelate.

The issue at stake is the Mayor’s plan to appropriate church lands to build stores (as per one report). Lilit Aghekyan, head of the information department of Gyumri municipality said “regarding the territories belonging to the church, any territory in the town is under the authority of the municipality,” and Ghukasyan has stated on TV that he does not have to report to anyone about his plans, including the head of the diocese. Really? I don’t know the laws regarding this situation, but it seems that the city can’t just take land from the church, right?

But there’s more to it than that. According to Lragir, the prelate is the only obstacle in the mayor’s plan to turn Gyumri into his own “zone of influence.” The archbishop criticized the mayor just before his election, and openly criticized the mayor’s alleged illegal actions in the city. Not only that, the Archbishop has populist leanings, as he is known to sit with freedom-fighters on hunger strike.

Lragir also reports that according to a reliable source, Sargsyan’s staff is strongly pressuring Catholicos Garegin II to “solve” the problem of the prelate: pressuring in ways that Lragir doesn’t want to mention so as to “spare the readers.” I don’t want to be spared, I want to know what’s going on.

The citizens of Gyumri are supporting the Archbishop and on Sunday some of them met with the Catholicos, who said he would try to bring peace into the situation, but if that doesn’t work, he’ll have to replace the prelate. The delegates apparently warned the Catholicos not to take such a step.

As Lragir points out, the Catholicos has to make a choice, as the problem is now partly in his lap. But it’s not just a choice about this piece of land, it has become a political choice- not the first one. If you ask me, the Armenian Church made its choice when it blessed the inauguration of Serj Sargsyan, and that on the 40th day after the death of 11+ people on March 1.

Where was the church when there were victims to be mourned, and souls to be saved, prayed for? After all, isn’t that the role of the church, the saving of souls, protecting the people against both mortal and immortal dangers, leading the people towards salvation, toward God, the path of Divine Light and Good? As far as I’m concerned, they were busy making deals, selling their own souls. And when one of them in this institution of organized religion stands his ground, standing up for the people, he comes under political attack. We’ll see if the Church will stand up for one of their own, we know they didn’t stand up for the people of Hayastan.

Wondering who this mayor is? Below is a video on YouTube of an interview he gave a while back:

Azatutyun radio (Dec 1) via RFE/RL
Hetq Online

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