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Earlier this month dissident members of the Armenian Apostolic Church jostled its leader, Catholicos Karekin II, and demanded his resignation.
Karekin was close to former president and Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan, who stepped down to make way for opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan.
Yet while Pashinyan in many ways represents a more liberal wing of Armenian politics, Karekin’s opponents favor returning the church to its fundamental values, the Catholic news site La Croix International writes.
“Karekin II is indeed, like Sargsyan, extremely unpopular and widely considered corrupt. …[His] lavish lifestyle has been difficult to hide in the small country. Plus, he allied himself closely with the ousted Sargsyan, regularly appearing alongside the former president and giving his explicit political support,” Eurasianet.org says.
The dissident church movement’s leader is the abbot of the Gndevank Monastery, Koryun Arakelyan, who launched an anti-Karekin drive in April just as Pashinyan was stirring up opposition to Sargsyan’s long rule.
Gossip and rumors have long circled around Karekin, head of the Armenian church since 1999. In 2011, the “emboldened tone and mafia-like mannerisms” he displayed in a talk with Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia II embarrassed many, Eurasianet says, and in 2015 the church itself wriggled with embarrassment when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists uncovered a $1 million account in his name at British-based HSBC bank. A church spokesman said the account originated under Karekin’s predecessor and was meant for charitable purposes.
On 17 July, Karekin announced his decision to laicize Arakelyan.
“Karekin II has thus moved to silence his opponents,” historian and Armenian Church deacon Philippe Sukiasyan told La Croix International. “However, given the context, this decision may further poison the atmosphere,” he added.
In an interview with Civilnet.am on 16 July, Pashinyan said he had directed the police to look into the incident involving Arakelyan’s followers jostling the catholicos, but said the government should stay away from internal church issues.
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