– Faced with local or national crisis
most Armenians go into two modes these days: “Let’s not wash our dirty laundry
in public” or “Exposure is the first step in resolving a crisis.” In the past
few months a scandal—immense, terrifying and excoriating—has crashed into our
national public arena. It’s no less than the management style and reputation of
the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II. As catholicos, he is not just the
spiritual leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, but is almost as important
to the Armenian Nation as the president of Armenia. A smear on the catholicos
is a smear on our Nation — even on those who are members of the Cilicia See,
are Catholic, Protestant… atheist.
The critics of Catholicos Karekin II have
circulated petitions, published open letters and articles, convened meetings,
commented on the electronic media, and some have even demanded the resignation
of the catholicos. The accusations leveled are in the many scores: Fraud, moral
turpitude, corruption, autocracy, the decline of Echmiadzin clergy’s morals and
morale, malaise among the clergy…the litany goes on…inclusive of the Seven
Deadly Sins and some. A diatribe orgy? Hidden agendas by his enemies or enemies
of the Church? Far-fetched allegations? Poison letters? Here is a compilation
of the alleged failings of the catholicos.
1. Catholicos Karekin II was elected (1999)
through widespread fraud, thanks to the help of former President Robert
Kocharian and Armenia oligarchs. Intimidation and bribes were used to get
pro-Karekin votes. The $3-million bribe came from wealthy Diaspora donors,
particularly from a famed family of benefactors.
Human rights worker Ara K. Manoogian of Los
Angeles has aired graphic data on how the catholicos was fraudulently elected.
To summarize Manoogian’s main point, the delegations from Russia and Armenia
were illegally allowed a far greater number of votes than their congregation
numbers justified. Manoogian, the nephew of the late Patriarch Torkom Manoogian
of Jerusalem, also says that his uncle told him about the election fraud and
that he had protested to Catholicos Karekin II about the blatant chicanery but
to no avail.
As well, a month prior to the election, a
number of archbishops released a statement which said that Armenia authorities
“at the highest level have come to a consensus in favor of one candidate and
are trying to install him on the throne.” The reference was to the future
Catholicos Karekin II.
2. The catholicos has fathered two children. A
photo of one of his supposed offspring is on the Internet. There’s also talk
that he is too intimate with a female North American donor.
3. He lacks sound knowledge of theology; knows
little of the history and traditions of the Armenian Church. Despite his
studies in Armenia and in Europe, he has superficial academic grounding. He
even stumbles when reciting the Lord’s Prayer. There’s doubt whether he is a
4. He has no spiritual grace or dignity. He is
the dictatorial manager of Echmiadzin, an oligarch in royal purple soutane.
5. He has monopolized all authority as supreme
judge, as head of the legislative body, as president of the Supreme Spiritual
Council and as head of the College of Bishops. Transparency and accountability
are foreign concepts to him.
6. He is rude, crude, common, capricious, unjust,
uncouth, intemperate, incompetent, vicious, vain, venal, abusive,
authoritarian, glory- and money-seeking, lacks spirituality, and is
secretive….It’s not even certain whether he was born in 1951 or 1954.
7. Under his management, Holy Echmiadzin has
become a cesspool of intrigue, suspicion, fear, jealousy, intimidation, and
nepotism. His Stalinist-Berian style has turned Echmiadzin into a snake-pit.
8. Under his watch, senior Armenia clergymen
have fathered children and lead extravagant lives. One of them—Archbishop
Navasart Kjoyan, head of the Araratian Diocese—owns a Bentley, one of the most
expensive cars anywhere. Kjoyan is also accused of involvement in an off-shore
9. Homosexuality among Armenia and Diaspora
clergy is another failing the catholicos hasn’t addressed.
10. Under his watch, senior Armenia clergymen
have become businessmen and owners of companies. In addition to Archbishop
Kjoyan, another clergyman-businessman is Bishop Abraham Mkrchyan of Vayots
Dzor. He owns several mini-hydro plants.
11. As an oligarch, the catholicos is part
owner of a Yerevan minibus company.
12. He has appropriated property belonging to
13. He has neglected the restoration of
crumbling historical monastic buildings while spending $309,000 to purchase
seven Toyotas. To avoid VAT payments, he alleged the money was donated by
oligarch Samvel Karapetyan, owner of Tashir Corp. The catholicos’ “neglect” of
historic church buildings has been described as “cultural genocide against
Medieval Armenian churches and monasteries.”
14. His behavior and that of his Armenia clergy
have driven thousands of Armenians into the arms of cults such as the Jehovah’s
Witnesses and the Mormons.
15. He has defrocked at least 160 archbishops,
bishops, clergymen, and deacons. Never in the 1,700-year history of the
Armenian Church have so many clergymen been dismissed for non-heretical
reasons. His mass defrocking has been described as “a reign of terror” and
“spiritual massacre of the Armenian Apostolic Church”. As a result of his
capricious defrocking binge, he was rebuked by Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan of
Istanbul. The Patriarch pointed out to him– when a certain senior clergyman was
defrocked peremptorily–that if the accusation is clear and evidential “a review
board must be formed, the subject accused must be given the opportunity for
self defense.” The patriarch also accused the catholicos of interfering in
16. When he defrocked Archbishop Tiran
Kyoureghyan of the New Nakhichevan Diocese, for alleged disobedience,
Catholicos Karekin II installed his own brother—a priest—as primate.
17. To hide his mediocrity and limited
intellectual capacity, he has driven his contemporaries from Echmiadzin,
according to a group of Canadian-Armenians.
18. He didn’t condemn the recent fraudulent
presidential elections. Instead, he extended his blessing at Serge Sarkissian’s
19. His crude and immature behavior during his
meeting with Catholicos Elia II of Georgia embarrassed the Armenian Church, Armenia,
and Georgian Armenians. As such, he is a harmful representative of the Armenian
Church and Nation.
20. He blundered, for the nth time, in his
ecumenical responsibilities when he treated the Jerusalem and Istanbul
Patriarchates as if these august Sees were minor diocesan entities. An
irritated Patriarch Nurhan Manougian of Jerusalem announced earlier
this month that
he would not attend an upcoming meeting of senior churchmen, organized by the catholicos. He
like, the patriarch in Istanbul, expressed his displeasure with the catholicos’
inexplicable tactics to precipitate the resignation of Archbishop Norvan
Zakarian, the long-time and popular Primate of France.
21.While visiting Jerusalem a few years ago,
the catholicos threatened senior clergymen of the Sts. James’ Brotherhood and
said: “I will strip all of you of your ranks.”
22. He attempted, in Western Europe (e.g.
Switzerland) to centralize the management of the various churches. The
French-Armenia community publicly condemned his heavy-handed interference in
the internal administrative affairs of the French diocese.
23. He supported convicted criminal clergyman
(Fr. Vatche Hayrabedian) against Archbishop Zakaryan. When Hayrabedian was the
pastor of the church in Nice, his congregation pleaded with the catholicos to
remove the disreputable clergyman. Their pleas were ignored.
In the past 1,700 years at least 15 times
Armenian catholicoi have been removed or forced to resign. The first to be
deposed was Kristapor II Apahooni in 630; the last Yeprem I of Tsoragegh in
1830. We don’t know if any of the grotesque accusations leveled against
Catholicos Karekin II are justified, but if even 10% of the allegations are
well-founded, the Catholicos of All Armenians has no option but to resign. The
longer this wound festers the worse it would be for the Church and the Nation.
And those in the “bien-pensant” corner who say we should not talk (“dzamots
tartsank” in Armenian) about these accusations for we would be aiding or
enemies, we say the days of covering up the truth are long gone. The cat is out
of the bag. How could the Church survive when these accusations hang over the
head of its supreme leader? As well, keeping silent would surely help make the
Church and clergy irrelevant.
Even at the best of times we can’t afford an
undeserving catholicos. Considering that the Armenian Nation is groping through
precarious and tumultuous times, we cannot tolerate a catholicos who has lost
his moral compass and doesn’t belong on the Echmiadzin throne. The existential challenges we face leave no
room for a catholicos who, according to his accusers, behaves like a modern-day
Roderigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI).
The nation waits for Catholicos Karekin II to
reply to the charges.