Armenian Catholic Patriarch: My People Are Victims of World Immorality

On the occasion of the inauguration of an Armenian parish center in Hungary, Patriarch Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian discusses the situation of his people, who have recently faced new Azerbaijani wide-scale attacks.

Armenian Catholic Patriarch Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian and Cardinal Peter Erdő, primate of Hungary, blessed the new Armenian parish center of Budapest.
Armenian Catholic Patriarch Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian and Cardinal Peter Erdő, primate of Hungary, blessed the new Armenian parish center of Budapest. (photo: Solène Tadié / National Catholic Register)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — The Armenian parish center of Budapest, which has just been renovated with funds allocated by the Hungarian government, was inaugurated Nov. 2, in the presence of Armenian Catholic Patriarch Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian and Cardinal Peter Erdő, primate of Hungary, who blessed the new premises.

The renovated part of the building is destined to host educational and cultural projects, as well as the archives of the Hungarian-Armenian community.

The event was also attended by Hungarian officials, including Azbej Tristan, state secretary for the Aid to Persecuted Christians and for the Hungary Helps Program, the government agency that funded the restoration work, with the aim of giving new impetus to the Armenian-Catholic community in the difficult context of the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Relations between Armenia and Hungary have themselves been marked by tensions in recent years. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were suspended in 2012, after an Azeri officer sentenced to life imprisonment by a Hungarian court for murdering an Armenian officer in Budapest in 2004 was extradited to the Azerbaijani authorities and immediately pardoned.

From a diplomatic point of view, this recent gesture of friendship by the Hungarian government toward its Armenian community is seen as a new step in the process of warming relations between the two nations.

Before blessing the new parish center, the Armenian patriarch expressed his appreciation for this opportunity to strengthen the ties between his country and Hungary, whose return to Christian roots since the fall of the Soviet regime he praised.

Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian, elected during the Eastern Catholic Church’s synod in Rome in 2021, is the 21st Catholicos-Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics. Before that, he served as the bishop of Armenian Catholics in Eastern Europe since 2011. The Register interviewed him on the sidelines of the Nov. 2 event.

You are here in Budapest for the inauguration of the newly renovated Armenian parish building, thanks to funding from the Hungarian government. What does this event represent for you, in light of the fluctuating relations between your country and Hungary over the past decade? What do you expect from this visit?

The relationship between these two peoples has existed for centuries. We have many common projects, especially through charitable organizations. My coming here for the inauguration of our parish center, which also illustrates the historical rooting of our community in Hungary, is to show my gratitude to this country for this beautiful gesture of friendship towards the Armenians. In recent years, in the face of the persecution of Christians deriving from the various wars in the Middle East, but also in Armenia, Hungary has shown a truly Christian charity in helping the faithful, who were in enormous social, medical and humanitarian difficulties.

It is, therefore, a moment of thanks for this government, which has really given a lot, beyond the financial aspect, also on the moral and symbolic level. This country has played a role of true Christian testimony in recent years, despite the diversity of its communities. The Gospel is the common denominator.

Is it that common denominator that brings Armenia and Hungary together in the current assembly of nations?

The relations between Hungary and Armenia are strengthened by this concrete faithfulness to Christianity. But there is an international movement that is beginning to awaken and to refocus attention on our suffering Christian brothers and sisters. Beyond this moral aid from Hungary, organizations like L’Oeuvre d’Orient in France are doing the same thing.

There is an awareness that Eastern Christians are in danger and that they need this support from Western Christians. It is the universal Church that is beginning to come together, which is heartening.

You recently took office as patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, in a particularly sensitive context for your country. What is your assessment of this first year of mission? What have been your greatest challenges? The difficulties from the beginning were obvious. The Armenian Catholic Church is a small Church, with a few hundred thousand faithful [around 600,000, according to L’Oeuvre d’Orient]. Unfortunately, we have been the victims of the world immorality, of international injustice. As Armenians, we suffered a genocide in 1915 that greatly and permanently impoverished our country.

We have placed our hope in a worldwide reaction to the Azeri aggression, but today we feel alone. And on top of that, we are being killed with the weapons of friendly countries. It is very difficult. ...

In addition to the war, COVID has added a lot of difficulties because we had to close the churches, and the relations with the communities, the relatives, were suspended.

But in the midst of this nightmarish situation, we still had the grace of perseverance, which helped us to continue to move forward at all costs, despite all the attacks against our country, which is working for peace. I can say today that this first year was not for nothing because the grace of God has really done its work and blessed our faithful and communities.

After the 2020 cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, the rector of the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of Shushi, Father Andreas Taadyan, denounced the continuing destruction of the Armenian Christian heritage by Azeris. How is the situation today?

I have not been personally present in the theater of the conflict in recent months, but I can confirm from the information I receive from the field that there is an enterprise to destroy the symbols of our culture, of our Christian religious affiliation. There is a real hatred towards Christians in the region. Despite the image of humanity that the Azeris portray in the press, this is a reality.

Do you agree with commentators who suggest that there is a desire, on the part of Azerbaijan and Turkey, its ethnic ally, to eradicate the Christian Armenian presence from the region, as in 1915?

Sometimes, the wording, the images conveyed may change, but the content remains the same. We understand the precise goal, the dreams of these people by the consistency of their statements and behavior. Basically, nothing has changed; we are confronted with the same phenomenon as in 1915, although Armenia is a people that seeks peace and has no expansionist aims.

Azerbaijan attacked several Armenian villages on Sept. 13-14, in the astonishing silence of many Western media and political leaders. You have denounced this silence on many occasions. How do you explain this international inertia, or even indifference, to the suffering of your country? Is this entirely due to the current oil and gas issues, since the European Union has decided to import Azeri hydrocarbons to replace Russian gas in the future?

There is a lot of politics involved here; there are a lot of interests at stake. As a result, no nation or world power has any interest in the Armenian people right now. I often speak with political leaders. I tell them what I have to say, according to my role as a clergyman.

There are some forces attacking us, violating our borders; everyone knows what is going on, and, still, they let them destroy us.

When I see this international injustice being carried out, and that Christians in Armenia but also in the Middle East, in Africa and in Asia, are suffering in a complete indifference, I cannot reasonably keep silent. The term “fifth column” is used to describe a secret force that cannot really be identified. It is indeed a kind of fifth column that is currently working for the destruction of these faithful people.

All this is happening when, all over the world, all the fundamentals are being questioned — religion, belonging to a homeland, identity. … People no longer know who they are, and that’s a decisive part of the problem.

What is the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh at the moment?

Things are pretty much calm these days. But the danger on the borders remains. When the interests of two peoples [Azerbaijan and Turkey] converge, then naturally they form one single force to defeat the third, which hinders their interests. They will not stop there.

What message would you like to send to the leaders of the Western world?

I want to tell them to wake up. Be really fair. Stand up for the weak, and give them a voice. Give justice to those who are denied it. Think beyond political tactics — think of the human people who suffer. This is what we expect, especially from Europe, which is our neighbor and which shares the same Christian roots.

As part of Jewish-Christian dialogue, a joint concert was given on Sept. 4, 2021, in the Dohány Street Synagogue by the Solti Chamber Orchestra in Budapest. Hungary.

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