The Holy City and the
Church of St. Etchmiadzin
By Gevork Nazaryan
from the X th century and onward, Armenia and all of Anatolia, Caucasus
and Near East were flooded by hordes of nomadic barbarians such as, Seljuk
Turks and later on Mongols and Tatars. Many ancient civilizations of Anatolia
and Near East, that had managed to survive the assimilation of large empires
such as Byzantium and Sasanid Persia, were destroyed and assimilated by
the Seljuk Turk tribes. The Seljuk were utmost ruthless and barbaric. In
Armenia’s Syunik province, in the monastery of Tatev, they alone destroyed
more than 10,000 priceless, illuminated manuscripts, centuries of knowledge
and research were destroyed in one large blaze, by the barbaric Seljuks.
St. Etchmiadzin, as other parts of Armenia were being abandoned, by large
number of Armenian families, who were forced to leave their homes because
the treats from the nomads. The migration took a larger aspect in the XI
th and XII th centuries. Many families fled to neighboring Armenia Minor
(Lesser Armenia) and Cilician Armenia, were they found a new kingdom of
Cilician Armenia. The Bagratouni dynasty which ruled most of Armenia from
the IX th to XI th century also moved and exchanged its possessions with
lands in Anatolia and Cilician Armenia. The Catholicos seat, was also moved
from St. Etchmiadzin to the newly formed principality of Cilicia, which
in the XII th century became a sovereign and independent kingdom, headed
by powerful dynasties of Rubinian, Hetumian and Lusingnan dynasties.
The abandonment of the seat of the
Mother Church of St. Etchmiadzin, lasted untill the year 1441 A.D. when
a council was held in St. Etchmiadzin headed by Hovannes Hermonetsi and
Tovma Metsopetsi. The council decided that the Holy Seat that was established
many centuries ago by St. Gregory the Illuminator, must be reestablished
in St. Etchmiadzin’s Mother Church. Many monasteries in St. Etchmiadzin
and other parts of Armenia were repaired and renewed. The revival which
began in the XV th century continued well into the XVII th century. The
revivification was disrupted by the invasion of Shah Abbas of Persia into
Eastern Armenia, which at that time was becoming a battle ground for the
Persians and Ottoman Turks, each of who wanted to establish a control of
Armenia. The Perso-Turk wars that lasted until late XVIII th century devastated
and effected large areas of Armenia. Shah Abbas during his invasion had
forcefully resettled hundred of thousands of Armenians, from Armenia to
instability and constant invasions and killings of Armenia population,
finally ended in the early part of the XIX th century. In the year 1828
A.D. the Russian regular army along with many Armenia volunteer fighters
liberated Eastern Armenia, along with St. Etchmiadzin from the Persian
rule. The conquests were solidified by the treaty of Turkmenchay, in which
the Persian side recognized the fact that it had no claims on Eastern Armenia,
and promised to help resettle and help return those Armenians living in
Iran back to their homeland in Eastern Armenia. St. Etchmiadzin became
part of the newly created Yerevan Province, of the vast Russian Empire.
From the second part of the XIX th century St. Etchmiadzin began to once
again grow in its population size and the city area grew, with many new
suburbs being added to the city. Many new schools were opened, and St.
Etchmiadzin became one of the most important cultural centers of Armenia.
The revivification of St. Etchmiadzin continued well into the early part
of the XX th century.
The chaos that spread throughout
Western Armenia, during the Great Genocide of 1915, when nearly 2,000,000
Armenians were killed in a systematic attempt to wipe out the Armenian
Nation as a whole by the Turkish government, hadn’t yet affected Eastern
Armenia, particularly St. Etchmiadzin. But large number of fleeing refugees
those who managed to escape, due to the help of the Armenian fighters and
Russian regular army during the evacuation of Van, told the horrible stories
of the Genocide. The Turks having bloodied and obliterated all of Western
Armenia and Cilician Armenia of its Armenian population, wanted to do the
same in Eastern Armenia, and "finish the job" and once and for all "solve"
the Armenian Question and their plan of mass extermination of the Armenian
people. The Turks were masters at finding the right moment for such an
act, they did the same during World War I, in the year 1915 when the world
was in turmoil and war, they quickly put into effect their horrific and
barbarous deed of Genocide. The same turmoil was now in Eastern Armenia,
the Russian Front had collapsed, because of the Russian Revolution of 1917,
Armenia was overflowed with hundred of thousands of survivors of the Genocide.
The chaos of the fall of the Russian Empire and order had terrible affect
on Armenia. The Turks having seen the right moment for their barbarous
plan, in early 1918 moved on Eastern Armenia, their advance was seen as
unstoppable. But the Armenian nation having seen and felt the terrible
deeds of the Turk, united under one call: "In Arms", everyone joined into
the effort to stop the bloody Turks and check their advance. Armenian volunteers
from Europe and Americas, as well as other parts of the world joined along
side their kinsmen to fight for the preservation of the Armenian nation,
which was on the brink of extinction. The Turks had almost reached the
Holy City of St. Etchmiadzin. Armenian regiments from Yerevan rushed to
save the Holiest of Hollis, St. Etchmiadzin. The decisive battle took place
near the town of Sardarapat. Every Armenian knew that if the battle was
lost, the fate of extinction through systematic Genocide awaited the nation.
The battle began at dawn with the Turks charging up into the Armenian positions.
The Armenians, stood their ground and the Turks having seen the tenacity
and will, first stopped and slowly began to retreat, the Armenians threw
a wide counter offensive in which the Turks began to flee in unorganized
fashion, the Armenians with vengeance in their hearts cut down many Turks
with bayonets and rifle fire. The Turks were so surprised by the Armenian
blow, they were chased hundreds of miles by the Armenian troops. On their
retreat they were constantly attacked and harassed by Armenian partisans
and guerrilla warfare.
Battle of Sardarapat became the turning point in Armenia history. The point
of rebirth and national will for survival. The horrific plan of the Turks
to exterminate the Armenian people and "get them off their way" had failed.
In fact Armenia was reborn and the Republic of Armenia was proclaimed on
May 28, 1918. Born out of ashes of Genocide and the heroic Battle of Sardarapat,
Republic of Armenia, comprised only the lands of Eastern Armenia, Western
Armenia and Cilician Armenia still being under the occupation of the Turks.
The treaty of Sevres on August 10, 1920, in which the Turkish government
recognized and signed the passing of Western Armenia to the Republic of
Armenia. The Allies assured the Armenians, that the return of the occupied
lands, will take place which would have been a very small remission for
the Great Genocide and nearly 2,000,000 innocent victims who were martyred
in their historic Homeland during the Genocide, but the empty promises
by the Allies and their unwillingness to follow up and resolve the injustice,
by political pressure on Turks to do what they had signed in the Treaty
of Sevres, and to apply force if needed be, which the Armenians were originally
promised to receive, a British or American mandate with British or American
troops safeguarding the actual Turkish hand over of Western Armenia was
never actually done, except for the great efforts by President Woodrow
Wilson, who himself mapped the lands of Western Armenia to be passed to
the Republic of Armenia and his stand against the unwilling Congress and
icelationism policy, to pass the mandate into effect. The promises only
remained a vague pledge and a great disappointment and a deceiving exploit
of the Armenian people by the Allies for their own purposes and interests
only in the game of realpolitik. To this day Holy Mt. Ararat, which can
been seen from St. Etchmiadzin and is the symbol of the Armenian people
is still falsly called Aghri Dagh by the Turks, it is still in Turkish
hands. Each glance upon the Biblical and graceful Mt. Ararat gives an agonizing
and tormenting feeling and arouses painful memories to an Armenian living
on the other side of river Arax.
The Soviet rule which was forcefully
proclaimed in Armenia by the XI th Red Army, was established on November
29, 1920. Republic of Armenia, which was promised by the Allies help to
fight Bolshevism received none what so ever. Armenian government seeing
betrayal by the European powers, accepted and signed the document of passing
of rule to the Soviets. Soviet Socialist Armenian Republic was setup. St.
Etchmiadzin and Christianity as a whole was viewed by the atheistic ideology
of Communists as a rival "organization" or force which could control the
people and possible oppose the spread of Communism in Armenia. Many Monasteries
and Churches were being shut down and in some cases even demolished. St.
Etchmiadzin’s Mother Church and the Seat of Catholicos in a great wave
of protests by the people of Armenia and the Armenian population living
abroad was speared. The Catholicois of St. Etchmiadzin which presided during
the years of Soviet rule managed to keep the faith and spirit of Christianity
to some extent in the Armenian people.
of the biggest disappointments that came out of the Soviet rule and Cold
War, was the separation of the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia
from the Mother Church and the Holy See of St. Etchmiadzin in 1956. The
separation, was a blow to the unity of the Holy Apostolic Church of Armenia.
In 1988, the wave and movement of democracy and an outcry of freedom for
the Armenians of Artsakh was sweeping Armenia. Religious freedom and Christian
faith, was gradually being restored in the face of collapsing Soviet Union.
In August 21, 1991 independent Armenia
was proclaimed and was reborn out of the ashes of the collapsing Soviet
Empire. President of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosian, elected
by a popular vote in the democratic elections was blessed by one of the
longest reigning and most favored Catholicos of all time, Catholicos
Vazgen I. Religious freedom and the right of worship, were once
again restored. The people could freely worship God, without being harassed
or questioned for it. The Holy Apostolic Church of Armenia, also made grate
moves toward the reunification of the two wings of Apostolic Christendom,
with the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. Also under Vazgen I
the preparations began for the momentous celebration of the 1700 th Anniversary
of the official establishment of Christendom, first in the world to be
established as a state religion, in Armenia, by St. Gregory the Illuminator.
In the fall of 1994 after a nearly
40 year reign ( from 1955), Catholicos Vazgen I passed away, forever being
remembered by the people of Armenia as the outspoken protector of Christianity
in Armenia against the Communist regime. Catholicos Vazgen I who also did
much in reestablishment of St. Etchmiadzin as the Holy Center of All of
Armenians, he was also credited with his effort to save the treasures of
St. Etchmiadzin, such as the Holy relics, icons and treasures of the church
that the Church accumulated throughout its 1700 year history, by establishing
the museum of the Mother Church of St. Etchmiadzin were the treasures were
kept and displayed to the public. Vazgen I ‘s successor became Karekin
I, who was previously Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia in April
of 1995, elected by the Church Council held in St. Etchmiadzin. The move
brought closer together and united the Church of the Great House of Cilicia
to the Mother Church. Karekin I, highly educated and an author of many
religious books, was greatly respected by the people of Armenia and the
Armenians living in Diaspora. He began his reign with visits to the heroic
people of Artsakh and different Armenian communities in the Diaspora. On
June 29, 1999 His Holiness Karekin I,
passed away in Yerevan after fighting a long battle against a fatal disease.
Karekin I, headed the Committee for the preparations of the celebration
of the 1700 th Anniversary, in the year 2001. The year 2001 will mark a
great memorial year of the Holy Apostolic Church of Armenia, which throughout
its long 1700 year history, longest in any State Church history, remained
faithful and devoted in its faith to God. It fought wars like Vardanats
and Vahanants for the preservation of its religion. The Armenian people
created a rich and unequaled culture of Khachkar (Cross Stones) and Illuminated
Manuscripts. The beautiful churches and architectural marvels such as the
Mother Church of St. Etchmiadzin, Zvartnots Church, St. Hripsime and St.
Gayane Churches in the city of St. Etchmiadzin, the Church of the Holy
Cross in Aghtamar, the Gandzasar Church in Artsakh, and many, many other
churches, monasteries and monuments which were erected by the Armenian
people were the sign of their belief in God even in the face of massacres,
bloodbaths and genocides. After all these barbaric acts conducted upon
the Armenian people at different times by different tyrannical and bloodthirsty
tribes and peoples, made the Armenian people even stronger and even more
enduring and withstanding the test of time, throughout thousands of years.
On october 27, 1999 in the Holy See of Echmiadzin, delegates of the
National Synod elected Primate of the Ararat (Patriarchal) Diocese of the
Armenia Apostolic Church, Archbishop Karekin Nersissian to become the 132nd
Catholicos of All Armenians. His Holiness Karekin
II Nersissian with his positive outlook has pledged to continue
the work of his predecessors and serve the Armenian Church to the best
of his abilities with the help of God All Mighty.