Narek Mkrtchyan, 7 The Armenian Apostolic Church Between the State and Civil Society: Challenges and Opportunities in:

Wolfram Hilz, Shushanik Minasyan (Ed.)

Armenian Developments, page 101 - 118

Perspectives of Democratization and the Role of the Civil Society

1. Edition 2019, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4287-8, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7197-7,

Series: Bonner Studien zum globalen Wandel, vol. 24

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
101 7 The Armenian Apostolic Church Between the State and Civil Society: Challenges and Opportunities Narek Mkrtchyan 1 Introduction The Armenian Apostolic Church has historically been an inseparable part of the Armenian national history and identity. The hierarchical structure of the Armenian Apostolic Church has served as the pillar securing its continuance as the only traditional institution of the Armenian reality. The demise of the Soviet order brought new opportunities for the re-engagement of the church in the social, cultural and even political spheres of the Armenian Republic. This engagement primarily counted on the traditional belief in religion and public trust in the the long-standing Armenian Apostolic Church.1 The paper presents the engagement of the Armenian Apostolic Church in different public spheres by focusing on its official cooperation with the state. This granted the church a number of privileges, which, on the one hand, are justified by the "identity savior" mission of the church throughout critical periods in history and, on the other hand, are embedded in the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia. Thanks to the endeavors of the Church, the Armenian national identity fits in with the traditional characteristics of European nations, 1 See Caucasus Research Resource Centers: Caucasus Barometer 2015 Armeavailable at: (5 March 2017). 102 e.g., common history, shared language, sense of peace and common religion.2 The institutionalization of the common religion allowed the Armenian Apostolic Church to get involved in various public processes, which would have been hardly possible without the official approval or cooperation of the ruling elite. The level of engagement by the Church and formal cooperation with the state are among the most important indicators when explaining the impact of the Church on the political and public decision-making processes in Armenia. Next, the paper calls attention to the challenges and limitations of the Church in supporting the process of democratization of the country. In that respect, the relationships between the Church, civil society and political actors are going to be examined. Considering that one of the most significant features of democratization concerns the development of a strong civil society, this study aims to understand whether the church supports dialogue between civil and political segments of society. And it finally wants to answer the research questions whether or not the Apostolic Church wants to be a mediator between civil and political segments of society and whether or not civil society would consider the Church as mediator. The political puzzle of describing the role of the Armenian Apostolic Church in supporting dialogue between civil society and government contains questions concerning both international and domestic legal frameworks. Since most of the debate will revolve only around the Armenian Apostolic Church, it is important to understand the legal framework in which the church can support the political process. In this context, a brief examination of the legal status of the Armenian Apostolic Church is enough to contend that the latter is the only religious institution in Armenia with few opportunities to participate in public and political processes. To address those research questions and to achieve the objectives semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted either online or face-to-face. The interviews were conducted with key informants from civil society and academia. The most important limitation of the research concerns the interview process. For a more comprehensive picture it would have been better to solicit the opinions of vari- 2 See Rutland, Peter: Democracy and Nationalism in Armenia, in: Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 46, No. 5, 1994, pp.839-861, p. 840. 103 ous representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, the absence of independent opinion among the clergy prevented the inclusion of such representation and should not be viewed as flawed design or methodology, but as the expression and proof of the unwillingness of clergy to speak out on the above-mentioned issues. During the interview process more than 15 bishops, archbishops and primates of various dioceses of the Armenian Church were contacted to provide answers to different questions concerning the relationship between the Church, civil society and political actors, which were repeatedly ignored or declined. 2 The State and the Apostolic Church: Mutual Institutions The independence of Armenia marked a new era in the relationship between church and state. When the independent Republic of Armenia (RA) became a member of different international organizations (e.g., Council of Europe, UN etc.), it imposed to omit certain obligations and commitments towards religious freedoms, etc. on Armenia. Moreover, the RA drafted its constitution in accordance with universal standards, which are instrumental in understanding the relationships between church and state. Subsequently, Article 8.1 of the RA Constitution guarantees Freedom of activities for all religious organizations 3, which has enabled the registration of many religious institutions in Armenia. Nonetheless, the Armenian Apostolic Church is the only religious institution whose relationship with the state is established by the 2007 Law On the Relations between the State of Armenia and The Holy Apostolic Church of Ar- . This law has its roots in Article 8.1 of the Constitution of the RA, which affirms: “The Republic of Armenia recognizes the exclusive historical mission of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church as the national church, in the spiritual life, development of the national culture 3 National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia: The Law of the Republic of Armenia on the Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Organizations, 17 June 1991, available at: (3 March 2017). 104 and preservation of the national identity of the people of Armenia.”4 Hence, the special role of the Armenian Apostolic Church in preserving the national identity and culture of Armenians5 is formally recognized. The Armenian Apostolic Church with its large number of followers (approximately 92 percent of the population of Armenia identifies with the Armenian Apostolic Church6) can have the dual function of supporting the hegemony of the ruling regime or forging a totally new hegemony.7 The cooperation of the Armenian Apostolic Church with the state can be conceptualized as cooperation with the political society. However, the engagement of the Church in the democratization processes could have, at least, involved collaboration with civil society. Consequently, the exclusive representation of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the media, education, culture, security and correctional institutions, prevents the latter from openly criticizing corruption, unjust rules of justice or government policies that limit civic activism in Armenia. Moreover, engagement of the Church in the educational processes restricts the inclusion of propriety in citizen-making processes. 3 Education and Church: Challenges to Propriety-based Citizenship through which individuals are transformed into active citizens is the educational system. Educational institutions, e.g., public schools and universities, have immense potential to forge citizens. The formation and development 4 The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia (with the Amendments of 27 November 2005), available at: (25 February 2017). 5 A similar pattern emerged for the Georgian Orthodox Church too, when the state by the Constitutional Agreement simultaneously recognized the special role of the Orthodox Church in Georgia and freedom of belief and religions. 6 See U.S. Embassy in Armenia: US's International Freedom Report 2016, Armenia, available at: (20 June 2018) 7 In this context, the idea of hegemony is understood through the prism of Antonio Gramsci's theoretical concepts. See Mkrtchyan, Narek: Gramsci in Armenia: State-Church Relations in the Post-Soviet Armenia, in: Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2015, pp. 163-176, p. 166. 105 of civil society cannot be accomplished without civic education geared to develop civil-society thinking. However, for the successful functioning of such educational mechanisms it is extremely important to grow a society-centered vision of education. The most vivid obstacle and challenge to society-centered education is the existence of state-centered educational institutions, where secularity might be subordinated. In this regard, it is important to consider the official cooperation between state and church. On September 22nd 2002 the government of Armenia and the Armenian Catholicos Garegin II, the chief bishop, signed an agreement on adding a new man the curriculum.8 Besides other provisions, this agreement allows the clergy to hold regular meetings with pupils and teachers. In response to criticisms by international and local organizations and NGOs, the church and government representatives invoked the justification that this is a part of the Armenian national education because the Church has historically been an inseparable part of Armenian society. In contrast, the justification of national education had already been criticized and rejected in many European countries since the 19th century. This quote by W. Humboldt is an excellent case in point: “In fine, if education is only to develop a man's faculties, without regard to giving human nature any special civic character, there is no need for the State's interference. Among men who are really free, every form of industry becomes more rapidly improved – all the arts flourish more gracefully – all the sciences extend their range.”9 In the case of Armenia, the idea of national education is overemphasized, with the consequence that it prevails in the History of the Armenian Church textbook. The latter propagates not only the doctrine of the Armenian Church and ideologies of Christianity, but also supports state and national ideologies. For example, the textbook puts forward the idea that national sovereignty requires na- 8 See Etchmiadzin Monthly: Agreement between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Government of the Republic of Armenia, Echmiadzin, 2002, p. 37 [in Armenian]. 9 Humboldt, Wilhelm von: The Limits of State Action, Indianapolis, 1972, p. 53. 106 tional values and norms including the values of the Armenian Apostolic Church.10 Thus, the Church, by way of school interference, is afforded the exclusive opportunity to be a part of the early socialization process that an individual undergoes in childhood.11 In fact, this is about a disciplinary production, through which the moral judgment of Armenian children vis-à-vis towards truth and wrong beliefs can be intermediated by the official ideologies of the Church and religion, which, in turn, contains the risks of transforming future generations into subjects.12 For the continuation of the hegemony of a ruling regime, it is necessary to take control of citizenmaking processes and to educate future generations in accordance with the principles of state reproduction, in which the Armenian Church defines its unique mission. For example, in the textbook of the Armenian Church History for 9th graders, one comes across a text presenting the Apostolic Church as an important component of the Armenian political society from the 19th century to modern times.13 To this en heroic and diplomission of the clergy leading to it being active in various national liberation movements, i.e., as for example participation of the church in national liberation movements in the time period extending from 1890s to 1910s or during the Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) liberation movement and war in 1988-1994.14 The above-mentioned developments represent a challenge for free and rational thinking. To gagement of the church in education processes can prevent schoolone school teacher interviewed responded as follows: 10 See Mkrtchyan, Narek: Gramsci in Armenia: State-Church Relations in the Post-Soviet Armenia, in: Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2015, PP. 163-176, p. 169. 11 See Berger, Peter Ludwig & Luckmann, Thomas: The Social Construction of Reality, Harmondsworth, 1967, p. 150. 12 See Mkrtchyan, Narek: Gramsci in Armenia: State-Church Relations in the Post-Soviet Armenia, in: Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2015, pp. 163-176, p. 170. 13 See ibid., p. 169. 14 See Ghukasyan, Armen et al.: History of Armenian Church, in: Hovahnnisyan, Petros et al. (eds.), Public School 9th Grade Text Book, Yerevan, 2013, pp. 6-11, 95-98. 107 “The textbook is dangerous for the future generation, because it creates barriers to critical thinking; it cannot support the development of civic ideas and cannot teach schoolchildren the mechanisms of being active citizens, but we, teachers, have no choice but to use the textbook and teach the subject established by the state.”15 So, the cooperation of the church and state in the educational sector challenges the vital function of education, which, in the Durkheimian sense, is the transformation of the young people from a socially unformed child into a social being capable of functioning in society.16 Of course, for regimes with tendencies to hold on to power, it is unacceptable to have free-thinking citizens and civility-based values. Nevertheless, a government with democratic tendencies should guarantee civility and civic education, on the one hand, and keep schools free from political and religious influence, on the other.17 4 The Apostolic Church as Legitimizer of Political Processes Before examining the opportunities of the church to support the democratization process of the RA, it is important to first discuss the obstacles and challenges that democratization faces when seeking the support of the Church. Again, the most vivid obstacles stem from the official hegemonic cooperation between the ruling elite and the Armenian Apostolic Church, which seriously limits the engagement of the Church in democratization processes. One of the key components of democracy is the functioning of the representative political system through free and fair elections. Elections should be an inseparable part of contemporary democratization processes. In this regard, it is integral to grasp the position of the Armenian Apostolic Church in those processes. It is obvious 15 Personal Interview, Yerevan, 20 February 2017. 16 See Meyer, Heinz-Dieter: Civil Society and Education: The Return of an Idea, in: Meyer, Heinz-Dieter & Lowe Boyd, William (eds.): Education between States, Markets and Civil Society: Comparative Perspectives, London, 2001, pp. 13-34, p. 14. 17 See Meyer, Heinz-Dieter: Educational Autonomy in a Civil Society: A Model of Checks and Balances, in: Meyer, Heinz-Dieter & Lowe Boyd, William (eds.): Education between States, Markets and Civil Society: Comparative Perspectives, London, 2001, pp. 119-136, p. 115. 108 that behind the obstacles of democratization in post-Soviet areas are the unfair presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections. Hence, the question arises here, whether the leading Church, which has millions of followers, is in a position to condemn unfair elections in favor of democratization. To provide more or less comprehensive responses to this question, one could take a glance at the historical experiences of other countries. For example, the Catholic Church in communist Poland played a crucial role in forging the opposition against the regime and fostering civil society in support of democracy.18 So, we can argue that the Polish church was a part of civil society. The picture is different in the case of Armenia. Since the independence of Armenia the Apostolic Church has been engaged, directly or indirectly, in the political processes of the country. To put it more precisely, the power of the Church has functioned in the sphere of legitimization of certain political processes or the tenure of certain leaders and regimes. This practice derives from the Armenian royal tradition when the Catholics of all Armenians recognized the power of kings and took part in the coronation ceremony of kings. Similarly, after presidential or parliamentary elections, independent of the fact if they were fair or not, the leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church conferred the official statement of the Holy See. Arguably, the role of the Church is not restricted by its ritualistic and symbolic activity, because the blessing of the President by the Catholics has a decisive significance on the legitimacy of elections.19 Though the constitution defines that the church shall be separate from the state in the Republic of Armenia some top representatives of the Armenian Apostolic church try to influence certain political processes. One of the most recent cases concerns Vanadzor's municipal elections held on October 2nd 2016, when three opposition parties, having gained 18 of the 31 seats in the Council of Elders 18 See Górski, Eugeniusz: Civil Society, Pluralism and Universalism, Polish Philosophical Studies, VIII, Washington D.C., 2007, p. 25. 19 See Mkrtchyan, Narek: Gramsci in Armenia: State-Church Relations in the Post-Soviet Armenia, in: Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2015, pp. 163-176, p. 167. 109 left the leading Republican Party only with 13 council seats.20 However, despite the insufficient number of votes the ruling Republican candidate for mayor gained the highest number of votes in a secret ballot. In response, three opposition parties decided to boycott the Vanadzor municipal council sessions in order to prevent it from ratifying different policies. To get out of this complicated situation the petitioned the church for help . The Church was swift to respond. During Christmas Holy Mass the leader of the Diocese of Gugark, Archbishop Seboug Chouldjian, publicly called upon Vanadzor city council opposition members to cooperate and join forces in support of the Republican Mayor.21 The announcement by the archbishop was highly criticized by the opposition parties, which tried to remind the clergy of the separation of church and state. 5 The Church and Regime-Backed Oligarchs Another challenge to the church's engagement in democratization processes deals with the cooperation between regime-backed oligarchs and church leaders. The church-building activity seems to enhence the reputation of certain oligarchs during election campaigns. For example, during the re-branding of his discredited reputation in the wake of the 2017 parliamentary elections, the ruling regime-backed oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan has created a film dedicated to his life in an attempt to win voters for the Tsarukyan alliparty. The film begins with a scene of a church built by him followed by scenes depicting his religiosity and glorification of his church-building mission by several top leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church.22 Thus, aside from religiosity, oligarchs have po- 20 issolution of Vanadzor Council of Elders, in: Panorama, 13 December 2016, available at: - -to-initiate-dissolutionof-Vanadzor-Council-of-Elders/1693713 (1 March 2017). 21 See Stepanyan, Nare: The Spiritual Leaders Should not Interven Political Processes, in: Radio Free Yerevan, 7 January 2017, available at: http://www. (10 March 2017), [In Armenian]. 22 See The man who constructs; Gagik Tsarukyan, Part 1 [Mard. Wory karucume: Gagik Tsarukyan. Mas 1], available at: (10 March 2017). 110 litical aspirations, i.e., for most oligarchs who want to play a key political role, religiosity is an important value.23 Another noteworthy example concerns the most scandalous corruption incident of 2013 with the participation of former Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan (now the Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission) and the archbishop of the Ararat Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Navasard Kchoyan, who with the help of businessman Ashot Sukiasyan (currently imprisoned) had registered an offshore company in Cyprus worth around 10 million US dollars.24 This case was interpreted as the most scandalous corruption allegation of the year and as one of the key challenges to Armenia's economic development and democratization by Freedom House's Nation in Transit 2014 annual report.25 6 Media and Church Another important privilege bestowed upon to the Armenian Apostolic Church concerns the mass media. The Apostolic church is the only religious institution in Armenia to have a public TV channel Shoghakat propagating Christian values, ethics and morality and pursuing the aim to cover Armenian and world cultures.26 Indeed, it is a very powerful tool to have influence on the consciousness of the people. The media serves as a great source of power in order to shape or influence public opinion or even to create new public opinion. Various TV programs dedicated to the Armenian Apostolic Church's doctrine and history tend to give consent to approve and find common sense in the ideologies of the church. At first glance, such communication with the public is nec- 23 See Antonyan, Yulia: , in: Antonian, Yulia (ed.) Transformation of Social Structures in Pots-Soviet Armenia and Georgia, Yerevan, 2016, pp. 110-174, p. 159. 24 See Davtyan, Ararat & Baghdasaryan, Edik & Aghalaryan, Kristine: Cyprus Troika. Who 'Stripped' Businessman Paylak Hayrapetyan of His Assets?, in Hetq, 29 May 2013, available at: (8 April 2017). 25 See Freedom House: Nation in Transition, Armenia, 2014, available at: (4 April 2017). 26 See Website of "Shoghakat" TV Company, available at: https://shoghakat. am/en/site/about (10 April 2017). 111 essary for attracting public participation in various democratic processes. However, the church-owned media do not make effort in order to provide space for nurturing rational and critical thinking, which could go against the ruling regime. Shoghakat TV programs are mostly religious, cultural and social in content mostly echoing the interests and demands of political rather than civil society. Speaking further on the topic of Shoghakat TV, one interviewee from Yerevan State University takes the position that, “[…] if Shoghakat is a cultural TV station, then why does it not prepare any TV program on the newly developing ‘culture of civic activism’ in Armenia? The answer is that because this would be regarded by government as a step against the ruling elite, which in turn would get their license revoked.”27 Nevertheless, it could be argued that the pavilion program series called Third Millenium is the only Shoghakat undertaking with a liberal format, which allows for more or less open public debate on different social, educational, cultural and even political issues. Despite the fact that the company places emphasis on cultural content as part of its mission and activities, it is obvious that religious TV program series (25) dominate public (10) and cultural (15) programs.28 7 Church vs. Civic Activism The policies shaped jointly by the Armenian Apostolic Church and the state would hardly allow the church to publicly criticize the government for corruption, monopolistic behavior or injustice. Taking into consideration the institutional and cultural legacy and the legal standing of the church, the indifference of the Armenian Apostolic Church can be defined as nothing else than a harmful, damaging inactivity. It would be wrong to say that the Armenian Apostolic Church is fully isolated from civil society. During many civic protests especially before or after police brutality against activists the church surprisingly sent clergy to those locations. A case in point is the Electric Yerevan civic protest in 2015, when clergy 27 Personal Interview, Yerevan, 20 March 2017. 28 See Website of "Shoghakat" TV Company, available at: https://shoghakat. am/en/site/about (10 April 2017). 112 came together with intellectuals to form a human wall between the two conflicting sides. However, this is similar to working visits that aim to ease tension between the ruling elite and civil society or in Gramscian terminology to form a historic bloc between the oppressors and the oppressed. The church's involvement in civic protests is restricted to a symbolic meaning, because there is no precedent that the church has utilized its resources to support the interests and rights of civil society. Vahram Toqmajian, a historian, school teacher and opposition politician, responding to the question has the mediation or the mission of the Armenian Apostolic Church supported the interests of civil society during social “If during Electric Yerevan civic protest the ruling authorities could manage to create the impression about the impartiality of clergy, then during the Sasna Tsrer protest they faced absolute indifference. Before that, in March 2008, the church had received a similar slap on the face. If you recall, the Church leader had tried to meet with the first President of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, but his request was rejected. This is logical. The church is where its presence will not harm the ruling elite. In other situations, it is similar to American thriller movies when the police is always late, when all the persons involved are shot to death. If the Church wanted to mediate, then it would have prevented the bloodshed on the square, rather than arranging for meetings afterwards.”29 Moreover, this fact is well perceived by the citizens. It was not by accident that during the Khorenatsi civil rallies in support of Sasna Tsrer , who had stormed and occupied one of the headquarters of Yerevan Police garrisons, the public refused the mediation of the Armenian Apostolic Church. According to the Human Rights Watch Report of July 29, 2016 Armenian police used excessive force against peaceful protesters on Khorenatsi Street30 during which one could hardly find any clergy alongside ordinary citizens. Moreover, when Armen Melkonyan, a priest from the diocese in Maastricht, Netherlands, participated in a protest in support of Sasna 29 Personal interview with Vahram Toqmajyan, Yerevan, 8 February 2017. 30 See Human Rights Watch: Armenia: Excessive Police Force at Protest, available at: (9 April 2017). 113 Tsrer in front of the RA Embassy to the Netherlands, the leaders of the Armenian Apostolic church recalled him.31 After the death of Artur Sargsyan or the bread bearer nicknamed (Hac Berogh), who had been charged with breaking the police cordon to take food to the members of Sasna Tsrer, dozens of citizens asked the bishop of Yeghvard to hold a requiem mass in his memory. The bread bearer lost his life on March 16, 2017 consequent to a hunger strike against the ruling regime during the most active period of the pre-election campaign. However, the bishop of Yeghvard refused that request. Ironically, this action by a representative of the Armenian Apostolic Church is understandable considering that Sasun Mikayelyan the leader of a leading opposition party of Armenia, Civil Contract was among the organizers. This case is not an exception, because Armenian civil society has already witnessed the unwillingness of the Church to support civic activism. Yet another example Save Teghut Civic Initiative, launched in 2008 to pressure the government, e.g., the Ministry of Nature Protection and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, to revoke the approval of mining activities for the extraction of copper-molybdenum in Teghut (flora and fauna rich forest in Lori marz).32 While the public heavily criticized the concession by the government of a 25-year exploitation license to the Armenian Copper Project (81% of ACP shares belong to the Liechtensteinregistered Vallex Group), the leader of the Diocese of Gugark, Archbishop Seboug Chouldjian, in a public debate on that topic, bluntly supported the Group's right to exploit Teghut.33 All mentioned have profound roots. To prepare the grounds for the reproduction of its apparatus, regimes usually use the most trusted institutions of society. To put in other words, it is about the creation 31 See Complaint about Armenian Government Strikes a Chord with the Faithful, in: Huffington Post, 9 January 2017, available at: (9 April 2017). 32 For more details see Paturyan, Yevgenya Jenny & Gevorgyan, Valentina: Civic Activism as a Novel Component of Armenian Civil Society, Yerevan, 2016, p. 34. 33 The speech of the leader of the Diocese of Gugark [Gugaratc temi aragnordi khosqy], 17 January 2012, available at: =ly9vxJHxb64 (10 April 2017). 114 of hegemony, which requires building consensus in society. Hence, to create common sense, the government uses the potential of the Armenian Apostolic church. The process of hegemony formation in Armenia imposes itself upon key social and state institutions, e.g., schools, army and prisons. As already mentioned, starting from 2003 a new subject, called History of the Armenian Church has been integrated in the curriculum of Armenian public schools. The analysis of textbook contents show that it is meant to propagate both the Christian doctrine of the Apostolic Church and the principles of state ideologies.34 Moreover, the Apostolic Church of Armenia participates not only in the public socialization processes but also supports national security. The latter mission of the church was set up by the 2000 charter signed between the Church and the state, according to which clergy are allowed to regularly meet with soldiers to provide them with Christian-patriotic education. Next, the Armenian Apostolic Church is the only religious institution in Armenia to have the right of holding regular meetings with prisoners in correctional institutions. This is another important process in support of regime hegemony through the formation by men of the conclusion of a pact between the oppressors and the oppressed. As a recompenzation for the services of the church, in 2011 the RA Parliament approved the statutory amendments, which exempted the apostolic church one of the largest landowners of the country from property and land taxes. This example is by far more than sufficient in order to understand the attitude towards the political regime. 8 Can the Armenian Apostolic Church be Considered as a Mediator Between the Political and Civil Society? The relationship between state and church discussed above supports the argument that the engagement of the church as mediator between political players and civil society is very restricted. However, considering the social and cultural potential of the Church and public trust, one can claim that there is still room for cooperation. The whole question relies upon the mechanisms of engagement. One 34 See Mkrtchyan, Narek: Gramsci in Armenia: State-Church Relations in the Post-Soviet Armenia, in: Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2015, pp. 163-176, p. 169. 115 civil society expert in Armenia, AUA professor Jenny Paturyan responded to the question of how to engage the potential of the Armenian Apostolic Church in opening new channels for dialogue between civil society and political players as follows: “Trust is a precious resource, which is not very common in the Armenian society. The Church has it. It can use it for a good cause. For example, a person who is trusted can play a role of mediator in a conflict. The same can be said about an institution. Of course, it is important that the mediator remains neutral and makes an honest effort to help conflicting parties to reconcile, search for a compromise, etc. and not just take the side of one or the other. So, if the Church remains strictly neutral, it can use the trust it has to help civil society and political players discuss whatever issues they might want to discuss. If civil society actors suspect that the Church is too close to the political players, they will not trust the Church as mediator.”35 The last sentence of this response relates to one of the questions examined in the present paper whether civil society wants the Armenian Apostolic Church to become a mediator or not. The privileges of the church officially bestowed by the state hinder civil society to believe in the mediating mission of the church. It is more than obvious from the responses given by civil society representatives that they want to rely on the support of the Armenian Apostolic church in launching a dialogue with political actors. Moreover, all the interviewees from civil society did not express any penchant to consider the Armenian Apostolic Church as a mediator. For example, one of civic activists provided the following answer to the question on the possibility of engaging the church in civil-political society dialogue: “No, the absence of dialogue is not due to the absence of a mediator. We, as civil society, do need the help of the church. Armenia is a secular state and the church should have no space in politics. Secondly, we cannot let the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has its place in the Armenia oligarchic system, be a mediator between us and the government.”36 Another respondent from civil society argued: 35 E-mail Interview with Jenny Paturyan, Yerevan, 16 February 2017. 36 E-mail Interview, Yerevan, 18 February 2017. 116 “The Armenian Church serves only the interests of the ruling party, hence all attempts by the church to intervene in civic movements pursue the concrete aim to destroy civic initiatives, which at some point could prove a serious threat to the ruling regime.”37 Obviously, the church does not enjoy the trust of civil society. There are quite a few explanations for that. The first explanation lies in the official cooperation with political actors while the second has much more profound roots. The establishment of successful cooperation between the church and the active segments of society requires experienced practices. The Armenian Apostolic Church in contrast, for example, to Poland has not been a driving force in nationalistic movements and despite its huge potential could not become a strong advocate of an independent Armenian nation state.38 However, according to J. Paturyan, it is still possible to rebuild the relationships between the church, civil society and politicians on a micro level, with small tangible steps, which she explains as follows: “Another important element of the Armenian Apostolic Church is that it has a dense network that reaches most corners of Armenia, most settlements, many families that are otherwise disconnected both from politics and from civil society. I think the Church is in a unique position to know what some of the most disadvantaged, detached and disillusioned people think, know, fear, worry about, want, etc. The Church can open many doors that are closed to both politicians and civil society. I think the cooperation of church, civil society, and political actors can be particularly fruitful on the local level, targeting specific communities with specific issues. For example, environmental activists are worried about a garbage pit in a particular village, the local priest gets the community mobilized and organizes a cleanup day, the local government provides the trucks needed to remove the garbage.”39 37 E-mail Interview, Yerevan, 18 February 2017. 38 See Rutland, Peter: Democracy and Nationalism in Armenia, in: Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 46, No. 5, 1994, p. 840. 39 E-mail Interview with Jenny Paturyan, Yerevan, 16 February 2017. 117 Indeed, micro level or local cooperation can pave the ground for further cooperation, but business links between leaders of the church and Armenian oligarchs and their shared interests constitute the major obstacles to such cooperation. Of all the interviews, only one interviewee, the journalist and environmental activist T. Yenoqyan, criticized the Armenian Apostolic Church for not supporting environmentalists who struggled for saving the public good the pristine environment of Armenia from exploitation: “The Armenian Apostolic Church sent its ‘spiritual descents' not only to where civic movements and protests were taking place, but also encouraged them to publicly support mining companies. Let’s remember the primate of the Diocese of Gugark, who supported the interests of Vallex Group, during the protests against the right of the latter to exploit Teghut.”40 9 Conclusion To conclude, the Armenian Apostolic Church has the full potential to serve as an open channel for dialogue between political actors and civil society. However, this can be achieved only by overcoming the abovementioned challenges. Practically, the church can support democratic decision-making processes, which cannot occure without the willingness of the church. It requires well-developed mechanisms that would concurrently support both the interests of the church and civil society and do of course not harm official cooperation with the government. The rewarding cooperation with the political segment of society prevents the Armenian Apostolic church from being a supporter of dialogue between the ruling regime and civil society. Another dimension concerns the willingness of civil society to consider the church as mediator and supporter. In fact, the shortage of civility and civil society thinking among Armenians has its roots in the hegemonic relationship between state and church. To this end it is necessary to improve the reputation of the church, by preventing the ruling regime from perceiving the church as a voter-mobilizer , policy-legitimizer and hegemonymaker . 40 E-mail Interview with Tehmine Yenoqyan, Yerevan, 9 February 2017.

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The development of societies during and after periods of authoritarian or totalitarian rule is among the most interesting research topics in social sciences. On the one hand, the analysis is directed at why, when and how societies resist tyrannies and what ultimately leads to the downfall of seemingly invincible regimes. On the other hand, once such authoritarian regimes unravel, it is important to comprehend how societal groups organize themselves and how they try to influence political processes. In the case of the former Soviet republics, this transition was a complex and incalculable development that led to very heterogeneous political and societal situations. Due to the territorial situation of Armenia – wedged between the predominantly hostile neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan, in the shadow of hegemonial Russia and Iran – the domestic Armenian development options seemed limited for decades. However, the transformation of the civil society in the Republic of Armenia finally paved its way slowly but constantly in recent years. The aim of this volume is to shed light on the ongoing discussion on civil society in Armenia in the context of democratization and to examine its potential for democratic consolidation. The perspectives recount diverse facets of the Armenian civic landscape, as well as the recent processes of democratization. The contributions from predominantly Armenian experts focus on the necessary structures and important actors for an understanding and characterization of the current situation of the Armenian civil society.