Police try to impede Armenian Church head’s access to war memorial

Police try to impede Armenian Church head’s access to war memorial

PanARMENIAN.Net - Police tried to stop the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, from visiting a war memorial on Tuesday, May 28 as Prime Minister Nikol PashinYan led there an official ceremony to mark the 106th anniversary of an independent Armenian republic, RFE/RL’s Armenian service reports.

The short-lived republic was officially set up on March 28, 1918 as Armenian army and militia units defeated Ottoman Turkish forces trying to occupy Yerevan and the rest of modern-day Armenia. The decisive battle was fought from May 22-29, 1918 around Sardarapat, a village about 50 kilometers west of Yerevan.

The anniversary has been a public holiday in Armenia, called Republic Day, since the Soviet collapse. The country’s current and former leaders have marked it at a memorial built near Sardarapat in the late 1960s. The official ceremonies there have traditionally been held in the morning.

Pashinyan and other top state officials visited the memorial in the afternoon apparently because it was occupied on Monday night by hundreds of antigovernment protesters demanding his resignation. The protesters led by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan spent the night there in what looked like an attempt to disrupt the anticipated ceremony. They returned to Yerevan at around noon on Tuesday after celebrating the holiday with patriotic songs and a speech delivered by Galstanyan.

Karekin and other senior clergymen arrived at Sardarapat a couple of hours later. Amateur videos shot at the scene showed them running into lines of riot police that kept them a hundred meters from a monument where Pashinian addressed officials, soldiers and border guards on the occasion.

They managed to get through the police cordon after a brief altercation with the policemen. Karekin then laid a wreath and prayed at the memorial.

In a statement released later in the day, the Echmiadzin-based Mother See of the Armenian Church deplored the “condemnable behavior” and “violent actions” of the security forces. It described the incident as “yet another manifestation of shameful and anti-national activities of the authorities.”

Pashinyan on Wednesday commented on the incident near Sardarapat, maintaining that the Catholicos approached the venue where protocol events were taking place. According to him, the head of the Armenian Church was not invited, and the government did not know that he was expecting an invitation, Sputnik Armenia reports.

Pashinyan calimed that the police only tried to clarify whether the Catholicos had arrived in order to “continue the provocative actions” of his supporters and members of the movement Tavush for the Motherland.

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