ARMENIAN PROTESTANTS

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12.04.2010

ARMENIAN PROTESTANTS

   

Tigran Ghanalanyan

The origin of the Protestantism in Armenia is connected with a number of historical circumstances. In new times they engineered vigorous activity in Armenia. Of course, the dissemination of the Protestant movement in Armenia took place gradually but in the 19th century it took a mass character and as a result the Protestants really succeeded. From Protestant groups the most widespread among the Armenians was the Evangelical.

It is characteristic that the missionaries did not belong to any structure managed from one centre. They just served to the interests of different states. In this regard Raffi wrote that the English missionaries were much more dangerous that the Americans1. Thus, studying the missionaries’ activity, alongside with the confessional and clerical side, the political actions implemented by the missionaries should also be covered. The missionaries’ activity found fertile ground among the Western Armenians which was connected with the recent tough legal, political and economic situation.

If Armenian Catholics were called “franks” then the Protestants were called “ingliz”.

If the dissemination of Catholicism among Armenians was conditioned by the Rome factor then the penetration of Protestantism was carried out mainly by Anglo-American missionaries. The conversion to Protestantism was accompanied by cultivating the English-speaking Western civilizational values, which provided enough grounds for calling Armenian Protestants “ingliz”.

The forming of Protestantism in Armenia

Since the middle of the 19th century Armenian Evangelical Movement had been disseminated across the Western Armenia, Cilicia, and other regions of the Ottoman Empire populated by the Armenians. On 1 June, 1846 Armenian Protestant were recognized as separate “millet” (nation). Since 1860s Armenian Evangelical Churches had been arranged in different parts of Turkey – Central Union, Unions of Butania, Eastern Cilicia2.

This, of course, affected the power of Armenian Patriarchate and influence sphere, and that process was in tune with the national policy of the Ottoman Empire. But the recognizing Catholic and Protestant Armenians as separates millets had also had a negative effect for Turkey. Taking advantage of the existence of the Catholic and Protestant communities foreign states interfered in Turkey’s domestic affairs under the pretext that they help their coreligionists.

It is remarkable that the formation of the evangelical unions began at the 60s of the 19th century when the new stage of the national persecutions was initiated. The Apostolic Armenians also adopted Protestantism in order to avoid persecutions on the national ground. The study of the national policy of Turkey helps to understand cause-and-effect relation of spreading Protestantism among Armenians.

In contrast to Turkey, where state policy often boosted the activity of the missionaries in order to split the unity of the Armenians, Iran tended to strengthen the positions of the Armenian Apostolic Church trying to jeopardize the eager activity of the missionaries.

Evangelical ideas were spread among Eastern Armenians at the end of the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century through the first Protestant individuals and small groups. The spreading of Protestantism among Eastern Armenians was favoured by those small separate communities and individuals which adjoined to Protestantism and Baptism in Eastern Armenia and a number of districts in Georgia, as well as Swiss, German and Swedish Protestant preachers who settled in the Caucasus in the 20s of the 19th century.

The Eastern Armenian Evangelical Churches are separate and independent units. The political division of Armenia can be considered as a reason for that and as a result Western Armenians and Eastern Armenians passed peculiar ways of historical development. Despite numerous claims the Russian Empire had not recognized Eastern Armenian Evangelists as a separate religious community till 1914 (in the Russian Empire officially only the Lutheran Church functioned). The Lutheran Church tried to subject Armenian Protestants in the Caucasus. In 1820-1890 the centers of the Armenian Protestants in the Transcaucasia were Shamakhi and Karabakh. In Transcaucasia Armenian Evangelical schools in Shushi, Shamakhi and Tiflis had a good name.

In the middle of the 19th century there were Armenian Evangelical communities in Yerevan, Vagharshapat, Aleksandrapol, Kars, Tiflis, Baku, Batumi and Sukhumi. In 1914 the Araratian Union of Armenian Evangelicals was established which was recognized in the same year by Russian authorities. The Union which headquarters was in Yerevan had worked till 1928. It was headed by Rev. Vahan Mikaelyan. In 1923 the authorities of the Soviet Armenia recognized officially the Araratian Union of the Armenian Evangelicals and registered its charter. In 1918-1930 the number of the Armenian Evangelicals in Armenia was 2500-3000 people and in the Transcaucasia in the whole 3500-4000 people. Almost all the communities had churches and prayer houses, Sunday schools, ordained pastors. At the end of 1920s the repressions in regard to the religious communities aggravated. Since 1930, together with others, the activity of the Armenian Evangelical churches was prohibited.

In February 1946 the government of the Soviet Armenia officially recognized the Yerevan Church of the Armenian Evangelical Baptist-Christians and Gyumri’s Evangelical-Baptist Church formed its part.

The structure of the Armenian Evangelical Church

Armenian Evangelical Church has no clergy (catholicos, bishops, archimandrites, dioceses). Each church has three official bodies:

  1. Board of guardians which controls the activity of the church in general (particularly spiritual activity).
  2. Trusteeship which controls the property of the church and administers it, as well as issues marriage certificates.
  3. Board of guardians of schools which controls the schools belonging to the church. Sunday schools, youth Christian organization, women’s and cultural unions constitute an important part of the Evangelical churches.

Since 1991 the Armenian Missionary Association of America has been functioning in Yerevan. Since July 1, 1994 Armenian Evangelical Church acquires a right to work in Armenia officially. There are 50 Evangelical churches and prayer houses in Armenia.

In May 1995 the Union of Evangelical Churches of Armenia was established in Yerevan. And in August 1995 the Armenian Evangelical Union of Armenia, Georgia, Eastern Europe and Middle East was established (centre in Yerevan, chairman – Rene Leonian). The Union includes the Union of Armenian Evangelical Church of Armenia, Armenian Evangelical Union of Georgia3, the Armenian Evangelical Baptist Church in Sukhumi, as well as Armenian office of the Armenian Missionary Association of America.

There are no distinct data about number of the Evangelicals in Armenia, that’s why we have to rely on approximate numbers. Rene Leonian mentions that the number of the members of the Armenian Evangelical Church is 25-30 thousand and general number of the Armenian Evangelicals is about 100 thousand4.

According to the data for 2003 there are 3 Armenian Evangelical Unions working in the Diaspora:

  1. Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (established in 1924, centre – Beirut, includes 11 churches in Syria, 6 – in Lebanon, 3 – in Iran, 3 – in Turkey, 2 – in Greece, 1 – in Egypt).
  2. Armenian Evangelical Union of France (established in 1927, recognized by the government in 1946, centre in Paris, includes 14 churches).
  3. Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (established in 1971, centre in New Jersey, includes 20 churches in the US and 4 Evangelical churches in Canada).

There are Armenian Evangelical Churches in Buenos Aires, San Paulo, Montevideo, London, Brussels, Sofia, Sidney which are not included in the union5.

At the beginning of 1980s 3 unions of Diaspora formed Armenian Evangelical World Council (centre in New Jersey, USA) and later on, 2 Armenian Unions joined it. The Council manages common activity of the unions. The chairman who is elected for 2 year period can be re-elected one more time.

On June 7, 1918 in Worcester, MA, the Armenian Missionary Association of America was established. This is the organizational and executive body of the Armenian Evangelical Churches and the first and the only Armenian Evangelical missionary organization (AMAA). The AMAA has its branches and offices in approximately 20 countries all over the world, including Armenia (since 1991) and the NKR (since 1995). The AMAA carries out its programmes in Armenia and Artsakh together with the French “Hope for Armenia” organization. The programmes are of two main directions – charitable and educational. Among the important aims of the AMAA the followings can be mentioned: to render assistance in restoration of the regions damaged after the earthquake in 1988; the care of the orphans and children of the diseased fighters for the freedom; the Christian education of the growing generation; medical services as well as assisting to two Armenian states in agriculture, building, education.

Armenian Evangelical Church carries out its benevolent, educational, publishing, social activities through about a dozen of organizations which are managed either by the Armenian Evangelical Church or together with appropriate bodies of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic Churches. The centers of Jinishian, Philibosian, the Armenian Evangelical Social Service Center (LA), Armenian National Sanatorium (Lebanon), Armenian Old Age Home (Aleppo) and etc. are remarkable.

Armenian Evangelical Church considered and considers Armenian Apostolic Church the Mother church, it accepts the Holy Fathers of the Armenian Church; during the rites it uses Armenian medieval sharakans, carries out ceremonies together with the clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Armenian Evangelical Church is one of the founder members of World Churches Council and it cooperates with American, European and Near Eastern churches.

Educational Facilities of the Armenian Evangelicals

Since the formation of the Armenian Evangelical Church the Evangelical educational institutions were established – preschools institutions, secondary schools, colleges, schools. In these educational institutions those Armenians are studied who want it, irrespective of their confession. Since 2003 18 Armenian Evangelical educational institutions has been functioning (from preschool to higher educational institutions). 9 of them are functioning in Lebanon, 5 – in Syria, and by one – in Armenia, Greece, Iran and USA. Among those educational institutions Haigazian University, which is the only higher education institution of Diaspora (established in 1995), is distinguished6. Near East School of Theology (Beirut), Aleppo College (Syria) and Evangelical Theological Academy of Armenia, established in 1997 in Yerevan, are remarkable.

Armenian Evangelical Press

Armenian Evangelical Church has published periodicals: 1839-1856 in Jmurnia, with interruptions, the first Armenian newspaper in ashkharhabar – “Fount of Useful Information” was published. It was followed by “Avetaber” (Istanbul, in Armenian and in Turkish but with Armenian letters). Today “Banber” (since 1925, Paris), “Patanekan Ardzaganq” (since 1936, Beirut), “Djanaser” (since 1937, Beirut), “Le Lumignon” (Lyon, in French), “Lraber” (since 1965, New Jersey) magazines, “Forum” (since 1975) by Armenian Evangelical Union of North America and “Our Daily Bread” (since 1991) periodicals, “Haigazian Journal of Armenian Studies” (since 1970, Beirut) annual, “Armenian Evangelic Church” (since 1997, Yerevan), which is issued once in three months, are published7.

Conclusions

  • Today the problems of the Armenian Protestants play important role in the processes of the self-organization of the Armeniancy. For the Protestant Armenians the protection of the Armenian national values and the strengthening of national self-consciousness are topical from the point of view of the social and political consolidation of the Armeniancy.
  • In consequence of positive, permanent development of the relations between the Protestant Armenians and Armenian Apostolic Church, the well-wishing mutual perception and collaboration of the Armenian representatives of those two Christian teachings can be proved.
  • The issues of the Protestant Armenians are also important in the context of the preservation of the national identity of the Armenian Diaspora. The Protestant Armenians should preserve their national character and not to alienate from their compatriots who are the adherents of the Apostolic church. In this issue the approaches of both parties, which should be based on national unity, tolerance, underlining of common values, joint activity, are crucial.

1Րաֆֆի, Ինչ կապ կա մեր և Տաճկաստանի հայերի մեջ, Երկերի ժողովածու, 9-րդ հատոր, Երևան, 1958, էջ 488-489:

2Հայ սփյուռք հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2003, էջ 701:

3Հայ Ավետարանական կեղեցիներ կան Թբիլիսիում, Ախալցխայում, Ախալքալաքում, Բոլնիսում, Լիլոյում, Իսաինում։

4Արթուր Հովհաննիսյան, Հոգեորսությունն էլ ինչպե՞ս է լինում, «Հայոց աշխարհ», 27.06.2009:

5Հայ սփյուռք հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2003, էջ 701:

6 http://www.haigazian.edu.lb

7Հայ սփյուռք հանրագիտարան, Երևան, 2003, էջ 704:


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