Controversy after Armenian Catholicos’ New Year speech not aired on the public TV
Breaking with a decades-long tradition, Armenia’s state television did not broadcast a New Year’s Eve address by Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, increasingly at loggerheads with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
The annual addresses by Karekin II and his two predecessors, followed by similar speeches delivered by the incumbent president or prime minister of the republic, had aired shortly before midnight on December 31 since 1990.
“The public television company informed at the last minute that they would not be broadcasting His Holiness the Catholicos’s New Year’s message before midnight as it had been traditionally done. They did not provide any reason for this change. Instead, they proposed to present the Patriarch of All Armenians’s address during the evening edition of the News. However, this proposal was inappropriate for the Mother See and was rejected,” the Church’s Echmiadzin-based Mother See said late on Sunday.
According to Public TV, the speech of the Catholicos was meant to follow the speech of the President of Armenia, who is the head of the state as per the Constitution. However, on December 31, Father Vahram Melikyan, representing the Mother See, informed the Public Broadcaster Council that they disagreed with the scheduled time for the speeches. They demanded that the speeches not be broadcast and the video recording of the Catholicos’ address not be used since the speech’s copyright belonged to the Mother See.
According to Boris Navasardyan, the honorary president of the Yerevan Press Club, any changes in traditions should only be made based on public opinion and studies of possible consequences. He stated that the Public TV company’s representatives’ claims that the broadcasting of the New Year’s address of the Catholicos is subject to legislative regulation could have been accepted if they had devised such an initiative in advance and made it the subject of multi-faceted discussions. They should have maintained the rooted practice until the actual completion of the law.
The apparent snub drew strong condemnation from some senior clergymen and many opposition and public figures. They accused Pashinyan of ordering the country’s leading TV channel, run by his loyalists, not to air Karekin’s speech right before his televised remarks.
As Azatutyun noted, Pashinyan’s relationship with the ancient Church, to which the vast majority of Armenians belong, has increasingly deteriorated in recent years, especially since the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Karekin and other senior clergymen joined the Armenian opposition in calling for Pashinyan’s resignation following Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war.
Pashinyan and other senior Armenian officials have boycotted Christmas and Easter liturgies led by Karekin for the past three years. In May 2023, the premier accused the Church of meddling in politics, prompting a scathing response from Karekin’s office.
Tensions between the government and the Church rose further in early October when Karekin blamed Pashinyan for Azerbaijan’s recapture of de facto Nagorno-Karabakh and the resulting mass exodus of the region’s ethnic Armenian population. The Church repeatedly condemned Pashinyan for recognising Azerbaijani sovereignty over de facto Karabakh before Baku’s September 19-20 military offensive.