By Harut Sassounian,
Archbishop Vladyka Alexander, the head of the Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in Azerbaijan, gave an interview last month to Jayson Casper of Christianity Today, shamelessly spewing Azeri propaganda, badmouthing Armenians and praising Azerbaijan. He spoke more like a spokesman for the dictator Ilham Aliyev than a man of God. This is a clergyman who would not hesitate to sell his soul to the devil for the right price! It is not surprising that Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Washington, D.C., immediately posted his interview on its Facebook page.
Abp. Alexander started the interview by stating: “1,500 years of separation between the Eastern Orthodox church and the Armenian Apostolic church has complicated relations. We have holy books and traditions in common, but we are not in fellowship.”
The Russian Archbishop knowingly lied by stating that “Azerbaijan has a high level of multicultural acceptance and preserves its religious monuments. The Armenian churches and libraries in Baku are kept safe. In the case of a peace agreement, these can be used again, as they should.” Abp. Alexander is wrong. There are no functioning Armenian churches in Baku.
Strangely, the Russian Archbishop accused “Armenians of lying to themselves.” He said that Armenians “are very sorry they had to leave” Azerbaijan. The Archbishop must have forgotten about the massacres of innocent Armenians by Azeris in Sumgait, Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan.
When asked if he would be willing to make a phone call to Catholicos Karekin II, the Russian Archbishop sarcastically replied: “I don’t have his phone number [smiling].”
In response to the interviewer’s question about the Armenian Genocide, the Russian Archbishop lied again by stating: “When the word genocide is used, we should be very careful. We have very sad facts about the actions of Armenian forces on the territory of Azerbaijan. We have thousands of Azerbaijanis killed by the Armenian side, so to whom should we address the word genocide?” He then added, “Azerbaijanis do not have hate in their heart,” forgetting the beheadings of Armenians by Azerbaijani soldiers during the recent war, not to mention the earlier massacres in Sumgait and Baku.
Christianity Today mentioned that early in the recent Artsakh war, the Russian Archbishop “signed an Azerbaijani interfaith letter congratulating President Ilham Aliyev on his military victories.”
In response to these anti-Armenian remarks, the Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, sent a harshly-worded letter to the Russian Orthodox Archbishop criticizing him for his false allegations:
“Responding to your interview with Christianity Today Magazine would be considered a waste of time and effort, for it would be replying to an individual who lacks humility, knowledge of history, attempts to distort uncontestable historical facts, but above all, distorts the TRUTH. Furthermore, your arrogance is quite astonishing for a shepherd of Christ, the Lord.
“You speak of finding ways to live together. We certainly agree that both parties should find ways to live together. Yet when a country, that committed the Armenian Genocide a century ago by killing 1,500,000 innocent Armenians, rejects to accept the obvious facts, and in addition to that openly supports Azerbaijan, it is hard to find ways to live together. Moreover, when the same country leads the war operations of Azerbaijan, sends its special forces, recruits thousands of radical Islamists to kill Christian Armenians, it becomes difficult to reconcile. When the leader of that country vows to ‘continue to fulfill the mission that our grandfathers carried out for centuries in the Caucasus again’ (Recep Tayyip Erdogan — July 24, 2020), attempts at reconciliation are questioned, don’t you think?
“You state that Armenians have hatred toward Azerbaijan. When an Azerbaijani army officer axes a sleeping Armenian army officer to death and is later pardoned by the President of Azerbaijan, freed from his sentence, and is granted the status of ‘Hero’ of Azerbaijan by the same president, I ask you the definition of hatred. On May 26, 2020, the European Court of Human Rights said it ‘found that there had been no justification for the Azerbaijani authorities’ failure to enforce the punishment of Ramil Safarov and in effect grant him impunity for a serious hate crime.’ Isn’t hate in its purest form the deliberate circulation of videos on social media of Azeri soldiers assassinating, skinning and beheading Armenian prisoners of war amidst celebration?
“Your contention is that ‘Azerbaijan has a high level of multicultural acceptance and preserves its religious monuments. The Armenian churches and libraries in Baku are kept safe.’ How can you state such a thoughtless claim when there is video evidence of purposeful destruction of Armenian cross stones in Nakhichevan, carried out systematically to permanently erase all traces of Armenian heritage from the region?
“You speak about the Catholicos of All Armenians not doing enough to make peace. Let me remind you that in 2010, His Holiness Karekin I travelled to Azerbaijan, met with Allahshukur Pashazade [Grand Mufti of Azerbaijan] and President Ilham Aliyev for peace talks in Baku.
“Replying to your interview responses is futile indeed, for the lack of respect for history and the truth is quite evident.”
These are strong words from one clergyman to another. I suggest that other Armenian clergymen and Catholicos Karekin II write letters to Patriarch Kirill, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in All of Russia in Moscow, who has exclusive jurisdiction over Russian Orthodox Christians in Azerbaijan, complaining about Archbishop Alexander’s shameful statements.
Amazingly, on June 25, 2017, Archbishop Alexander was awarded a medal of honor from the Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow for his significant contribution to the promotion and strengthening of interreligious dialogue. Patriarch Kirill, in his congratulatory message, commended Archbishop Alexander for carrying out his task with “special tact and diplomatic skills … in the land [Azerbaijan] where representatives of different religions and nationalities live side by side.”
Obviously, after making such false statements about Armenians, Archbishop Alexander has failed in his ‘interreligious’ duties. Patriarch Kirill should be urged to take away the medal that he was awarded.
It is understandable that Archbishop Alexander is trying to please the dictator of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. However, a man of God should not tell lies for any reason, under any circumstance. Patriarch Kirill should tell Archbishop Alexander to apologize for his lies, and if not, he should strip him of his religious rank.