Archbishop of Canterbury tells Armenians, ‘I come here to say you are not forgotten’

Posted Oct 5, 2023

[Lambeth Palace Press Office]  The archbishop of Canterbury began a two-day visit to Armenia on Oct. 5. He is meeting with church leaders, senior government officials, NGOs as well as refugees who have recently fled Nagorno-Karabakh.

More than 120,000 ethnic Armenians have fled the disputed area since Azerbaijan reclaimed it by force in mid-September. The majority ethnic Armenian territory, located within Azerbaijan, has been the source of conflicts and wars between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the late Soviet period.

Archbishop Justin Welby is on a five-day visit to the South Caucasus. On Oct. 2 he was in Azerbaijan, and then he went to Georgia. The regional visit ends Oct. 6.

The archbishop’s visit has been planned for a long time. He has called it a “pilgrimage of listening,” giving him an opportunity to learn how the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion can support peacebuilding in the region.

In Armenia on Oct. 5 the archbishop visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial and met His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians. In the meeting, the archbishop said, “Armenia was the first Christian kingdom. You were the first region to have the cross as your symbol. This is a symbol of weight, pain and struggle. Armenia has often carried the cross of pain and struggle. The last weeks have seen so many Armenians suffer deeply. I have been praying for you daily. I come here to say you are not forgotten.”

On Oct. 6, the archbishop is due to meet some of the 120,000 refugees who have recently left Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the church projects giving those people displaced by conflict accommodation and other necessary support.

The archbishop began his visit to the South Caucasus on Oct. 2 in Azerbaijan, the first time an archbishop of Canterbury has visited the country. Welby met political leaders, including the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. The archbishop stressed the need to break the cycle of violence and urged the Azerbaijani government to take the first steps in the long journey of reconciliation by guaranteeing the rights and security of Armenian Karabakhs, as well as protecting their cultural and religious heritage. He also spoke of the need for the resumption of negotiations to secure a lasting settlement between Azerbaijan and Armenia that recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both countries.

Whilst in Baku he also met Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders.

On Oct. 3 Welby visited Georgia and met with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. He started the day in Tbilisi by going to the Peace Cathedral, a unique multi-faith space that includes an adjoining synagogue and mosque. There was a special prayer for Ukraine, and a refugee Ukrainian family presented him with a traditional wreath in yellow and blue. Later in the day he attended a prayer service with the congregation of St. Nino Episcopal Church in Tbilisi, held at the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption of The Virgin.

The archbishop ended his visit to Georgia by accompanying the European Union Monitoring Mission to the Administrative Boundary Line between Georgia and South Ossetia, and driving to villages experiencing the impact of what’s called “borderization.” He heard how people don’t have access to family cemeteries and how housing, education and healthcare are very poor. He was also told how detentions, a loss of land and a lack of irrigation are the other concerns that people have there.