BUDAPEST, Hungary — The Armenian Parish Center in Budapest, which has just been renovated thanks to funds allocated by the Hungarian government, was inaugurated on November 2, in the presence of the Armenian Catholic Patriarch Raphael Bedros XXI Minassian and Cardinal Peter Erdő, Primate of Hungary, who blessed the new premises.
The renovated part of the building is intended to house educational and cultural projects, as well as the archives of the Hungarian-Armenian community.
The event also brought together Hungarian officials, including Azbej Tristan, State Secretary for Aid to Persecuted Christians and the Aid Program for Hungary, the government agency that funded the restoration work, with the aim to give new impetus to the Armenian-Catholic community. in the difficult context of the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Relations between Armenia and Hungary have themselves been marked by tensions in recent years. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were suspended in 2012, after an Azerbaijani officer sentenced to life imprisonment by a Hungarian court for the murder of an Armenian officer in Budapest in 2004 was extradited to Azerbaijani authorities and immediately pardoned.
From a diplomatic point of view, this recent gesture of friendship by the Hungarian government towards its Armenian community is seen as a new step in the process of warming relations between the two nations.
Before blessing the new parish center, the Armenian patriarch welcomed this opportunity to strengthen ties between his country and Hungary, whose return to Christian roots he hailed since the fall of the Soviet regime.
Raphael Bedros XXI Minassian, elected at the Synod of the Eastern Catholic Church in Rome in 2021, is the 21st Catholicos-Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics. Prior to that, he had served as Bishop of Armenian Catholics in Eastern Europe since 2011. The Register interviewed him on the sidelines of the Nov. 2 event.
You are here in Budapest for the inauguration of the newly renovated Armenian parish building, thanks to funding from the Hungarian government. What does this event mean to you, given the fluctuating relations between your country and Hungary over the past decade? What do you expect from this visit?
The relationship between these two peoples has existed for centuries. We have many common projects, especially through charitable organizations. My coming here for the inauguration of our parish center, which also illustrates the historical roots of our community in Hungary, is to show my gratitude to this country for this beautiful gesture of friendship towards the Armenians. In recent years, faced with the persecution of Christians resulting from the various wars in the Middle East, but also in Armenia, Hungary has shown true Christian charity by helping the faithful, who found themselves in enormous social difficulties, medical and humanitarian.
It is therefore a moment of gratitude for this government, which has really given a lot, beyond the financial aspect, also on the moral and symbolic level. This country has played a role of true Christian witness in recent years, despite the diversity of its communities. The gospel is the common denominator.
Is it this common denominator that unites Armenia and Hungary in the current assembly of nations?
Relations between Hungary and Armenia are strengthened by this concrete loyalty to Christianity. But there is an international movement beginning to wake up and refocus attention on our suffering Christian brothers and sisters. Beyond this moral support from Hungary, organizations like L’Œuvre d’Orient in France are doing the same thing.
There is a realization that Eastern Christians are in danger and need this support from Western Christians. It is the universal Church that is beginning to come together, which is comforting.
You recently took up your duties as Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, in a particularly sensitive context for your country. What is your assessment of this first year of mission? What have been your biggest challenges?
The early difficulties were obvious. The Armenian Catholic Church is a small Church, with a few hundred thousand faithful [around 600,000, according to L’Oeuvre d’Orient]. Unfortunately, we have been the victims of global immorality, of international injustice. As Armenians, we suffered a genocide in 1915 which considerably and permanently impoverished our country.
We pinned our hopes on a global reaction to Azerbaijani aggression, but today we feel alone. And on top of that, we are being killed with the weapons of friendly countries. It’s very difficult. …
In addition to the war, the COVID added a lot of difficulties because we had to close the churches, and the relations with the communities, the relatives, were suspended.
But in the midst of this nightmarish situation, we still had the grace of perseverance, which allowed us to continue to move forward at all costs, despite all the attacks against our country, which is working for peace. I can say today that this first year has not been in vain because the grace of God has truly done its work and blessed our faithful and our communities.
After the 2020 ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, the rector of the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Shushi, Father Andreas Taadyan, denounced the continued destruction of Armenian Christian heritage by Azeris. How is the situation today?
I have not been personally present in the theater of the conflict in recent months, but I can confirm from the information I receive from the field that there is an enterprise to destroy the symbols of our culture, of our religious affiliation Christian. There is real hatred towards Christians in the region. Despite the image of humanity that the Azeris convey in the press, it is a reality.
Do you agree with the commentators who to suggest that there is a will, on the part of Azerbaijan and Turkey, its ethnic ally, to eradicate the Armenian Christian presence from the region, as in 1915?
Sometimes the words, the images conveyed may change, but the content remains the same. We understand the precise goal, the dreams of these people by the coherence of their remarks and their behavior. Basically, nothing has changed; we are confronted with the same phenomenon as in 1915, when Armenia is a people who seek peace and have no expansionist aim.
Azerbaijan attacked several Armenian villages on September 13 and 14, in the astonishing silence of many Western media and political leaders. You have denounced this silence many times. How do you explain this international inertia, even this indifference, in the face of the suffering of your country? Is it entirely due to the current oil and gas problems, since the European Union has decided to import Azeri hydrocarbons to replace Russian gas in the future?
There’s a lot of politics involved here; there are many interests at stake. As a result, no nation or world power has an interest in the Armenian people at this time. I often speak with political leaders. I tell them what I have to say, according to my role as clergyman.
There are forces attacking us, violating our borders; everyone knows what’s going on, and yet they let them destroy us.
When I see this international injustice being done, and that the Christians of Armenia but also of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, suffer in total indifference, I cannot reasonably remain silent. The term “fifth column” is used to describe a covert force that cannot really be identified. It is indeed a sort of fifth column which is currently working to destroy these faithful.
All this is happening while, everywhere in the world, all the fundamentals are called into question: religion, belonging to a country, identity. … People don’t know who they are anymore, and that’s a big part of the problem.
What is the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh at the moment?
Things are pretty quiet these days. But the danger at the borders remains. When the interests of two peoples [Azerbaijan and Turkey] converge, then naturally they form a single force to defeat the third, which harms their interests. They won’t stop there.
What message would you like to send to the leaders of the Western world?
I want to tell them to wake up. Be really fair. Defend the weak and give them a voice. Do justice to those who are deprived of it. Think beyond political tactics – think about the humans who are suffering. This is what we expect, especially from Europe, which is our neighbor and which shares the same Christian roots.