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Armenian Church Leader To Visit Azerbaijan

Catholicos Garegin II

Catholicos Garegin II

YEREVAN -- The supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, will make a first-ever visit to Azerbaijan next week to take part in a summit of world religious leaders, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Garegin's press office said in a statement today that he will travel to Baku on April 26 at the invitation of Azerbaijan's longtime Shi'a Muslim leader, Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, and Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill.

The Armenian Church statement said Pashazade, Garegin, and Kirill, as well as the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Catholicos Ilia II, will hold a joint meeting on the margins of the April 27-29 summit that will bring together more than 150 religious leaders from around the world.

It did not specify whether the Armenian and Azerbaijani spiritual leaders will meet separately to discuss the bitter conflict between their countries over the disputed Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nor is it clear if Garegin will visit an abandoned Armenian church in Baku.

His spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Garegin will become the first high-ranking Armenian cleric to set foot in Azerbaijan since the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1988.

He will be accompanied by two Armenian bishops and another priest from his headquarters in Echmiadzin, about 20 kilometers southwest of Yerevan.

Also planning to attend the Baku conference is Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, an Armenian Apostolic Church legate in the United States.

Garegin's office said Aykazian will take part in his capacity as president of the U.S. National Council of Churches.