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Armenia Church Leader Meets Azerbaijani President

Catholicos Garegin II and other Armenian clerics outside an Armenian church in Baku
Catholicos Garegin II and other Armenian clerics outside an Armenian church in Baku
YEREVAN -- The leader of Armenia's Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and prayed in an abandoned Armenian church in Baku at the end of his landmark visit to Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Garegin and Aliyev reportedly discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and a two-day summit of world religious leaders currently taking place in Baku. They meeting on April 26 took place in the presence of Azerbaijan's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade.

Aliyev's office said the two "stressed the importance of the Baku [religion] summit...for strengthening interreligious dialogue and expanding contacts among religious leaders."

A separate statement issued by the Armenian Apostolic Church today said the one-hour meeting took place "in an unconstrained and sincere atmosphere" and touched upon the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Garegin and other high-ranking Armenian clerics visited the 19th century Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator' in Baku. The Armenian Church's statement said the delegation prayed and sang medieval hymns there. It added that the Armenian pontiff expressed hope that the church will eventually "reopen its doors to believers."

Built in 1887, the church was the main site of worship for Baku's sizable Armenian community until its forced exodus from the Azerbaijani capital in 1988-1990.

An arson attack seriously damaged the building in 1990. The church reportedly underwent renovation in 2004 and is currently used as a library.

Garegin is the first Armenian Church leader to visit Azerbaijan in decades. His office said two Armenian bishops who accompanied him stayed in Baku to participate in the second and final day of the religious forum.