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Russian Patriarch Honors Armenia 'Genocide' Victims

Catholicos Garegin II (right) and Russian Patriarch Kirill lay a wreath at a monument to Russian soldiers killed in the Russo-Persian war in Yerevan.
YEREVAN -- Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill has honored the victims of what Armenians consider the first genocide of the 20th century.

During a visit to Yerevan, Kirill laid wreaths at Yerevan's Armenian Genocide Monument, dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who died in World War I-era mass killings by Turkish forces.

Russia is among the countries that recognize the killings as genocide, a term Turkey rejects.

Earlier, Kirill pledged to strengthen relations between the Russian and Armenian churches at the beginning of his three-day official visit.

Kirill and Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, were greeted by hundreds of believers and led a joint prayer service at the Armenian church's main cathedral in Echmiadzin, near Yerevan, shortly after Kirill's arrival in the Armenian capital on March 16.

"Every visitor to Armenia receives unforgettable impressions, looking at its main symbol, the holy Mount Ararat," Kirill said in a speech.

He added that Russian-Armenian relations have been "warm and friendly" ever since modern-day Armenia was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1828 as a result of a Russo-Persian war. He underlined the significance of that victory later in the day by visiting a memorial to Russian soldiers killed in that war.

Garegin, for his part, spoke of the Armenian people's "total love of and warm feelings of gratitude toward the Russian [Orthodox] Church, the great Russian people, and the Russian state."

A spokesman for Garegin, Vahram Melikian, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that the visit will "further strengthen" ties between the two churches, which both enjoy strong government support.

Russian analysts say that unlike his predecessor, Aleksy II, who died in 2008, Kirill is active in the political arena and keen to reach out to other churches. Aleksei Makarkin, director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, likened him to experienced politicians who can "very quickly achieve their goals."

Makarkin told RFE/RL that the 63-year-old patriarch has a cordial rapport with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"Patriarch Kirill is undoubtedly an influential political figure in Russia, someone whose views the Kremlin takes into account," he said.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is the oldest state church in the world.