Armenian Church Criticizes Pashinyan’s Constitutional Plans

Armenian Church Criticizes Pashinyan’s Constitutional Plans

The Armenian Apostolic Church has joined opposition voices in criticizing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s intentions to push for a new constitution, which has been demanded by Azerbaijan.

During a five-day session of the church’s Supreme Spiritual Council in Echmiadzin over the weekend, the issue of Pashinyan’s proposed constitutional changes was a focal point of discussion.

In an official statement following the session chaired by Catholicos Garegin II, it was expressed that the initiative to adopt a new Constitution was deemed perplexing, particularly as it is widely perceived as a result of external pressure. The statement also noted that statements from various high-ranking Armenian officials and the Azerbaijani president regarding the new Constitution only deepen existing suspicions.

Pashinyan had announced the need for a new constitution last month, citing the evolving geopolitical landscape of the region. Analysts suggest that one of his primary objectives is to eliminate a preamble in the current constitution referring to a 1990 declaration of independence. This declaration, in turn, cites a 1989 unification act between Soviet Armenia and the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated on February 1 that Armenia must remove this reference if it seeks a peace agreement with Azerbaijan. Armenian opposition leaders have interpreted Aliyev’s statement as evidence of Pashinyan’s intent to alter the constitution under Baku’s influence. However, Pashinyan denies these claims, asserting that Armenia will never find peace as long as it adheres to the 1990 declaration.

The church council defended the existing constitution, stating that it is rooted in the history and aspirations of the Armenian people. Additionally, it condemned Azerbaijan’s expansionist ambitions and ongoing encroachments on Armenian territory.

Tensions between Pashinyan and the Armenian Church have escalated since the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. Senior clergymen, including Garegin, joined the opposition in calling for Pashinyan’s resignation following Armenia’s defeat in the conflict. Pashinyan’s relationship with the church worsened further when he accused the church of political interference in May 2023, prompting a strong rebuke from Garegin’s office.

The Supreme Spiritual Council concluded its session amidst a gathering of over 200 supporters of Garegin at the church’s Mother See, amid reports of plans for a rally in Echmiadzin demanding his resignation. Although the rally was initially sanctioned by the town’s municipal administration, permission was later revoked amid objections from vocal critics of the Armenian government.

The gathering in support of the church’s supreme leader included opposition figures such as Levon Kocharian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Hayastan alliance led by his father and former Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Another senior Hayastan member, Ishkhan Saghatelian, warned Pashinyan against proceeding with his plans for the new constitution, indicating that the opposition would mobilize against it.