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Zaruhi Mejlumyan

Outspoken Armenian Priest: ‘If Sasna Dzrer are terrorists, so are all of us’

Father Armen Melkonian, an Armenian Apostolic clergyman dismissed as an Etchmiadzin parish priest in the Dutch city of Maastricht for calling the members of the armed Sasna Dzrer group “heroes”, has told Hetq that he will be offering Divine Liturgy at the St. Garabed church on September 4.

The clergyman ruffled feathers in the church hierarchy when, during opening remarks at a demonstration outside the Armenian Embassy in Amsterdam in solidarity with the Sasna Dzrer armed group that seized a Yerevan police building in July, described its members as “heroes”, who have fought in defense of Artsakh in the past and are now struggling for justice in Armenia, and are now being persecuted by the authorities in Armenia.

While Melkonian was dismissed as a visiting parish priest for the small but growing Armenian community in Maastricht, he hasn’t been defrocked because he is a member of the Cilician See brotherhood.

“The church belongs to the community and the community regards the decision as unjust,” Father Armen told Hetq.

Levon Rafifi Sarkis, secretary of the Ani Armenian community organization in Maastricht, said that community representatives are planning to protest the dismissal decision on September 4.

On August 4, Sarkis received a letter from Bishop Vahan Hovhannessian, Etchmiadzin’s Pontifical Legate of Western Europe, saying that Father Melkonian no longer could serve in any parish in Holland but would remain on the sidelines. 

Tomorrow, at the invitation of the Armenian Apostolic Church Diocese in Germany, Father Armen will offer the Divine Liturgy at the diocesan St. Sahag Mesrob Church.

On August 26, in Antwerp, Belgium, Armenian community representatives discussed the issue of Father Armen’s dismissal and the silence of the church regarding developments in Armenia.

“Yes, it is true that today we have a homeland and a state, but as Catholicos Aram has said we cannot be just spectators. We have obligations and a righto speak out. We send money [to Armenia]. Where does it go?  We must send money. But when we learn that it fills the pockets of government officials, we will not send anymore. How should we punish those murderers who, instead of using that money to purchase weapons to defend the borders, use it against us,” Father Armen told the community representatives in Antwerp.

Regarding members of the Sasna Dzrer group, the clergyman noted, “If they call them terrorists, then I say we are all terrorists.”

Father Armen Melkonian and Deacon Kristapor

Deacon Kristapor Froundjian, who also spoke at the meeting, believes that Father Armen “had the courage to speak up and is being punished for it today.”

Talking about the role of the church, Deacon Kristapor said that the church could also use a bit of struggle.

“We want that our nation and the church be in good conditions. We are called to serve the people, to be on their side. Catholicos Aram showed us that the church isn’t dead,” the deacon said.

At the end of the meeting a prayer was said for the speedy recovery of the injured Sasna Dzrer members now awaiting trial in Armenia.

Top photo: Father Armen Melkonian, Deacon Kristapor Froundjian (photos taken from their Facebook pages)