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Armenia - Religion

The country has an area of 11,500 square miles and a population of 3 million. Approximately 98 percent of the population is ethnic Armenian. The link between Armenian ethnicity and the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church (Armenian Church) is strong. An estimated 90 percent of citizens nominally belong to the Armenian Church, which is one of six ancient autocephalous Eastern churches and which has its spiritual center (Mother See) located at the Etchmiadzin cathedral and monastery near the capital of Yerevan.

Mohammed II summoned the Gregorian Bishop of the Armenian colony at Broussa, and raised him to the rank of an Armenian Patriarch at Constantinople. The Ottoman conquest thus left the Gregorian Armenians their religious individuality and put them on a legal equality with their neighbors of the Orthodox Faith, and the same privileges were extended in time to the Armenians in communion with other churches. The Gregorian Millet was chartered in 1462, the Millet of Armenian Catholics in 1830, and the Millet of Armenian Protestants in the forties of the Nineteenth Century, as a result of the foundation of the American Missions.

The Armenians of the Dispersion, therefore, profited, in that respect, by Ottoman rule, and even in the Armenian homeland the account stood, on the whole, in the Ottoman Government's favor. The Osmanlis are often blamed for having given the Kurds a footing in this region, as a political move in their struggle with Persia; but the Kurds were not, originally, such a scourge to the Armenians as the Seljuks, Mongols, or Kara Koyunli, who had harried the land before, or as the Persians themselves, whom the Osmanlis and the Kurds ejected from the country. The three centuries of Kurdish feudalism under Ottoman suzerainty that followed Sultan Selim's campaign of 1514 were a less unhappy period for the Armenians than the three centuries and more of anarchy that had preceded them. They were a time of torpor before recuperation, and it was the Ottoman Government again that, by a change in its Kurdish policy, enabled this recuperation to set in.

There are small communities of other religious groups. There was no reliable census data on religious minorities, and estimates from congregants varied significantly. Groups constituting less than 5 percent of the population include: Roman Catholics, Armenian Uniate (Mekhitarist) Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Armenian Evangelical Christians, Molokans, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, various groups of charismatic Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Yezidis (non-Muslim Kurds who practice Yezidism), Jews, Sunni Muslim Kurds, Shi'ite Muslims, Baha'is, and others.

Yezidis are concentrated primarily in agricultural areas around Mount Aragats, northwest of Yerevan. Armenian Catholics live primarily in the north, while most Jews, Mormons, Baha'is, and Orthodox Christians reside in Yerevan, along with a small community of mostly Shi'ite Muslims, including Iranians, and temporary residents from the Middle East.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the law places some restrictions on the religious freedom of adherents of minority religious groups. The Government generally did not enforce existing legal restrictions on religious freedom.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to practice, choose, or change religious belief. Concurrently, it recognizes "the exclusive mission of the Armenian Church as a national church in the spiritual life, development of the national culture, and preservation of the national identity of the people of Armenia." The Constitution and the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations establish separation of church and state, but grant the Armenian Church official status as the national church.

On March 19, 2009, controversial draft changes to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations and the Criminal Code had their first reading in the National Assembly. The draft amendments would allow for an increase in the required number of members for a religious organization to legally register. They seek to legally define Christian belief as "the belief in Jesus Christ as God and Savior and an acceptance of the Holy Trinity" as a prerequisite for registering Christian religious organizations. These drafts also seek legally to define and criminalize "soul hunting," a term negatively used as a synonym for all types of proselytism. The introduction of these draft laws sparked contentious societal debate, with many local experts and religious freedom activists, as well as representatives of religious groups, viewing the drafts as being aimed against religious minorities and religious diversity in the country.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:33:23 ZULU