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Election of Catholicos Armenia 1999 By MTh. Rev. Michael Westh, Yerevan 25. October 1999 20.30 (+0500 Armenian Daylight Time) Soon it will be decided who is to be elected the absolute head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Two questions have been important in the previous debate, be it in the media or be it among ordinary people and believers, namely the claimed intervention of the government in the election process and the claimed lack of unity among the clerics in the top leadership of the Church. Thus, so far the government has been able to point out its favorite candidate, whereas the Church herself has not been able to do so. What concerns the governmental interference, it is hardly surprising to anyone here that the government has expressed its opinion on the upcoming church election. In Armenia as well as in the other CIS countries, "expression of opinion" is equal to trying to influence as much as possible the outcome of the process in question, in this case the election of the Catholicos of All Armenians. What concerns the claimed lack of unity in the leadership of the Armenian Church, this is a much more complex question. The Armenian Church is not segmented into 'theological' parties like in many Protestant Churches in the West. Instead it is a question of personality, difference in practical management, clerical style, and difference in the number and the nature of contacts with governmental and financial circles here and abroad. The Government 'interfered' in the elections in 1995 when Karekin I was elected catholicos. Despite the fact that a majority within the Church recognized him as the best candidate, it soon became difficult for His Holiness to win the acceptance of the people and completely realize his program. The reason was that he was soon pernceived as the 'candidate of the Government'. To this can be added that the president at that time, Levon Ter-Petrossian's popularity had already peaked and within a couple of years he was overthrown. The special thing about this particular election is that a growing bitterness against governmental interference has emerged from within the Church' leadership, since a majority of top clerics did not agree that the Government's candidate was the best one. Around October 1, 1999, six archbishops (of whom two were patriarchs) released a document of protest intended for the Government, but at the same time the document indirectly failed to appreciate the Government's candidate. Over the last week or so, an increasing number of sources state that another 30 or 31 bishops and archbishops agree with the intention in the released document. If this is so, it means that 36-37 of the 49 highest ranking clergy may gather around one single alternative candidate, and thus the election tomorrow may become a choice between only two candidates. The Government's favorite candidate is archbishop Karekin Nersessian (49 years old), bishop of the Ararat Diocese with Yerevan as its center. So far, only this one candidate has been announced as of today, October 25. A possible alternative candidate supported by a majority of senior clergy may thus be announced tomorrow right before or during the first sitting of the electing body. Meanwhile, the 49 bishops, archbishops and patriarchs gathered today. Tomorrow they will gather along with delegates of the National Church Council. This council comprises of 400 delegates from all the dioceses in Armenia and the Diaspora chosen only for this particular election of catholicos. At first, the senior clergy of the church together with the National Church Council will meet and check out all practical matters connected to the arrival, absence and substitutes of the delegates. Then it will be announced who are the candidates for the office of catholicos. Finally, first round of the election will begin, ballot papers will be given and the ballot box will be in the room. This whole process will take place in the Cathedral of St. Etchmiadzin proper and behind closed doors. In order to be announced catholicos after the first round, the candidate must gain minimum 50% of the votes plus one vote. If this does not happen, that is to say, if there are more than two candidates in the first round, the voting process in principle will continue until one of the candidates gain the necessary majority. When the votes are registered and the catholicos has been elected, the doors of the Cathedral will be opened and the name of the new catholicos will be announced while the chimes of St. Etchmiadzin will start ringing. This could happen late tomorrow Tuesday 26. Oct. or the day after tomorrow, but it depends on the number of election rounds. Sunday 1 November 1999 at the Holy Liturgy in the Cathedral, the catholicos will be enthroned. During the Liturgy, he will be anointed with holy Myron, as in the case of consecration of priests and bishops. However, unlike the consecration of priests and bishops, where some drops are applied on the forehead and hands, a larger amount of Myron is poured out on the head of the new catholicos. Then follows the position of hands of the patriarchs, archbishops and bishops. Most likely, the church will be crowded with specially invited guests and friends of the Armenian Apostolic Church from Armenia and abroad, representatives of sister churches governments, embassies and different organizations. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Rev. Michael Westh is a Danish missionary who has lived in Armenia for the last 5 years and was closely associated with Vehapar Karekin I. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.post-boks.dk/mrw/english