ETCHMIADZIN — The two-day international consultations on the “Crisis in Syria: Challenges to Religious Communities” kicked off at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The meeting opened with a prayer by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. Participating in the conference are representatives of Christian Churches from the Middle East, Syria, Russia, different European countries and the United States.

Ambassadors of Iran, Germany, Italy to Armenia, representatives of the Russian Embassy and the UN Office in Yerevan, Armenian diplomats, representatives of the Syrian Armenian community were present at the opening ceremony.

The meeting was convened through the initiative of the World Council of Churches, hosted by the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church.

The Catholicos of All Armenians addressed those present stating “As the spiritual center of the Armenian people dispersed throughout the world, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin loves and has concern for her children, who live as law abiding and productive citizens in many states of the world, including for centuries the territory of the Near East. The countries of the Near East have played an important role in our history. Syria in particular, during the difficult years of the Armenian Genocide at the beginning of the last century, opened its doors and welcomed the aspirations and desires of our people to build a peaceful life. Our people are appreciative of the Arab people and prayerfully remember the many individuals of the Islamic and Christian faith, who came to the aid of the Armenians at their moment of trouble.

We feel intense pain witnessing the ongoing crisis in the Near Eastern region. The evil of war has snatched away the lives of many innocent human lives, without regard for age, gender or religious conviction. This reality is all the more tragic coming as it takes place at the beginning of the 21st century, the dawn of the third Christian millennium, which mankind was expecting and anticipating would be the age of toleration and the blossoming of the defense of freedom and dignity, the self determi

Speaking at the meeting, Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan voiced hope that it would contribute to the establishment of political and inter-religious dialogue in Syria.

“We feel pain when we witness the long-lasting domestic political crisis in the Middle East, particularly Syria, which grew into a civil war that claimed human lives and caused irreversible losses,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the Syrian crisis had painful consequences for the Christian churches, as well. He said any attempt to give religious nature to the conflict is reprehensible, as “we are confident that all religious preach peace.”

“We are a nation subjected to genocide at the turn of the 20th century and deprived of its historic homelands –Western Armenia. On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide the Armenian people again experienced that bitter pain, when in spring of the current year the radical groups supported by Turkey penetrated into the Armenian-populated city of Kessab in Syria,” PM Hovik Abrahamyan stated.

The Prime Minister voiced hope that the recent presidential elections in Syria would contribute to the launching of dialogue to solve the existing problems and reconstruct the country.

Rev. Dr. Tveit reflected on the goals and importance of the consultation, presenting his opinions on the situation in Syria and the measures to establish peace.

His Eminence Theodore Cardinal Edgar Mccarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, conveyed greetings from His Holiness Pope Francis. His Eminence Archbishop Jean Kawak conveyed the message of Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Greetings were conveyed from the Russain Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East, and the Middle East Council of Churches.

The two-day consultations will focus on the following topics: “Political developments in Syria and the humanitarian perspective,” “The Presence and of Christians in the Middle East and testimonies of developments in the Arab World,” “The Armenian communities in the Middle East and Syria and their perspectives.”

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