WASHINGTON, DC — Last week the Eastern and Western Dioceses of the Armenian Church of North America participated in the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit 2023, a Washington D.C. gathering of civil society, religious leaders, scholars, journalists, relevant government officials, and other stakeholders in promoting religious freedoms across the world.

During and after the summit, Holy Etchmiadzin’s Ecumenical Director H.E. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian (Eastern Diocese) and the Western Diocese’s Artsakh Heritage Committee chair Simon Maghakyan, who also serves on the board of Save Armenian Monuments, joined by other community leaders, led a series of discussions on religious and other human rights in post-war Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), particularly in light of Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of Artsakh’s corridor with Armenia.

“The Western Diocese was pleased to partner with the IRF Summit this year to spotlight vital issues concerning religious freedoms and other human rights across the world, particularly in Artsakh,” remarked H.E. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese. “We are pleased that there is now a greater understanding among external international religious freedom stakeholders of the existential threats faced by Armenians, and express hope that our community’s allies will be even more attentive and proactive in their efforts.”

On February 1, Maghakyan, spoke in his academic capacity at the IRF Summit’s Documenting IRF panel on the use of remote technologies in exposing destruction of houses of worship and sacred sites.

On February 3, Archbishop Aykazian and Maghakyan moderated a high-level private discussion among internal and external stakeholder organizations, initiated by the Western Diocese and hosted on Capitol Hill by Belmont Abbey College, on supporting religious freedoms and other human rights in Artsakh.

“The IRF Summit and the February 3 stakeholder discussion demonstrated, yet again, that coalition building is important for defending Armenian rights,” remarked Archbishop Aykazian. “We are grateful to the many partners that discussed with us the present and future of religious freedom protections concerning all threatened communities, including the Armenian community, and for expressing solidarity for Artsakh amid the ongoing blockade. We look forward to tangible actions on this front.”

The Diocese delegation at the IRF Summit 2023 included scholar Tamar Purut. The delegation worked closely with the Armenian Bar Association’s Sonya Nersessian, who is also a member of the Artsakh Heritage Committee and has been involved in the legal documentation of cultural destruction and religious freedom violations, to discuss the situation with IRF Summit attendees.

Representatives of many other Armenian organizations and allies were also present at the Summit. One such organization, the Philos Project, sponsored the Summit’s closing session, entitled Save Armenia, during which the organization’s president Robert Nicholson spoke on the USA’s WWI-era efforts to save Armenians and asked IRF Summit participants to do the same today for Artsakh as it endures Azerbaijan’s blockade.

The Artsakh Heritage Committee was founded at the initiative of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, in the aftermath of the 2020 war on Artsakh and its ongoing repercussions. The Committee consists of prominent scholars, experts, clergymen, and other key stakeholders dedicated to the cause of safeguarding Armenian cultural heritage under Azerbaijan’s newfound control.

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