There has been a lot of controversy over the proposed building of a new church where the Cinema Moscow amphitheater is located on the corner of Abovyan and Tumanyan Streets. Here’s what we know.
In early March the Armenian government revealed plans to build a new church on the site where the massive St. Poghos-Petros once stood before it was destroyed in the 1930s to make way for a new movie house. Rather than tearing down Cinema Moscow, which would cause mass havoc, the amphitheater—built in the 1960s—will be removed instead. That way, everyone would be happy, or so someone behind this bad idea initially thought.
What’s the problem? The amphitheater is the only one of its kind in Yerevan, where spring and summer concerts are held, albeit infrequently. Last year, however, it was the venue of a classical music festival, and some jazz performances were held there as well. Rock fests have also taken place there in the past. So it clearly serves a beneficial purpose as an inviting open stage to promote the music and arts.
But there seems to be mainly negative connotations associated with this proposal. The restoration of the grounds where Katoghike Church stands on the corner of Abovyan and Sayat Nova Streets has yet to get under way. It’s been nearly two years since demolition of the Linguistics Institute first began. That building constructed by the Soviets was the site of a 17th century cathedral. Katoghike itself was essentially a church within a church dating from the 13th century—the cathedral had been built around it four centuries later. The Soviets apparently decided to preserve Katoghike and simply built the institute around it, which also served as a protective barrier. Now Katoghike stands alone and vulnerable on an empty lot with no signs of construction of a new church and a Yerevan residence for the Catholicos, as was originally intended. (The distance from the Holy See to Yerevan is at most 14 kilometers, by the way.) So given that this plan has still yet to be commenced—apparently when is anyone’s guess—and since it’s virtually one block north from Cinema Moscow, there doesn’t seem to be a need for another church, or rather the expectation of two new ones being built.
There is another fact to consider—there are simply not enough churchgoers to justify the construction of another church. Religious education in Armenia is poor. The first indicator of this is when you visit any church outside of the city—like Khor Virab, one of the most sacred sites in Armenia–on a Sunday afternoon and observe teenagers stomp across the grounds shouting after one another. Inside the church you hear people talking loudly and misbehaving, like they’re in their own living rooms. It makes no difference if the church is working or not, you encounter the same puzzling situation wherever you go. People, especially the younger generations, simply don’t know better because the education is not there.
And that responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of the Catholicos. Sending an SMS message reading “Christ is risen from the dead” on Easter is not enough to actively spread the word of Christ. You can’t build a church and simply expect people to attend and worship, especially on a site where many do not want one to be built at all. Ejmiadzin has been transmitting aggressive messages through a few priests on television who look and sound more like thugs than devout servants of God. The outcry against this project has been regularly publicized in press conferences, talk shows and newspaper articles. The Catholicos himself has remained silent on this issue.
Furthermore, Armenian citizens are generally unhappy with the Armenian Apostolic Church. When you hear people tell you, “We don’t have a Catholicos” or “This guy is a Mafioso,” about the head of the Armenian Church and “All Armenians,” there is something dreadfully wrong. I don’t know a single person who has anything positive to say about Catholicos Karekin II—he is believed by many to be a businessman first and foremost. The “Nor Zovk” chain of supermarkets in Yerevan purportedly belongs to him, as just one example of his enterprise. In reality, Vasken I is still revered and respected as The Catholicos, while his two successors have questionable reputations.
Most of the activism against this project has been initiated by a group called SAVE Cinema Moscow Open-Air Hall, which has as of today 5,862 Facebook members. According to a March 25 article published by EurasiaNet.org, the group collected over 18,000 signatures so far for its petition to stop the project. Last week, Hetq claimed that the number had reached 23,400.
If Karekin II has any intention of saving face, he would resign from this idea altogether. With each passing day he is becoming exceedingly unpopular. The destruction of the amphitheater will earn him a cult status in Armenia, and he will no longer be remotely taken seriously by anyone who comprehends the sublime divinity he is supposed to uphold but is perceived to misrepresent.