03 February 2005

Learning democracy the hard way

AZAD-HYE (3 February 2005): Last Sunday was a day of hope for Iraq.
Unexpected number of Iraqi marched to cast their votes in the first ever
democratic election in a country that has a history of many thousand years
(just like Armenia). The voters ignored the fact that balloting stations
were declared as attacking targets by insurgents.

Iraqis broke the barrier of fear, which for decades kept them away from
politics. The news of successful Iraqi elections spread all around the world
and mainly to the Arab societies. It is an irony that the only two free
elections in the Arab World were conducted in places where occupation troops
exist: Palestine and Iraq. Some will wonder if Arabs are really capable of
achieving democracy without foreign intervention. Yet there is another
question far more intriguing: Will the voting process in Iraq stir
democratic changes in the Arab World and in neighboring Iran?


Although it is difficult to live in a country where basic security needs are
not fulfilled and the number of minority groups is dwindling (only in recent
ten years, half a million Christians have migrated from Iraq, reducing their
overall figure to less than 700 thousand), still it is worth to learn
something from the democratic process of Sunday's elections.

To see how far the Iraqi Armenians can be from democratic practices, we will
narrate the story of Father Ararad, which took place last year.

"To Defrock or not to Defrock?"

To defrock a priest is to deprive him of the right to exercise the functions
of the priestly office. Various religions have different procedures for
doing this. But what is the procedure in our Church? On 12th January 2004
the following Press Release was issued by the “Information Services of the
Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin”:

"His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians,
issued a Pontifical Order whereby Rev. Fr. Ararat Hovsepian from the
Armenian Diocese of Iraq, has been defrocked. From this time forward, he
shall be called by his baptismal name of Norayr Hovsepian, and be recognized
as a member of the laity. The order issued on January 9, is based upon
information and petitions provided by the Primate and the National Central
Committee of the Diocese, that the priest has exhibited demeanour and
conduct unbecoming of a clergyman".

This Pontifical Order does not explain what exactly Rev. Fr. Ararat
Hovsepian did to deserve being defrocked. "Oxford Advanced Learner's
Dictionary" explains "unbecoming" as "not suiting a particular person" or
"not appropriate or acceptable". The Press Release mentions that the Order
"is based upon information and petitions provided by the Primate and the
National Central Committee of the Diocese". It is interesting to know what
kind of investigation has been carried on to verify the source of this
information and whether it was conducted in professional manner.

Father Ararat (about 38 years old), a graduate of Babel Theological Faculty
in Baghdad (seminar for Christian theological education in Iraq), aspired,
after decades of stagnation, to introduce a new wave of thinking in the
Armenian reality in Baghdad, Believing that the time has come for some
change, he started to print a newsletter, where he expressed his views about
how to improve the community life and how to introduce new measures of
accountability, especially in the financial field. He also preached openness
in discussing vital issues concerning the youth.

As it is expected, the traditional forces in the society plotted against
him. One day he way invited, through a fake emergency call, to officiate the
last prayers of a "dying" member of the Community. As he reached the
residence of that person he found himself encircled by senior and prominent
members of the society, who assaulted him causing physical injuries. As if
this was not enough, they misinformed Etchmiadzin authorities and lobbied
for issuing the said Pontifical Order.

Hayr Ararat (Norayr), did not want to leave the priesthood. He found the
doors of the Apostolic Church closed in front of him, so he joined the
Evangelical Church (an Arab-speaking Church in Baghdad). Since then he has
formed a group of hundred youths, who follow his seminars and go to the
sermons. It is reported that half of the attendants are young Armenians,
whose parents belong to the Mother Church.

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