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Cultural Importance of Vank Cathedral as Symbol of Coexistence of Religions

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fatemeh Safavi
Central Asia Analyst

In the early days of October, the Armenian Prelacy of Isfahan, held a conference dubbed “Vank Cathedral, Symbol of Interaction and Coexistence of Divine Religions,” which had special speakers and guests on the list of its invitees. The prelacy had been for a long time making extensive plans to hold a celebration to mark the 350th anniversary of the construction of the Vank Cathedral. (1)

The conference aimed to introduce the activities as well as cultural and social reflections and other positive aspects of this cathedral in terms of promoting interaction among followers of monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam both at national and international levels. During the conference, various issues related to the church, including murals of Vank Cathedral; architecture of Vank Cathedral; the art of writing manuscripts in New Jolfa; role of Armenians living in Isfahan’s New Jolfa neighborhood in shaping civilization of this city; role of Vank Cathedral as a spiritual center; social status and administrative system of New Jolfa Armenians during the 19th century; New Jolfa and international trade in the 17th century; potential opportunities and capacities of Isfahan Armenians for the improvement of relations between Iran and Armenia; role of Isfahan as the sister city of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in promoting relations between Iran and Armenia; as well as the present situation of historical monuments such as statues and cross stones of Old and New Jolfa neighborhoods were presented in papers and posters. The conference was attended by a great number of scholars and researchers from such countries as the United States, Armenia, Italy and Lebanon.

Bishop Papken Tcharian, the religious leader of Armenians in Isfahan and south Iran, played the host to a group of clerics and Armenians from such Iranian cities as Isfahan, Shahin Shahr, Tehran and Tabriz, who had participated in of the event. One of the most respected invitees of the conference was Catholicos Aram I, the head of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia. The ceremony was held in cooperation with the Governor’s Office, the City Hall, General Department of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Isfahan, and other concerned provincial authorities.

After arriving in Iran, Catholicos Aram I attended Saint Sarkis Church (2) to address Armenians living in Tehran. While wishing health and increasing success for the Iranian nation, he said, “I give my special thanks to all the officials of the Islamic Republic.” In his remarks on the founder of the Islamic Republic, he noted, “The measures taken by Imam Khomeini were great and laudable and if the world has just come to appreciate the importance of peaceful coexistence of religions, Iran had reached that point 400 years ago.”

The religious leader of Armenians of the Great House of Cilicia, which is headquartered in Lebanon, added that the revolution which was led by Imam Khomeini in Iran proved to the world that no government can survive without reliance on religious values because the Islamic Revolution in Iran was a spiritual, religious and social revolution. As a result, he added, the Islamic Revolution highlighted the role of divine religions in the society and this is why being loyal to the Islamic Republic is a cause of honor for Armenians.

Catholicos Aram I then put emphasis on religious teachings that stipulate faith as the main impetus for family and social life. Touching on the social lifestyle, he added, “Faith is a source of inspiration in human life,” noting that despite all the difficulties in life, faith will help human beings to remain upright and break considerable grounds.

Papken Tcharian, the bishop of the Armenians in Isfahan and south Iran, then took to the podium noting that one of the greatest honors for the Iranian society is that religious minorities live freely alongside Muslims. He reiterated the remarks of Catholicos Aram I on the necessity of protecting the values of Armenians, noting that the ceremony was not just a simple gathering, but was held to mark the necessity for the protection of Armenians’ values. “For this reason, I am obliged to thank all the country’s officials, especially the Supreme Leader for their unparalleled cooperation with the Armenians to protect their historical monuments and carry out their religious rituals and I have to add that the model introduced by the Islamic Republic of Iran for peaceful coexistence of religions is the best model in the world, which should be followed by other countries as well,” he said.

In addition to touching on domestic issues, which were of interest to Armenian religious leaders, the speakers then turned to important regional and transregional developments. In doing so, they talked about such issues as bilateral relations and interactions between Iran and Armenia and gave their opinions about the activities of terrorist groups, especially the ISIS Takfiri terrorists as one of the main problems in contemporary world.

Catholicos Aram I then explained about the powerful role of Armenians in the political structure of the United States and talked about very important developments that have taken place in international arena. He said due to the very important role and status of Iran in the region and the world, diplomatic activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran can help to solve many regional problems, including the current problems faced in Syria and Lebanon.

He opined that the ISIS is a global scourge and underlined the undeniable role that Iran plays in fighting this group. He added, “Today, we are facing a major evil in the Middle East in the name of the ISIS and we are honored that the Lebanese Hezbollah movement is engaged in a serious and true war with this terrorist group.”

Reflecting on this issue, the bishop of Armenians in Isfahan and south Iran also pointed out that the ideas promoted by the ISIS are absolutely terroristic and have nothing to do with any of the monotheistic religions. He added that the measures taken by this terrorist group (the ISIS) have nothing to do with either Islam, or any other divine religions. As put by Papken Tcharian, the activities of this group can be summed up as animosity to religion and humanity and massacre of innocents and defenseless people. This religious leader asked international organizations not to allow the repetition of human catastrophes in countries that are in war with terrorist groups.

In conclusion, it should be noted that as put by Catholicos Aram I in his remarks, such gatherings serve to remind everybody that dialogue and coexistence among divine religions are major requisites for the establishment of peace and justice across the world. It is also noteworthy that the initiative taken for marking the 350th anniversary of Vank Cathedral in Isfahan provided an opportunity to discuss the existing issues related to the society, religions and the religious establishment. It can also pave the way for better recognition of the existing capacities and help find important and effective solutions to current problems and, as such, serve as a first step toward doing more in this regard. Armenians in all parts of the world can be considered as cultural emissaries of Iran, especially due to the very effective role that they can play in bolstering relations and contacts between the two neighboring countries of Iran and Armenia.

Notes:

(1) It is noteworthy that the historical and religious complex that is now known all around the world as the Vank Cathedral is located in Jolfa neighborhood of the central Iranian city of Isfahan. It is locally known as the center of monotheistic religions, which contains the secretariat of monotheistic religions and is now working as an institution affiliated with the Islamic Propagation Office of Isfahan.

(2) Located along Karim Khan Ave. in the Iranian capital city of Tehran

Key Words: Vank Cathedral, Coexistence of Religions, Interaction, Iran, Armenia, Saint Sarkis Church, Isfahan, Jolfa, Catholicos Aram I, Bishop Papken Tcharian, Great House of Cilicia, ISIS Takfiri Terrorists, Safavi

More By Fatemeh Safavi:

*Caspian Legal Regime Not Out of Hand If Littoral States Overcome Differences: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Caspian-Legal-Regime-Not-Out-of-Hand-if-Littoral-States-Overcome-Differences.htm

*Link For Further Reading: 350th Anniversary of Vank Cathedral

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