ETCHMIADZIN (RFE/RL)—His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, will pay a first-ever visit to Azerbaijan next week to take part in a summit of world religious leaders, it was announced on Thursday.
Karekin II’s press office said in a statement that he will travel to Baku on Monday at the invitation of Azerbaijan’s Shia Muslim leader, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, and Russia’s Patriarch Kirill. The latter reaffirmed the invitation during a visit to Armenia last month.
“I would like Karekin II to come and see the realities of Azerbaijan with his own eyes,” Pashazade told the official AzerTaj news agency on March 12. “But I do not think he will come.”
The Armenian Church statement said Pashazade, Karekin II, Kirill, as well as the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch-Catholicos Ilia II, will hold a joint meeting on the margins of the April 27-29 summit that will bring together over 150 religious leaders from around the world.
It did not specify whether the Armenian and Azerbaijani spiritual leaders will meet separately to discuss the bitter conflict between their nations over Nagorno-Karabakh. Nor is it clear if the Catholicos would like to visit an abandoned Armenian church in Baku. His spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Karekin II will become the first high-ranking Armenian cleric to set foot in Azerbaijan since the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1988. He will be accompanied by two Armenian bishops and another priest from his headquarters in Echmiadzin, about 20 kilometers southwest of Yerevan.
Also planning to attend the Baku conference is Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, an Armenian Apostolic Church legate in the United States. The Catholicos’ office said Aykazian will take part in it in his capacity as president of the U.S. National Council of Churches.