BAKU (RFE/RL)–His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and prayed in an abandoned Armenian church in Baku as he ended a landmark visit to Azerbaijan late on Monday, it was reported on Tuesday.
Aliyev and the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church reportedly discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the ongoing summit of world religious leaders in Baku in the presence of Azerbaijan’s top Shia Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade.
Aliyev’s office said they “stressed the importance of the Baku summit … for strengthening inter-religious dialogue and expanding contacts among religious leaders.” It gave no further details.
A separate statement issued by Etchmiadzin on Tuesday said the one-hour meeting took place “in an unconstrained and sincere atmosphere” and also touched upon the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“In that context, the parties welcomed efforts aimed at a peaceful resolution of the conflict, finding important the role of religious leaders and servants in them,” said the statement. “A great deal of importance was attached to mutual visits and contacts among the two peoples, which will further bolster mutual trust and a spirit of cooperation.”
Karekin II and Pashazade were received by the Azerbaijani leader just hours after voicing support for the long-running international efforts to end the Karabakh conflict, in a joint declaration that was also signed by the Russian Orthodox Church leader, Patriarch Kirill II. The two spiritual leaders also vowed to help reconcile their nations, which have been in a de facto state of war for nearly two decades.
Also on Monday, the Catholicos and high-ranking Armenian clerics accompanying him visited a 19th century Armenian church in Baku. The Etchmiadzin statement said they prayed and sang medieval hymns there. It said the Armenian pontiff expressed hope that the Saint Gregory the Illuminator’s Church will eventually “reopen its doors to believers.”
Built in 1887, the church was the main site of worship for Baku’s sizable Armenian community until its forced exodus from the Azerbaijani capital in 1988-1990. An arson attack had seriously damaged it in 1990. The building reportedly underwent renovation in 2004.
Karekin II, who became the first leader of the Armenian Church to set foot in Azerbaijan in decades, flew back to Armenia later in the day. His office said the two Armenian bishops that accompanied him stayed in Baku to take part in the second and final day of the religious forum.