Iraqi Armenians: Learning democracy the hard way

Azad Hye, United Arab Emirates
Feb 3 2005

Iraqi Armenians: 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

“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

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.