On U.S. tour, Armenian Church leader visits Baton Rouge, New Orleans

The Associated Press State & Local Wire
October 18, 2007 Thursday 2:05 AM GMT

On U.S. tour, Armenian Church leader visits Baton Rouge, New Orleans

By DOUG SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer

The leader of the 7-million member Armenian Orthodox Church visited a
Louisiana church on Wednesday, greeting new parishioners but making
no reference to the political dispute on Capitol Hill over his
country’s bloody past.

Karekin II spoke to Baton Rouge parishioners without raising the
question of whether Congress should declare that Turks committed
genocide in the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in World War I.
Armenians have urged the U.S. House to approve such a resolution;
Turkey, an important American ally, vehemently denies the killings
amount to a genocide.

The church patriarch avoided the topic of the House vote, saying "We
are happy that the Armenian people have shaken off the difficulties
and heavy burden of genocide."

Karekin II has said he supports passage of the measure, and in
previous appearances in his monthlong tour has thanked the House
Foreign Relations Committee for approving it. His remarks Wednesday
were in Armenian, translated into English later by an aide.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday the prospects of a House vote on
Armenian genocide were uncertain, after several members pulled their
support over fears of souring U.S.-Turkish relations.

Baton Rouge was Karekin II’s latest stop in a U.S. tour that included
a stop at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 10 the day the House panel
approved the resolution declaring the killings a genocide. The
church’s top official in the U.S., Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, said
the timing was a coincidence.

"This is a pastoral journey that was planned about a year ago,"
Barsamian said.

On Tuesday, Karekin II was in New Orleans, where he helped paint a
Habitat for Humanity house being built for a musician whose home was
destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

Much of his speech to Baton Rouge’s St. Garabed Armenian Church was
focused on faith, and on thanking the American people for welcoming
Armenians after they were driven out of their homeland.

"I’m sure my people will always be thankful to this nation," he said.

The Armenian Orthodox Church has roughly 1.5 members in the U.S., but
only about 200 in Louisiana, most of them in New Orleans and Baton
Rouge. St. Garabed, which opened several years ago, is its only
church in the state.

Parishioners said they were thrilled to get a visit from their

"Oh, my goodness," said Kaygee Montafian, a board member of the
church. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing."

Karekin II, head of the Armenian church since 1999, had an appearance
scheduled in Dallas on Thursday. His tour, to end on Nov. 1, includes
stops in Houston, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.

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