Thursday, October 18, 2007

On US tour, Armenian Church leader visits southern state of Louisiana

The Associated Press Published: October 17, 2007

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana: The leader of the 7-million member Armenian Orthodox Church visited a church in the southern state of Louisiana, greeting new parishioners but making no reference to the political dispute in the U.S. Congress over his country's bloody past.

Karekin II spoke to Baton Rouge parishioners on Wednesday 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 of Representatives 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.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday the prospects of a 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.

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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