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Pope Urges Resolution to Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Meets Armenian President Kocharian at Vatican

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 28, 2005 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II encouraged a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict when he received Armenian President Robert Kocharian in audience.

In his address delivered today in Russian, the Pope spoke about the president’s concern in regard to the long conflict with Muslim Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow.

Armenia, a country with some 3 million inhabitants, and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988. The struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper.

The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution.

“I hope that true and lasting peace comes to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh where you, President Kocharian, come from,” the Holy Father said. “This will come about by a decisive rejection of violence and a patient dialogue between the parties, and also to active international mediation.”

The Holy See “which over the centuries has not failed to denounce violence and defend the rights of the weak, will continue to support all efforts aimed at building a solid and lasting peace,” the Pope continued.

John Paul II promoted the solution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh when he visited Armenia in September 2001 for the celebration of the 1,700 anniversary of the Armenian people’s conversion to the Christian faith.

Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity, in the year 301.

Jan. 19 the Pope blessed a statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator (or the Armenian), apostle of Armenia and founder of the Armenian Church, which has been placed among the founding saints that surround the exterior of St. Peter’s Basilica.

During today’s audience, the Pope expressed to the Armenian president, who was accompanied by his wife, his “sincere appreciation for the good relations between the Holy See and the government of your country.”

“I know that the Catholic community is welcomed and respected, and that its various activities contribute to the well-being of the entire nation,” added John Paul II. “Everyone earnestly hopes that the collaboration between the Holy See and the Armenian government will continue to grow and, where the situation calls for it, that eventual improvements to the status of the Catholic Church will be made.”

The Holy Father then referred to the “friendly and respectful relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.”

“This understanding,” he said, “which is even more active thanks to the initiative of the Catholicos Karekin II, will certainly have positive repercussions for the peaceful coexistence of the entire Armenian people, who are called to face no small number of social and economic challenges.”

Around 90% of Armenian Catholics obey the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate, which separated from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. A decisive step to overcome this division was taken in 1996, when the Pope and the previous Catholicos Karekin I signed a joint declaration that resolved misunderstandings on the nature of Jesus.

The patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX — whose see is in Lebanon, and who leads around 10% of Armenian Christians living in their homeland and in the diaspora, and who are in communion with Rome — has been visiting Rome in recent days to participate in the blessing of the statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator.

After his visit with the Pope, President Kocharian went to see the statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator that now stands in the Vatican.

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