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TEHRAN, FEBRUARY 18, ARMENPRESS: The Tehran Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church organized the first painting and recital competition among students of local Armenian schools. The topic of the painting competition was the Bible and that of the recital competition were the Psalms.

While handing over prizes the head of the Diocese, Archbishop Sepuh Sarkisian, emphasized the necessity of Christian education at schools and in families, but also criticized the growing “distorted” propaganda by the Iranian television and radio alleging that Iranian Armenians “have deep faith in Islam and its relics.”

He said this is either an “unconscious” propaganda or the outcome of interviews with “poor-informed’ Armenians about Islam and its relics.

Condemning such propaganda, Archbishop Sarkisian stressed that today is the time of dialogue and mutual understanding and there is no need for such primitive propaganda, which he said was a violation of national minorities’ rights.

He said Iranian Armenians have a respect towards Islam, its relics and rituals, but also called on Armenians “to honor the memory of their fallen victims and avoid irrelevant announcements in order to please the interviewers.”

Iran’s officially recognized religious minorities are the Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. But despite the constitutional protection and political representation they enjoy in the Islamic republic, all three communities are dwindling because of emigration and low birth rates.

The Armenians, brought to Persia en masse as merchants and partisans by Shah Abbas in the early 17th century, are the largest official minority. They have two seats in the Islamic parliament , one for Tehran and northern Iran, the other for Isfahan and the south.

“Before the 1979 Islamic revolution there were 300,000 Armenians in Iran. Today, according to some estimates, there are no more than 150,000. Many have moved to join relatives in the United States or Western Europe.

Since Armenian Christians do not proselytize, they are not regarded as a threat to Iran’s Islamic faith.

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