Catholic Missionaries and Armenian Community in Iran

  December 13, 2021   Read time 2 min
Catholic Missionaries and Armenian Community in Iran
The Catholic missionaries had in fact damaged the fragile unity of the Armenian community. There were as a result occasional discords between the Church and the secular leaders of the Armenians.

In 692 the bishop Nahapet Edesaci obtained the seat of the katholikos, with the support of the kalantar of New Julfa, Khwaja Awet. The Armenians forced both men out of their office and elected a new katholikos. Khwaja Awet and the bishop Nahapet Edesaci decided to avenge themselves. The former converted to Islam, and the bishop Nahapet, through Khwaja Awet’s assistance and the support of the Jesuits, had the katholikos elected by the Armenians arrested by the Safavid officials.

A year earlier, in 1691, the Carmelites tell us that the kalantar of New Julfa calumniated the Armenian Catholics to Shah Sulayman, preferring to see them convert to Islam. The Catholic missionaries admit that Shah Sulayman had no predilection for the Armenians, therefore the Armenians were skilled negotiators, as despite the cordial relation the missionaries maintained with the court, the Julfan Armenians were able to thwart their plans for settling and building churches in New Julfa by obtaining edicts from Shah Sulayman forcing them to abandon their plans.749 The Carmelites expressed their confusion about the behaviour of the Armenians, saying that the Armenians and their katholikos put themselves under the authority of the Iranian king voluntarily and incited him against the Catholic emissaries.

The Christian missionaries retaliated against the Apostolic Armenians by having the Pope and other Catholic monarchs send envoys to Iran, in order to win Shah Sultan Husayn’s favour for the Catholic missionaries and denounce the hostility of the Armenians. In 1695, the Carmelites took advantage of the arrival of the Portuguese ambassador (Gregorio Pereira Fidalgo) to present their petition to Sultan Husayn. However, at that time, the Armenian katholikos enjoyed the support of the Queen mother, and therefore the Carmelites saw their attempts fail. Two years later, to the consternation of the Armenians, the Portuguese ambassador was able to obtain from the Shah the right for the Carmelites to establish a Catholic church at New Julfa.

The Armenian katholikos, Aleksander, was exasperated by the attitude of the Catholic missionaries. However, he wished to open a dialogue with Pope Clement XI. He sent him in 1709 a letter which reveals the situation: We can state in the clearest possible way that we live among such people who do not accept Christ as God (...) Also our King (...) who is a non-Christian (...) cares for us and protects us (...) But the fathers who have come to our country behave differently by opposing us and by creating obstacles for us. And when we complain against their behaviour, they present to your greatness false and groundless reports. Being unaware [of the reality] you believe them. In the presence of nonChristians, they call the Armenians schismatic and heretic.

The Pope paid no heed to the grievance of the katholikos, so the Armenians had no other alternative but to appeal to the Shah. They obtained further royal edicts against the Catholic missionaries. This prompted the Catholic bishop of Baghdad to complain about the Armenians in 1711, because the latter had the privileges of the Catholics revoked.

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