International conference on “Church and State Relations - Prospects and Challenges” was held at the headquarters church of Armenia at Etchimiadzin, between 18th and 19th of October 2013. The organizer of the conference was the Armenian Church in cooperation with the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the American Embassy in Armenia. The conference was attended by academics from Belgium, Spain and Armenia, Prominent lawyers from Germany and Armenia, representatives of political parties and organizations and church representatives from both Armenia and from the Moscow Patriarchate. The Church of Cyprus, on behalf of Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis was represented by deacon Nektarios Ioannou.
Bishop Hovakim Manukyan welcomed the delegates on behalf of the Armenian Church and the Catholic Patriarch Karekin II. He conveyed to the participants the greetings of Patriarch to achieve the objectives of the conference. The state was represented by the vice president of parliament Mrs Hermineh Naghdalyan who read the message of the chairman of the parliament of Armenia. Finally General Secretary of CEC Dr. Guy Liagre spoke on behalf of the organisation.
The speaker on the first part of the conference was Mr. Marco Ventura, professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, who developed on the legal and constitutional elements which shall be contained in a Constitution to ensure good relations between the Church and the state primarily to preserve religious freedom. In addition , Fr Shahe Ananian developed on the relations between the Armenian church and the state but also on the sectors of activity of the Armenian church under the Constitution of the country.
In the second part the relations between Church and state in various countrieswas analysed. Speakers were Fr Sergey Matyushin from the Patriarchate of Moscow, Archbishop Rafayel Minasyan from the Armenian Church and Fr Asatur Nahapetyan on behalf of the Baptist Church of Armenia. The speakers presented the rights and obligations of the churches in the countries where they come from and the legal context in which they operate and perform various activities (education, culture, economy etc.).
In the third part international legal frameworks on the protection of human rights and especially the guarantee of the right of religious freedom were explicated. Speakers were Dr. Peter Kroemer lawyer and president of the Evangelical Church of Austria, Ms Elisabeta Kitanovic of CEC and its Subcommittee on Human Rights, Dr. Jose Luis Bazan on behalf of COMECE and finally deacon Nektarios Ioannou on behalf of the Representation of the Church of Cyprus to the European Institutions. All participants stressed the need to safeguard human rights and especially religious freedom at the constitutional level on the basis of international resolutions and European law. Deacon Nektarios Ioannou talked about the application of the above issues via the Cyprus Constitution as well as the special relationship of the Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus in a country where there are other religious minorities.
In the last session of the conference the challenges and prospects for the relations between church and state of Armenia were discussed with great interest. Speakers were Mr. Grigor Muradyan, from the Ministry of Justice, Dr.Thomas Samuelian from the American University of Armenia, Mr. Artak Zakaryan of the International Committee of Armenia on international relations, and finally Mr. Tigran Mesropyan, politician, on behalf of the Public Administration Academy of Armenia. All speakers deployed on the sectors which religious groups in Armenia should assist, rights and obligations they have, on the issue of proselytizing as well as the need for closer cooperation, respect and solidarity between them.
During the conference the Catholic Patriarch of Armenia Mr. Karekin II welcomed the participants in the great hall of the Patriarchate. He thanked the participants for their contribution and explained in detail the problems faced by the Armenian Church and the State (economic, political, cultural, social). The representative of the Church of Cyprus had a private meeting with the Patriarch where they discussed about the conference and prospects while at the end , deacon Nektarios Ioannou offered to the Patriarch books on cultural destruction in the occupied part of Cyprus and traditional products, on behalf of the Church of Cyprus. The Patriarch thanked the Church of Cyprus for participating in the conference and finally stressed on the loyal relationship the two churches have.