Armenians, Orthodoxy, and the Problem of Confessional Distinctions in Imperial Russia [Noon seminar with Paul Werth]
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Mon. Feb. 8th. Lunch provided.
Paul W. Werth University of Nevada, Las Vegas
In April of 1860 the newspaper Odesskii vestnik carried a short article contending that "the Russian general Melikhov, an Armenian by birth" was then in Constantinople, among other reasons, in order to promote the unification of the Russian and Armenian churches. Several weeks later the famous general Mikhail Loris-Melikov, ascribing the earlier report to his own person, publicly discounted its claims. It was true, he wrote, that he had been in Constantinople, but the reports about church union were false and "inconsistent with both my rank and my devotion to the confession to which I belong." The original article in Odesskii vestnik alas offers no indication as to the currency among Armenians of such claims about the tsarist government's intentions. But the question inevitably arises: on what basis did the newspaper make such a claim? To what extent was union of the Armenian and Russian Orthodox churches a matter of serious contemplation?
I approach this question as an historian of imperial Russia with an interest in the issues of religious toleration and imperial rule in the South Caucasus and throughout the empire. I propose that the experience of the Armenian Church in the Russian Empire – and, by extension, elsewhere – can be better understood when situated in broader contexts, particular those involving tsarist efforts to manage confessional diversity in the empire and, for political purposes, to engineer religious affiliations for certain groups of the subject population. My goal is to reveal both certain specificities of the Armenian confession in Russia and the implication of that church in broader patterns of interaction between state and confessional communities. I want to suggest that the middle portion of the nineteenth century – roughly the 1820s to the 1870s – represented a historical moment when the tsarist government sought to institutionalize fully the country's "foreign confessions" (non-Orthodox religions). Yet this very process, I propose, encouraged some tsarist officials and some spokesmen for non-Orthodox religions to contemplate bold and dramatic acts of confessional engineering, which in one case took the form of the complete elimination of a distinct confessional group – the Uniates – from the territory of the Russian Empire. It is in this context, I propose, that several gestures towards the "union" of Armenian and Orthodox churches should be contemplated.
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