Religion in Armenia

Religion in Armenia
Baptism of Tiridates III.

97% of Armenians follow Christianity, which has existed in Armenia for over 1,700 years. Armenia has its own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which most Armenians follow. Christianity has a strong influence in the country, but there is a small presence of other religions too.



Armenian Apostolics (Oriental Orthodox)

Christianity was first introduced by the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the first century AD. Armenia became the first country to establish Christianity as its state religion when, in an event traditionally dated to 301 A.D, St. Gregory the Illuminator convinced Tiridates III, the king of Armenia, to convert to Christianity. Before this, the dominant religion was Zoroastrianism and to a smaller degree paganism.

Armenian Catholics

Smaller groups belong to the Armenian Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with Rome). Artjom Mailjan Breda

Armenian Evangelicals

There are also small communities of Protestant Armenians of various denominations, as missionaries converted a number of Armenians.

Other denominations and sects

The Jehovah's Witnesses have a presence as well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims over 2,000 adherents in Armenia at the end of 2005 ( website).

Armenian Paganism

There is a strong and growing ethnic (Reconstructionistic) Neopagan movement in Armenia. Adherents call themselves Hetans or Hetanos (հեթանոս). The movement traces its origins in the work of the early XX century ideologue Garegin Nzhdeh and his doctrine of Tseghakron.[1]

In 1991 it was institutionalised by the armenologist Slak Kakosyan under the umbrella organisation called Armenian Hetan Alliance.[1] The doctrine and mythology of the new Pagan movement is codified into a book, the Ukhtagirk, written by Kakosyan himself.[1] The association claims roughly 3000 members, even though a 2005 survey puts the number of unaffiliated Armenian Hetans at 32% of the population (the remaining being constituted by a 37% of Christians and a 24% of non-religious).[2]

Armenian Neopagans worship the gods of the traditional Armenian pantheon: Haik, Aray, Barsamin, Aralez, Anahit, Mihr, Astghik, Nuneh, Tir, Nar, Amanor, Spandaramet, Gissaneh, with a particular emphasis on the cult of the solar god Vahagn. They have re-consecrated the Temple of Garni (a Hellenistic-style temple rebuilt in 1975), originally a temple to Mihr, to Vahagn, and they use it for regular worship and as a center of activity.[1]

The movement is strongly associated to Armenian nationalism, since it finds its foundations in the desire of Armenians to recover their pure ancestral cultural identity.[1] It finds some support from nationalist political parties of Armenia, particularly the Armenian Republican Party and the Union of Armenian Aryans.[1] Ashot Navasardyan, the founder of the Armenian Republican Party, which is also the currently leading party of the country, was a Pagan himself, as many other members of the party are.[1]


Jews have a historic presence in Armenia. During the Soviet years, Armenia was considered to be one of the most tolerant republics for Jews in the Soviet Union. Currently there are an estimated 750 Jews in the country, a remnant of a once larger community. Most left Armenia for Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union because of inadequate services. Still, despite the small numbers, a high intermarriage rate and relative isolation, a lot of enthusiasm exists to help the community meet its needs.[3]


Azeris and Kurds living in Armenia traditionally practiced Islam, but most Azeris have fled the country due to the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Approximately 1,000 Muslims live in Yerevan, and one 18th century Mosque remains open for Friday prayers.Islam in Armenia consists mostly of Azeris and Muslim Kurds. In 2009, the Pew Research Center estimated that less than 0.1% of the population, or about 1,000 people, were Muslims.[1]

Armenians did not convert to Islam in large numbers. During the Arabic conquest, Islam came to the Armenians however, almost all Armenians never converted to Islam, since Christians were not required to convert by Muslim law, and the absence of heavy taxation also hindered this. The story was similar in the Ottoman Empire.

During 1988-1991 the overwhelming majority of Muslim population consisting of Azeris and Muslim Kurds fled the country as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh War and the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There is also a significant community of Yazidi Kurds (50-70,000 people), who were not affected by this conflict. Since the early 1990s, Armenia has also attracted diverse esoteric and sectarian groups. [2]

Armenia continues to be one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in Europe. Armenian 97.9%, Russian 0.5%, Kurds 1.3%, other 0.3% (2001) Read more: Ethnicity and Race by Countries —


About 2% of Armenia's population, mostly ethnic Kurds living in the western part of the country, follow the ancient Yazidi religion. Many Yazidis came to Armenia and Georgia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to escape religious persecution.

Baháí Faith

The Bahá'í Faith in Armenia begins with some involvements in the banishments and execution of the Báb,[4] the Founder of the Bábí Faith, viewed by Bahá'ís as a precursor religion. The same year of the execution of the Báb the religion was introduced into Armenia.[5] During the period of Soviet policy of religious oppression, the Bahá'ís in Armenia lost contact with the Bahá'ís elsewhere.[6] However in 1963 communities were identified[7] in Yerevan and Artez.[8] Following Perestroika the first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies of Armenia form in 1991[9] and Armenian Bahá'ís elected their first National Spiritual Assembly in 1995.[8] As of 2004 the Bahá'ís claim about 200 members in Armenia[10] but as of 2001 Operation World estimated about 1,400.[11]

Freedom of religion

The Constitution as amended in December 2005 provides for freedom of religion; however, the law places some restrictions on the religious freedom of adherents of minority religious groups, and there were some restrictions in practice. The Armenian (Apostolic) Church, which has formal legal status as the national church, enjoys some privileges not available to other religious groups.

Some religious denominations reported occasional discrimination by mid- or low-level government officials but found high-level officials to be tolerant. Jehovah's Witnesses reported that judges sentenced them to longer prison terms for evasion of alternative military service than in the past, although the sentences were still within the range allowed by law. Societal attitudes toward some minority religious groups were ambivalent, and there were reports of societal discrimination directed against members of these groups.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Yulia Antonyan. Re-creation of a Religion: Neopaganism in Armenia. Yerevan State University. This and other papers about Armenian Hetanism are available here.
  2. ^ Karine Ter-Saakian. Armenia: Pagan Games. In a country normally associated with strong Christian identity, many are opting for the old gods.. Institute for War & Peace Reporting.
  3. ^ Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Eurasia: Armenia and Jews
  4. ^ Quinn, Sholeh A. (2009). "Aqasi, Haji Mirza (‘Abbas Iravani)(c. 1783–1849)". In Morrison, Gayle. the Bahá’í Encyclopedia Project. Online. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States. 
  5. ^ Balci, Bayram; Jafarov, Azer (2007-02-21), "The Baha’is of the Caucasus: From Russian Tolerance to Soviet Repression {2/3}",, 
  6. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1936-03-11). The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Haifa, Palestine: US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1991 first pocket-size edition. pp. 64–67. 
  7. ^ Monakhova, Elena (2000). "From Islam to Feminism via Baha'i Faith". Women Plus… 2000 (03). 
  8. ^ a b Hassall, Graham. "Notes on Research on National Spiritual Assemblies". Research notes. Asia Pacific Bahá'í Studies. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  9. ^ Ahmadi, Dr. (2003). "Major events of the Century of Light". homepage for an online course on the book “Century of Light”. Association for Bahá’í Studies in Southern Africa. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  10. ^ "Armenia International Religious Freedom Report 2004". The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affair. 2005. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  11. ^ "Republic of Armenia, Hayastan". Operation World. Paternoster Lifestyle. 2001. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 

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