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10 historic ties Russia has with the Kurds of the Middle East

Russia and the Kurds are fighting against a common enemy in Syria. But their cooperation stretches back into history

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(Origins) – Russia’s cooperation with the Kurds of Iraq and Syria in the fight against ISIL has been widely publicized by the Western media. However, less well-known is the fact that Russia’s relations with various Kurdish groups date back almost two centuries.

Spread across the mountainous frontiers of TurkeyIran, Iraq, and Syria, the Kurds number approximately 30 million people. Although united in a struggle for civil and political rights, they comprise various tribal affiliations and speak different dialects. Most Kurds are Muslim (primarily Sunni, but also Shia). Some are adherents of the Yazidi faith, a religion that shares common elements with Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism.

Russia’s southern expansion (from the 18th century on) in search of secure borders and natural resources brought it into contact with different Kurdish tribes. Since then, Moscow has maintained relations with Kurds both inside and outside of its borders. This history forms an important part of Russia’s relationship with the Middle East and underscores its unique position between Europe and Asia. Below are 10 of the most significant moments in Russian-Kurdish relations, from Pushkin to the Peshmerga.

1986 CIA map of Kurdish-inhabited areas in the Middle East and the Soviet Union (left), and 1960 Soviet ethnographic map of the Near East with Kurdish populations in orange. (Courtesy of the Stephen S. Clark Library at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.) For more maps of the Kurdistan region, see the work by Dr. Mehrdad Izady at the Gulf/2000 Project at Columbia University here.

1. The Poet and the Peacock People

Self-portrait of Aleksandr Pushkin on horseback, 1829, from the Ardis republication of the 1934 edition of Pushkin’sJourney to Arzrum assembled by Russian émigré ballet dancer and choreographer, Serge Lifar. (Image from author’s personal collection, courtesy of the John G. White Special Collection of Folklore, Orientalia, and Chess at the Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland.)

Russia’s conquest of the Caucasus brought several new ethnic groups into the tsarist state. Among them were many Yazidi Kurds, also known as the “peacock people” due to Melek Taus, the “Peacock Angel,” one of the central figures in their faith. While accompanying the Russian military during the 1829 Turkish campaign, the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkinencountered a detachment of Yazidis in the Russian army. “There are about three hundred families [of Yazidis] who live at the foot of Mount Ararat,” Pushkin wrote in his Journey to Arzrum. ‘They have recognized the rule of the Russian sovereign.” From Yazidi chief Hasan Aga, “a tall monster of a man in a red tunic and black cap,” Pushkin learned about the particulars of the Yazidi faith. After exchanging these pleasant tidings with the curious Yazidis, the poet was relieved to find that they were far from being the “devil-worshippers” that many claimed.

2. Khachatur Abovian, Armenian Founder of Russian Kurdology

Abovian Among the Kurds, painting by Mkrtich Sedrakyan, 1950. (Image from author’s personal collection, courtesy of the Khachatur Abovian House-Museum, Yerevan, Armenia.)

Celebrated Armenian writer Khachatur Abovian was the founder of Kurdish Studies in Russia. Educated at Dorpat (present-day Tartu, Estonia) on the invitation of Friedrich Parrot, he was the first Armenian author to write in the Armenian vernacular as opposed to Classical Armenian. Although a major Armenian national figure, Abovian’s outlook was universal. His wife was German and he recorded Kurdish and Azerbaijani Tatar folklore in Armenia.

Abovian quickly became a “trusted friend” of the Yazidis and Kurds.  He wrote extensively about their life and customs, though he erroneously contended that the Yazidi faith was a heretical offshoot of the Armenian Church. In 1844, Hasanli Yazidi chief Timur Aga was invited by Prince Mikhail Vorontsov, the new viceroy of Russian Transcaucasia, to a banquet with Kurdish and Turkish tribal leaders in Tiflis. After returning to his tribe with a gift from Vorontsov, the chief held a feast and invited Abovian to attend.

3. Red Kurdistan

Map of the Kurdistan Uezd within Soviet Azerbaijan, from Atlas Soyuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik (Moscow: TSIK SSSR, 1928).

Following the Sovietization of the Caucasus, Soviet authorities began delineating national boundaries according to the Soviet nationality policy. In 1923, the Kurds of Soviet Azerbaijansandwiched between Soviet Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, were granted their own district by Baku with its center at Lachin. Officially known as the Kurdistan Uezd (“Red Kurdistan” or “Kurdistana Sor”), it was not formally autonomous and the Soviet Azerbaijani government did little to promote Kurdish culture.

According to the 1926 Soviet Census, 72% of the population were Kurds, although most of them spoke Azerbaijani Tatar as their first language. The uezd was abolished in 1929 alongside other Azerbaijani uezds, but was briefly revived in 1930 as the Kurdistan Okrug, before being divided into districts. In subsequent decades, the Kurds of this region were assimilated into the Azerbaijani population, while other Azerbaijani Kurds were deported by Soviet authorities to Central Asia under Stalin in 1937.

4. Zare – The First Kurdish Film

Zare (1926). Full film restored and digitized by Gosfilmofond (Russia) and commissioned by the Golden Apricot International Film Festival (Yerevan).

Zare (1926), the first Kurdish film, was produced in the Soviet Union by Armenkino, the Soviet Armenian film studio. It is about a young Yazidi Kurdish girl, Zare, and her love for the shepherd Saydo on the eve of the Russian Revolution. Unfortunately for Zare and Saydo, they have to fight for their love against a licentious bek (local noble), a corrupt tsarist Russian bureaucracy, and local social patriarchy. The film was directed by Amo Bek-Nazaryan in the era of the Soviet New Economic Policy (NEP), which saw the rise of avant-garde filmmakerssuch as Sergei Eisenstein. Bek-Nazaryan praised Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), released a year earlier. “In his wonderful movie,” wrote Bek-Nazaryan, “Eisenstein boldly used not only actors, but also people previously not connected to theatre or cinema, but whose appearances meet his artistic vision… In Zare, I was forced to do the same.” The film remains a classic of Kurdish cinema.

5. The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad

Mahabad (2017). Short documentary film from the Kurdistan Memory Programme.

In 1941, wartime allies Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran to secure crucial Allied supply lines. Iranian leader Reza Shah, who harbored sympathies for the Axis Powers, was overthrown by the Allies and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was placed on the throne. Iran remained occupied for the duration of the war, with the USSR occupying the northern half of the country and Britain the southern half.

At the end of the war, Moscow refused to leave its zone of influence and began to sponsor breakaway republics in Iranian Azerbaijan and Iranian Kurdistan. The latter republic was established at Mahabad in 1946. Qazi Mohammad served as its president, and Mustafa Barzani, the Kurdish rebel leader from Iraq, served as its Minister of Defense. The euphoria of this Kurdish republic was short-lived. Stalin withdrew support after Moscow secured oil concessions from the West. The Mahabad republic was subsequently crushed by Tehran.

6. A Kurdish Rebel in Exile

Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Northern Iraq, spring 1965, photograph by William Carter. (Courtesy of the William Carter Papers at the Stanford Special Collections and University Archives at Stanford University.)

After Tehran retook Mahabad, Mustafa Barzani and his followers fled north, across the Aras River, into Soviet Transcaucasia in June 1947. There they engaged in training and Barzani learned fluent Russian. Initially hosted by Soviet Azerbaijan, Barzani had a disagreement with Soviet Azerbaijani leader Mir Jafar Bagirov, a close ally of Lavrentiy Beria, who attempted to control Barzani and his followers. They were transferred by Moscow to Soviet Uzbekistan in 1948. However, the group did not escape Bagirov’s wrath and were dispersed throughout the Soviet Union.

Reunited in 1951, their situation improved dramatically after the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1953. Barzani studied at the Frunze Military Academy and met with Nikita Khrushchev, who was reportedly impressed with the Kurdish leader. Deeply appreciative of Moscow’s assistance, the Barzanis returned to Iraq in 1958. Moscow still enjoys good relations with the Barzanis, including Barzani’s son, Masoud, former president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

7. Kurdish Culture in the Soviet Union

Photograph of Kurdish listeners of Radio Yerevan, 1955. (Image from author’s personal collection, courtesy of Dr. Jalile Jalil and Zeri İnanç.)

The Soviet Union played a vital role in preserving Kurdish culture. In the drive toward mass literacy, Kurds and Yazidis in Soviet Armenia learned their language in three alphabets – first Armenian, then Latin, and finally Cyrillic. Armenia became a major center for Kurdish-language publications, including the newspaper Riya Taze (New Path) and several children’s books. The first Kurdish novel, written by Soviet Yazidi author Ereb Shamilov, was published in Yerevan in 1935.

Kurdish-language broadcasts by Radio Yerevan began in 1955 and had a major impact on Kurds beyond the borders of the USSR. Kurds in neighboring countries, especially Turkey, picked up the Soviet transmissions and were delighted to hear their native language, which was heavily repressed elsewhere. The broadcasts were crucial for the development of Kurdish ethnic self-awareness, and the socialist message of the Soviet Union strongly resonated among many Kurds. Soviet Kurds also proudly served the USSR in World War II.

8. Kurds and Yazidis in the Post-Soviet States

A Moment in the Sun for Armenia’s Yazidis. Report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 19, 2017.

After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the Kurds of the region became divided among the newly independent states of Eurasia. The Kurds of Russia are both Muslim and Yazidi and are primarily concentrated in the North Caucasus, especially in the Krasnodar Krai. In Georgia, they are mostly concentrated in Tbilisi and there is also a significant Kurdish population in post-Soviet Central Asia.

Yazidis form the largest ethnic minority in Armenia and are located in different provinces, most notably in Armavir, Aragatsotn, and Ararat. Many fought alongside Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Divided on identity, some post-Soviet Yazidis see themselves as a subgroup of Kurds, while others see themselves as a separate ethnic group. Currently, the largest Yazidi temple in the world is under construction in Armenia. Yazidis have representation in the Armenian and Georgian parliaments and both Armenia and Georgiahave accepted Yazidi refugees who are fleeing persecution by ISIL.

9. Russia Allies with Syrian and Iraqi Kurds against ISIL

Syrian Kurds open a diplomatic mission in Moscow. Footage from Ruptly, February 10, 2016.

Russia is allied with the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds in the fight against ISIL. After the shootdown of the Russian Sukhoi-24 plane by Turkey over the Turkish-Syrian border, Moscow enhancedits relations with representatives of the Kurdish communities in IraqSyria, and Turkey. It has maintained these ties even as its relationship with Ankara improved. Allies of both Washington and Moscow, the Syrian Kurds have managed to bring the two powers togetheragainst ISIL.

However, as the Syrian Civil War comes to a close, new questions arise regarding the post-war peace. Damascus has signaled its openness to devolving power to the Syrian Kurds through political autonomy. However, the Syrian Kurds prefer a federal system for Syria based on direct democratic representation. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support for convening an all-Syrian peace congress with “all ethnic and religious groups.”  On October 31, Moscow invited the Kurds to participate in this congress.

10. Russia and the Iraqi Kurdish Independence Referendum

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, June 16, 2016. (Source: Kurdistan Regional Government)

On September 25, 2017, the Kurds of Iraq held a referendum on political independence from Baghdad, which 92.3% of the population supported. The result provoked an angry response from the Iraqi central government, supported by Turkey and Iran. The tension culminated in Baghdad’s capture of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Russia was restrained in its reaction to the referendum. Although it “respected the national aspirations of the Kurds,” it simultaneously encouraged dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad. Significantly, Russia was the only major power that did not call on the Iraqi Kurds to cancel the referendum. In addition to Moscow’s historical ties to the Barzani clan, it is the top funder of Iraqi Kurdish gas and oil deals. Russia has emphasized that cooperation in the energy sphere remains unaffected by the referendum. On October 18, Russian energy giant Rosneft signed an energy deal with Iraqi Kurdistan, reaffirming its commitment to the region.

BONUS: Aram Khachaturian’s Saber Dance

The Saber Dance from the ballet Gayane, conducted by Aram Khachaturian, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, 1964.

Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian is regarded as one of the three “titans” of Soviet music, alongside Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergey Prokofiev. One of his most famous ballets, Gayane, involves Kurdish characters and themes. Completed at the outbreak of World War II, it featured a libretto by Konstantin Derzhavin and choreography by Nina Anisimova, Derzhavin’s wife. The original libretto was an interethnic love story involving Armenians, Kurds, and Russians, set against the backdrop of a mountainous kolkhoz(collective farm) in Soviet Armenia, on the Soviet-Turkish frontier.

The ballet is best known for Khachaturian’s fiery Saber Dance, which he originally called “the Dance of the Kurds.” In November 1942, Khachaturian wrote that he started composing the melody “at three in the afternoon and worked until two AM.” When it was performed at a dress rehearsal the following evening, the composer noted that it “immediately impressed the orchestra, the dancers, and the audience.”

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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Russian Orthodox Church officially breaks ties with Constantinople

Biggest separation in almost 1,000 years as world’s largest Orthodox Church cuts communion with Constantinople over legitimizing schismatics.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate became official today, October 15, 2018, as the Russian Holy Synod reviewed the recent granting of communion to two schismatic groups in Ukraine, pursuant to Constantinople’s intent to grant autocephaly (full self-rule, or independence) to the agglomeration of these groups.

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RT reported that the Synod ruled that any further clerical relations with Constantinople are impossible, given the current conditions. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev told journalists today about the breach in relations:

“A decision about the full break of relations with the Constantinople Patriarchate has been taken at a Synod meeting” that is currently been held in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, Hilarion said, as cited by TASS.

The move comes days after the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate decided to eventually grant the so-called autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, thus making the clerical organization, which earlier enjoyed a broad autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate, fully independent.

The Moscow Patriarchate also said that it would not abide by any decisions taken by Constantinople and related to the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. “All these decisions are unlawful and canonically void,” Hilarion said, adding that “the Russian Orthodox Church does not recognize these decisions and will not follow them.”

At the same time, the Russian Church expressed its hope that “a common sense will prevail” and Constantinople will change its decision. However, it still accused the Ecumenical Patriarch of initiating the “schism.”

The marks the most significant split in the Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054, in which Rome excommunicated Constantinople, a breach between the Roman Catholics and Orthodox which has persisted ever since then, becoming hardened and embittered after the Roman Catholic armies sacked Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

Many other local Orthodox Churches expressed support for the Moscow Patriarchate’s position prior to today’s announcement, but the break in relations between these two churches does not have any known affect on local churches who hold communion with both Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarchate at this time.

The website Orthochristian.com ran the entire statement of the Holy Synod regarding this situation. We offer a brief summary of statements here, taken from that source and patriarcha.ru, adding emphasis.

With deepest pain, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church received the message of the Patriarchate of Constantinople published on October 11, 2018 about the decisions adopted by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople: on the confirmation of the intention to “grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church”; on the opening of the “stavropegion” of the Patriarch of Constantinople in Kiev; on the “restoration in the hierarchal or priestly rank” of the leaders of the Ukrainian schism and their followers and the “return of their faithful to Church communion”; and on the “cancellation of the action” of the conciliar charter of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1686 concerning the transfer of the Kiev Metropolia to the Moscow Patriarchate

The Synod of the Church of Constantinople made these decisions unilaterally, ignoring the calls of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the entirety of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the fraternal Local Orthodox Churches, and their primates and bishops for pan-Orthodox discussion of the issue.

Entering into communion with those who have departed into schism, let alone those who have been excommunicated from the Church, is tantamount to departing into schism and is severely condemned by the canons of the holy Church: “If any one of the bishops, presbyters, or deacons, or any of the clergy shall be found communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated, as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church” (Canon 2 of the Council of Antioch; Canon 10, 11 of the Holy Apostles).

The decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the “restoration” of the canonical status and the reception into communion of the former Metropolitan Philaret Denisenko, excommunicated from the Church, ignores a number of successive decisions of the Bishops’ Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church, the legitimacy of which are beyond doubt.

By the decision of the Bishops’ Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kharkov of May 27, 1992, Metropolitan Philaret (Denisenko) was removed from the Kiev Cathedra and was banned from the clergy for not fulfilling the oath made by him before the cross and the Gospel at the previous Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

By its ruling of June 11,1992, the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, confirmed the decision of the Kharkov Council and expelled Philaret Denisenko from his rank, depriving him of every degree of the priesthood on the following charges: “Cruel and arrogant attitude to the subordinate clergy, dictatorialness, and intimidation (Tit. 1:7-8; Canon 27 of the Holy Apostles); introducing temptation among the faithful by his behavior and personal life (Matthew 18:7; Canon 3 of the First Ecumenical Council, Canon 5 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council); oath-breaking (Canon 25 of the Holy Apostles); public slander and blasphemy against the Bishops’ Council (Canon 6 of the Second Ecumenical Council); the celebration of clerical functions, including ordinations, in a state of suspension (Canon 28 of the Holy Apostles); the perpetration of a schism in the Church (Canon 15 of the First-Second Council).” All ordinations performed by Philaret in a suspended state since May 27, 1992, and the punishments imposed by him, were declared invalid.

Despite repeated calls for repentance, after the deprivation of his hierarchal rank Philaret Denisenko continued his schismatic activity, including within the bounds of other Local Churches. By the ruling of the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of 1997, he was given over to anathema.

The aforesaid decisions were recognized by all the Local Orthodox Churches, including the Church of Constantinople.

… Now, after more than two decades, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has changed its position for political reasons.

… St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, in his Pedalion, which is an authoritative source of ecclesiastical-canonical law of the Church of Constantinople, interprets Canon 9 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, rejecting the false opinion on the right of Constantinople to consider appeals from other Churches: “The Primate of Constantinople does not have the right to act in the dioceses and provinces of other Patriarchs, and this rule did not give him the right to take appeals on any matter in the Ecumenical Church… “ Listing a whole range of arguments in favor of this interpretation, referring to the practice of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, St. Nikodemos concludes: “At present … the Primate of Constantinople is the first, the only, and the last judge over the metropolitans subordinate to him—but not over those who are subject to the rest of the Patriarchs. For, as we said, the last and universal judge of all the Patriarchs is the Ecumenical Council and no one else.” It follows from the above that the Synod of the Church of Constantinople does not have canonical rights to withdraw judicial decisions rendered by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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Patriarch Bartholomew lifts anathemas on schismatics in Ukraine (VIDEO)

Most of the Orthodox world is in strong opposition to this move by Patriarch Bartholomew, whose motivations seem not to be of Christ.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The biggest news in the Eastern Orthodox world in recent times occurred on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, lifted the anathemas against two schismatic Ukrainian Churches and their leaders, paving the way to the creation of a fully independent Ukrainian national Orthodox Church.

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This announcement was given in English and is shown here in video with the textual transcript following:

“Presided by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Sacred Synod convened for its regular session from October 9 to 11, 2018 in order to examine and discuss items on its agenda. The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length, the ecclesiastical mater of Ukraine in the presence of His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and His Grace Bishp Ilarion of Edmonon, Patriarchal Exarchs to Ukraine, and following extensive deliberations decreed (emphasis added):

First, to renew the decision already made, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine;

Second, to re-establish at this moment the stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kiev—one of its many starvorpegion in Ukraine that existed there always;

Third, to accept and review the petitions of appeal of Philaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich and their followers who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy of all the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church;

Fourth, to revoke the legal binding of the Synodal letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through economia to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the clergy-laity assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople;

Fifth, to appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties as well as every other act of violence and retaliation so that he peace and love of Christ may prevail.”

There are a few things that must be said about what this declaration is not before we get to the matter of what the points of actually are. The point of reference is the strict letter of the text above itself.

  • This is not a granting of autocephaly (full independent self-rule status) like the fourteen universally canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the world. However, it is a huge step towards this status.
  • As far as Constantinople is concerned, Filaret Denisenko, the leader and “Patriarch” of the “Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and Makary, the “Metropolitan” of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church”, and all their faithful are now restored to communion. The statement says that this applies to “The Church” which may be trying to state that these two men (and all the faithful that they lead), are now in communion with the entirety of canonical Orthodoxy, but more likely, this may be a carefully worded statement to say they now are in communion with Constantinople alone.
  • There is an official call for the cessation of the violence directed against the Moscow Patriarchate parishes and communities, who are the only canonically recognized Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and who are also the largest by far in that country. The Kyiv Patriarchate and Uniate (Roman oriented) Greek Catholics in Ukraine have gone on record for seizing MP church properties, often by force, with neo-Nazi sympathizers and other radical Ukrainian nationalists. So this official call to cease the violence is now a matter of public record.

However, the reaction has been far less civil than the clergy wished for.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: “Expressing his view of the Moscow Patriarchate, Poroshenko added, “This is a great victory of the God-loving Ukrainian people over the Moscow demons, the victory of Good over Evil, the victory of Light over Darkness.”’

Perhaps this is the reason Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine (exarch under the Moscow Patriarchate) has been labeled an enemy of Ukraine and is now receiving death threats. Very civil.

Poroshenko’s statement is all the more bizarre, considering that it has been Ukrainian ultra-nationalists that have been violently attacking Moscow – related parishes in Ukraine. This has been corroborated by news sources eager to pin the blame on Russia, such as the U.K. Guardian.

The Union of Orthodox Journalists, based in Kiev and supportive of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been under intense cyber attack since October 11th, when the EP’s announcement was issued.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary: “What happened at the Synod in Istanbul yesterday shocked the entire Orthodox world. It seems the Patriarchate of Constantinople is consciously embarking on a path of schism in world Orthodoxy. Patriarch Bartholomew ignored the calls of the Local Churches to convene a meeting of the primates to work out a common and conciliar solution to the Ukrainian Church issue and unilaterally made very serious but erroneous decisions. I hope the Orthodox world will give this action an objective evaluation… Having received the schismatics into communion, Patriarch Bartholomew did not make them canonical, but has himself embarked on the path of schism. The schismatics remain schismatics. They did not receive any autocephaly or tomos. It seems they have lost even that independence, although non-canonical, that they had and which they always emphasized.”

Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia:“The Orthodox world recognizes the only canonical primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. This fact was repeatedly mentioned and confirmed by the primate of the Great Church of Christ His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on behalf of all present at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches that was held in Chambésy (Switzerland) from January 21 to 27, 2016. Therefore, any attempt to legalize the Ukrainian schismatics by the state authorities should be strongly condemned by all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Patriarch Irinej of Serbia wrote two letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch, advocating that the provision of a new autocephaly is possible only with the consent of all local Orthodox Churches. According to Sedmitza.ru (Translation by Pravoslavie.ru),

“In these letters, it was very clearly stated that the granting of autocephaly cannot be the prerogative the Patriarchate of Constantinople alone, that new autocephalies must be created only with the consent of all the Local Orthodox Churches, as the Holy Synod of Antioch also said in its recent statement.”

Pat. Irinej also warned the Patriarchate of Constantinople against making such major decisions unilaterally, because “it will not bring harmony and peace to the Ukrainian land, but, on the contrary, will cause new divisions and new schisms.”

The Holy Synod of Antioch, the oldest Orthodox Church, and actually the very first place where the disciples of Christ were even called “Christians” weighed in on the issue as well and they had several things to say:

“The fathers examined the general Orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to a unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissensions and quarrels within the one Church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox world.

To summarize, this move by Constantinople is not being warmly received by many, many people. Most of the local Churches are on record giving their reaction to this process. In brief, here is the list most of the Local Churches and a one or two word summary of their reactions.

Patriarchate of Georgia: Unilateral action is wrong; Constantinople and Moscow must cooperate and find a solution together.

Patriarchate of Jerusalem: recognizes Ukraine as a canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church alone, as do all other local Churches

Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa: The Church does not bow to politicians. Moscow-led church is the only canonical Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop of Cyprus: Decries the Ukrainian situation but offered to mediate a discussion between Moscow and Constantinople

Bulgarian Patriarchate: Interference of the State in Church affairs leads to serious and negative consequences for both.

Polish Orthodox Church: Metropolitan Sawa called for a council of Orthodox ruling hierarchs to discuss this situation.

Estonian Orthodox Church: Condemns Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

Greek Archdiocese of America: Supports Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

The Orthodox Church of Greece (Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus quoted): “Schismatics, as we know, are not the Church, and communion with them is forbidden by the Divine and holy canons and the Apostolic and Ecumenical Councils. Why then this persistence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in recognizing schismatics as an autocephalous Church? To provoke schisms and divisions in the one universal and Apostolic Church of Christ?”

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR): Ceased commemoration of Constantinople, ceased concelebration with Constantinople.

This issue has also rocked the secular geopolitical world.

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