Rights of Armenian churches, their locations and language(s) of instruction [IRN30743.E]

Several sources have reported on the right of Armenian Christians to maintain their Christian identity (The Christian Science Monitor 3 Feb. 1998; IRNA News Agency 12 June 1997; UN 16 Jan. 1995) and the continued existence of Christian schools (ibid.; The Armenian Reporter. 22 June 1996; US Department of State 1997). Christians, and other minority religions, are able to elect representatives to parliamentary seats reserved for this purpose (ibid.).

According to both the UN and Iranian Christians International (ICI) the language of instruction in Christian churches is either Armenian or Syrian, but not Farsi (UN 16 Jan. 1995; ICI 15 Dec. 1998). However, Human Rights Watch states that while Armenians, Assyrians and Chaldeans conduct their services in their own languages, other Christians conduct their services in Farsi (Sept. 1997, 15).

During a 15 December 1998 telephone interview the Executive Director of Iranian Christians International, an evangelical Christian organization that disseminates information and acts as an advocacy group for Iranian refugees, said that Armenian schools are "closely controlled" by the Iranian government. He said that the books they are permitted to use are edited and published by the government and that some of their principals are Muslim. He said that some Armenian Orthodox churches do not allow Muslims to attend services for fear of being accused of proselytizing. The Office Manager of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), which maintains relations with the Armenian Evangelical Church, in a 16 December 1998 telephone interview, also stated that some principals of Christian schools are Muslims. Moreover, he said that the government supervises and directs school programs, including the setting of curricula.

While the ICI claims that there has been an "escalation of persecution of ordinary Iranian Muslim converts to Christianity and other Evangelical Christians in Iran" since the May 1997 elections (May 1998, 2), the Office Manager of the AMAA stated that the government treatment of members of the Armenian Evangelical Church is not as bad as previously, particularly during the time when three pastors were killed in 1994 (15 Dec. 1998). He stated that a pastor from one of the church's three affiliates in Tehran visited the AMAA in Paramus, New Jersey in the fall of 1998 and that previously the government would not have allowed this person to leave Iran.

ICI rates the greatest concentrations of Armenian Christians in order of numbers as: Tehran, Jolfa and in Azerbaijan, near the border with Armenia (ICI 15 Dec. 1998). According to Iran: A Travel Survival Kit , "the greatest Christian communities are in Orumiyé, Tabriz, Tehran (especially around Kheyabun-é Nejatollahi), Esfahan (especially in the suburb of Jolfa), Shiraz and throughout Azarbayjan" (1992). This publication reported that the inhabitants of Jolfa "have always been predominantly if not exclusively Christian" and that there are 14 Christian churches in that area (150). One of these is the Vank Cathedral (Kelisa-yé Vank) which is "the historic focal point of the Armenian church in Iran, although it has to a certain extent been supplanted by the recent Armenian cathedral in Tehran" (ibid.). In Azerbaijan many Armenians live in towns west of Lake Orumiyé (ibid., 276). The town of the same name (also known as Urmiyé) is the centre of a "long-established Christian community" and Armenian churches are among the largest in the area (ibid., 279). The Church of St. Thaddaeus (also known as Black Church, Kelisa-yé Tatavus and Kelisa-yé Tadi) was named after an Armenian martyr and is next to the settlement of Ghara Kelisa (Black Church) in the Azerbaijan region (ibid., 285). Services are held only once a year at this church when Armenians from all over Iran attend for a three-day ceremony (ibid.). Eighteen kilometers west-north-west outside of Jolfa is the Church of St. Stephanos (Kelisa Darré Sham) which is an Armenian monastery on the Azerbaijan border (ibid., 294).

On 22 June 1996, The Armenian Reporter reported that the Armenian Evangelical Church only had three remaining churches in Iran which were located in Tehran. It named the churches as: St John's Central Church, "Hokeshounch" Church, and "Shnorhali" Church. Each of these churches was trying to maintain a Sunday School, a Youth Group, and Bible Study classes (ibid.). There is also a School of Theology at St. John's that trains church workers, as well as Gohar-Mesrob Armenian Evangelical School, beside St. John's, which had 300 students at the time of the report (ibid.). It is under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Apostolic Church, but Armenian Evangelicals also participate (ibid.). The Office Manager of the AMAA confirmed the names and existence of the three churches in Tehran and said that they are the only churches of the Armenian Evangelical Church that are left in Iran (16 Dec. 1998). He also confirmed the existence of the Gohar-Mesrob Armenian Evangelical School, but reported the spelling as Kohar Mesrob. He agreed that it was under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church but also indicated that a number of Armenian evangelicals attend.

The Iranian company, Apadana, has posted a list of 33 Christian churches in Tehran on its Internet Website, one of which is clearly identified as Armenian - The Armenian Evangelical Church (St. John) - and one of which is indicated as being located in the Armenian quarter - St. Minas Church. Please see the attached text of the list for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all the Christian churches.

For information on Iran's treatment of religious minorities please see Iran: Religious and Ethnic Minorities (HRW Sept. 1997), United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians (DOS 1997) and World Report 1997 (HRW 1998) available in Regional Documentation Centres.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Apadana, Iran. "Churches, Synagogues, Adrians." [Internet] www.apadana.com:80/iran/minority.htm [Accessed on 15 Dec. 1998]

The Armenian Reporter. 22 June 1996. "Armenian Evangelical Ordination in Iran." (The Ethnic News Watch 16 Sept. 1996/NEXIS)

The Christian Science Monitor. 3 February 1998. Michael Theodoulou. "Jews in Iran Describe a Life of Freedom Despite All Anti-Israel Actions by Tehran." (NEXIS)

Human Rights Watch (HRW). September 1997. Iran: Religious and Ethnic Minorities: Discrimination in Law and Practice. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Iranian Christian International (ICI), Colorado Springs. 15 December 1998. Telephone interview with Executive Director.

IRNA News Agency [Tehran, in English]. 12 June 1997. "Foreign Minister in Talks With Iranian President in Tehran." (BBC Summary 17 June 1997/NEXIS)

United Nations. Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights. 16 January 1995. (General E/CN.4/1995/55) Question of the Violation of Human Rights, With Particular Reference to Colonial and Other Dependent Countries and Territories: Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Prepared by the Special Representative of the Commission. [Internet] www.unhchr.ch [Accessed 11 Dec. 1998]

United States Department of State. 1997. United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs: Washington.


Apadana, Iran. "Churches, Synagogues, Adrians." [Internet] www.apadana.com:80/iran/minority.htm [Accessed on 15 Dec. 1998] Four pages.