Armenia Creates Muslim Muftiate, Names Imam Trained in Iran to Head It

The gate of the Blue Mosque in Yerevan, the only mosque in Armenia.

The gate of the Blue Mosque in Yerevan, the only mosque in Armenia.

YEREVAN (The Interpreter)—In a step that might seem absurd given the composition of Armenia’s population but that appears likely to send shockwaves through the Caucasus and perhaps further, the Assembly of Muslims of Armenia has created the position of mufti for the republic and named Arsen Safarian, a graduate of an Iranian seminary in Qum, to head it.

There are three reasons for thinking that this move may have far more consequences than a first glance might suggest. First, the Assembly of Muslims of Armenia explicitly views the new muftiate — an Islamic administrative territorial entitiy — as the supervisory body for Muslims not only in Armenia but in Karabakh, a further challenge to the restoration of Azerbaijani control there.

Second, this move challenges the Baku-based Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Caucasus led by Allakhshukyur Pashazade, who claims to supervise Shiites across the former Soviet space, given that Armenian Muslims say the Soviet-era holdover’s religious training is “doubtful.”

And third, this move gives Iran an opening to expand its influence among Shia not only in the post-Soviet space, also a direct challenge to Azerbaijan, but also among the nearly 400,000 Armenian Muslims (the Hemshins) living in the Middle East and Europe and also among the Yezidis who vastly outnumber the Shia in Armenia.

Prior to the Karabakh war, there were thousands of Azerbaijani Muslims in Armenia, as there were Armenians in Azerbaijan, but most of them have fled, and Muslims in Armenia number only about 1,000 people in all; and there is only one working mosque. In addition, there are Muslim Kurds and the Yezidis, a group some but not all count as Islamic.

The small size of the Muslim community in Armenia and Karabakh thus strongly suggests that the creation of a Yerevan muftiate is more about foreign than domestic policy and may advance Iranian interests, undermining the Baku MSD and giving Iran another channel to spread its influence.


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  1. April 24 @ 24/7/365 said:

    With Russians to the north and Muslims to the east, west and south it is ever more urgent to close ranks and strengthen military ties with the west. Without an Israeli style strong army and a dividing wall, we’re sure to be run over by these mongrels sooner or later.

    • Raffi said:

      Do not throw stones before Armenia is in the safe zone, show gratitude to Russia without them we would not have any Armenia today.

    • Pragmatic Hye said:

      I am baffled by the comments I see from April24@. Just want to let this friend know that we have 128 churches in Iran. Protected by Iranian government. We only have one functional mosque in Yerevan, yet the Islamo-fobia has been started amongst some already. You need to look at the current political developments of the region. You can build walls around yourself, but you can’t protest yourself from ideology. The fact is, Russia and Iran are the only reliable allies left for Armenia. West is not going to invest in Armenia, as long as they have Turkey as their Nato Allies. Wake up my friend. This was a very pragmatic & politically correct move by Armenian authorities. They are now learning to play the chess right. Good move. Religious Minorities have rights to practice their religion. Just like Armenians in Iran have the rights to freely practice their religion, even protest against Turkey govt. Here is the link of the Armenian churches in Iran “”. You may be surprised to hear that the Iran government is re-building ancient Armenian churches in Iran with their own budget.

  2. Edward Demian said:

    Very astute. Armenia may very well experience an influx of Muslims Armenians. Kurdified Armenians, Yezzidi’s etc. Culturally these people are used to the guidance of a local Imam. We should encourage an enlightened form of Islam, not leave them to whatever political wind blows their way. We should offer an example of inter faith coexistence to the world.

  3. Megerditch Tarakdjian said:

    At least so far we have a monolithic society in Armenia.
    How wise is to make room for Islam in Armenia?. Wasn’t this releigeon the source of our suffering since the middle ages?
    Didn’t we learn yet that Islam is associated by muslim fundementalism? Don’t we see what’s happening in the world?
    It would be so naive to think that the Hamshentsies will get back to theire Armenian identity, which they deny it to start with. Even will be more naive thinking that this this “natinal mufti” will have any inflence on them.
    The only role of this Iranien trained convert Mufti will be gathering more converts, lobbying for the rights of muslims in Armenia and building shia mosques for them by Iranian finincing. Then will come the Seudi petrodollars to build Sunni mosques and hence bringing their conflict to our tiny homeland which has been an oasis relegous harmony in the region inlamed by muslim infighting fire.
    The realty is that Armenia is becoming a hostage of the Russions in the north and the Iranians in the south. Now we are trying to do anything we can to please them, even if it goes against the national interest of the Armenian people.