Catholicos Karkein I Returns to Etchmiadzin

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–His Holiness Karekin I–Catholicos of All Armenia’s–returned to Armenia on Monday after a long treatment for cancer–which has apparently left him unable to speak for now.

The Catholicos–who was suffering from a malignant tumor beneath his tongue–has been twice operated in a New York clinic since leaving Armenia last September.

The pontiff’s statement–read out in his presence by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian at the Zvartnots airport–said–"Although I have not fully regained my health yet–I wished to spend the recuperation period at my home." Official sources in St. Etchmiadzin–the headquarters of the Armenian Church–said the Catholicos–an eloquent and strong orator–has "difficulties with speaking" but would not specify how long they will last.

It also remains unclear how effective the treatment in the US was. The 67-year-old Catholicos’ inability to speak is bound to fuel speculations about his further presence at the helm of one of the world’s oldest churches. Karekin I was elected Catholicos in 1995 by a pan-Armenian ecclesiastical assembly. Only one third of its several hundred delegates were clergymen–with the secular majority representing Armenian communities from around the world.

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