Religion in Armenia

Religion in Armenia (2011)[1]

  Other Christianity (2.3%)
  Yazidism (0.8%)
  Other (0.4%)
  Not religious (4.0%)

Up to 95% of Armenians follow Christianity. Armenia has its own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which most Armenians follow. It was founded in the 1st century AD, and in 301 AD became the first branch of Christianity to become a state religion.

In the 21st century, the largest religious minority in the country is composed of new converts to Protestant and Non-Trinitarian Christianity, a combined total up to 38,949 persons (1.3%). Due to the country's ethnic homogeneity, non-Christian religions such as Yazidism and Islam have few adherents, particularly since the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Many Muslims were expelled then. Hetanism is a growing ethnic religious ("pagan") movement.

Religious demography

Baptism of Tiridates III

The country has an area of 11,500 square miles (30,000 km2) and a population of 3 million. Approximately 98 percent of the population is ethnic Armenian. Armenians have a very strong cultural connection to the Armenian Apostolic Church. About 92.5% of citizens belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, an Eastern Christian denomination in communion with the other Oriental Orthodox churches. The Armenian Apostolic Church has its spiritual center at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral. The head of the church is Catholicos Karekin II.

According to the Census of 2011, the composition of people identifying with religions in Armenia is the following: Christianity 2,862,366 (94.8%), of whom 2,797,187 are Armenian Apostolic (92.5%); 29,280 Evangelical; 13,996 Armenian and Roman (Latin) Catholic; 8,695 Jehovah's Witness; 8,587 Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Greek); 2,874 Molokan (non-Orthodox Russians); 1,733 Assyrian Church of the East (Nestorian); 733 Protestant; 241 Mormon; Yazidism (0.8%), Paganism (0.2%); 812 Islam; 5,299 other religions (0.2%); 121,587 no response (4%).[1]

Yazidis are concentrated primarily in agricultural areas around Mount Aragats, northwest of the capital Yerevan. They live in 19 villages in the Aragatsotn Province, two villages in the Armavir Province, and one village in the Ararat Province. Armenian Catholics live mainly in the northern region, in seven villages in the Shirak Province and six villages in the Lori Province. Most Jews, Mormons, Baha'is, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Western Catholic (Latin Rite) Christians reside in the capital Yerevan, which has attracted a greater variety of peoples. Yerevan also has a small community of Muslims, including ethnic Kurds, Iranians, and temporary residents from the Middle East. Molokans live in 10 villages in the Lori Province, two villages in the Shirak Province, and two villages in the Gegharkunik Province.

Foreign missionary groups are active in the country.

Freedom of religion

The Constitution as amended in 2005 provides for freedom of religion and the right to practice, choose, or change religious belief. It recognizes "the exclusive mission of the Armenian Church as a national church in the spiritual life, development of the national culture, and preservation of the national identity of the people of Armenia." The law places some restrictions on the religious freedom of religious groups other than the Armenian Church. The Law on Freedom of Conscience establishes the separation of church and state but it grants the Armenian Church official status as the national church.

Armenian Apostolics (Oriental Orthodox)

Procession of Armenian Apostolic priests.

Christianity was first introduced to this area by the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the 1st century AD. Armenia became the first country to establish Christianity as its state religion when, in an event traditionally dated to 301 AD, 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.

Other denominations and sects

Armenian Catholic Church

The Armenian Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with Rome) formed a diocese within Armenia in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It claimed about 200,000 adherents in the "Ordinariate for Eastern Europe" (based in Gyumri) in 2000, and 490,000 in 2008.

Baháí Faith

The Bahá'í Faith in Armenia begins with some involvements in the banishments and execution of the Báb,[2] 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.[3] During the period of Soviet policy of religious oppression, the Bahá'ís in Armenia lost contact with the Bahá'ís elsewhere.[4] However, in 1963 communities were identified[5] in Yerevan and Artez.[6] Following Perestroika the first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies of Armenia form in 1991[7] and Armenian Bahá'ís elected their first National Spiritual Assembly in 1995.[6] As of 2004 the Bahá'ís claim about 200 members in Armenia[8] but as of 2001 Operation World estimated about 1,400.[9]


Main article: Islam in Armenia

Azeris and Kurds living in Armenia traditionally practised 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. In 2009, the Pew Research Center estimated that less than 0.1% of the population, or about 1,000 people, were Muslims.

Minaret of the Urban Mosque in Erivan

Armenians did not convert to Islam in large numbers. During the Arabic conquest, Islam came to the Armenians; however, very few Armenians converted to Islam, since Christians were not required to convert by Muslim law, and the absence of heavy taxation also hindered this. There is, however, a minority of ethnic Armenian Muslims, known as Hamshenis. But the vast majority live outside of Armenia mostly in Turkey and Russia. The story was similar in the Ottoman Empire.

During 1988-1991 the overwhelming majority of Muslim people 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.


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.[10]


Main article: Armenian Neopaganism
The works of Armenian nationalist philosopher Garegin Nzhdeh inspired the reconstruction of Armenian paganism in the 20th century.

There is a neo-ethnic modern "pagan" movement in Armenia. Adherents call themselves Hetans or Hetanos (հեթանոս, the Old Armenian biblical term loaned from Greek ἐθνικός "gentile"), and their religion is called Hetanism (Հեթանոսություն, Hetanosutyun). The movement traces its origins in the work of the early 20th century political philosopher and revolutionary Garegin Nzhdeh and his doctrine of Tseghakron. In 1991 it was institutionalised by the armenologist Slak Kakosyan into the "Order of the Children of Ari". The doctrine and mythology of the new Pagan movement is codified into a book, the Ukhtagirk, written by Kakosyan himself. The movement is strongly associated to Armenian nationalism. It finds some support from nationalist political parties of Armenia, particularly the Armenian Republican Party and the Union of Armenian Aryans. Ashot Navasardyan, the founder of the Republican Party of Armenia, which is also the currently leading party of the country, was a Pagan himself, as many other members of the party are.[11]

Due to the early Christianization of Armenia, very little is known about the historical pre-Christian religion of Armenia. Armenian Neopagans worship the gods of a reconstructed Armenian pantheon: Haik, Aray, Barsamin, Aralez, Anahit, Mihr, Astghik, Nuneh, Tir, Tsovinar, 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.[11]


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

Nontrinitarian Christians

The Jehovah's Witnesses have estimated their membership at 11,500; the 2011 census found 8,695.[1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims approximately 3,000 adherents in Armenia at the end of 2011; the 2011 census found 241.[1][12]

Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church claims about 100,000 adherents in Armenia.


Main article: Yazidis in Armenia

About 2% of Armenia's population, mostly ethnic Yazidis an ethno-religious group living in the western part of the country, follow the ancient Yazidi religion. Many Yazidis came to Armenia and Georgia during the 19th and early 20th centuries to escape religious persecution. As of 2016, there are an estimated 35,000 Yazidis in Armenia. Relations between Yazidis and Armenians are strong. The world's largest Yazidi temple is under construction in the small village of Aknalish.[13]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Armenian Census 2011" (PDF) (in Armenian). p. 7. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  2. 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.
  3. Balci, Bayram; Jafarov, Azer (2007-02-21), "The Baha'is of the Caucasus: From Russian Tolerance to Soviet Repression {2/3}",
  4. 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.
  5. Monakhova, Elena (2000). "From Islam to Feminism via Baha'i Faith". Women Plus…. 2000 (03).
  6. 1 2 Hassall, Graham. "Notes on Research on National Spiritual Assemblies". Research notes. Asia Pacific Bahá'í Studies. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
  7. 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.
  8. U.S. State Department (2005). "Armenia International Religious Freedom Report 2004". U.S. State Department Bureau of Public Affairs. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
  9. "Republic of Armenia, Hayastan". Operation World. Paternoster Lifestyle. 2001. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
  10. Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Eurasia: Armenia and Jews
  11. 1 2 Yulia Antonyan. Re-creation of a Religion: Neopaganism in Armenia. Yerevan State University. This and other papers about Armenian Hetanism are available here.
  12. Summary information on church in Armenia
  13. Sherwood, Harriet (25 July 2016). "World's largest Yazidi temple under construction in Armenia". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2016.

Further reading

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