The article analyzes governmental debates on the functions, rights and privileges of the Armenian Catholicoi in the context of inter-institutional controversies. The author attempts to identify and analyze the most influential programmes for solving the “Echmiadzin issue” and their origins presenting at the same time certain aspects of political interaction between the Russian Empire and the Armenian Church as overlapping processes and related events. The history of relationships between Russian state and Armenian Church in XIX–XX centuries shows that different actors of the imperial politics had different ideas about the optimal model of cooperation with Echmiadzin. The divisions took place not only between the various departments (the Ministry of Internal Affairs versus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), but also within them, where individual officials could hold “anti-departmental” views in each particular case. All this hindered administrative consolidation, slowed down the empire's response to important political challenges and dragged the imperial structures into protracted service-hierarchical confrontations. The “Etchmiadzin Question” and the governmental discussions around it show in part the administrative paralysis of the autocracy and the decompensation of the system of power in the Russian Empire in the early 20th century.
The article employs a rich documentary base of archival materials from the collections of the Russian State Historical Archive. These materials are introduced into the scholarly discourse for the first time ever.
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