Khoren I of Armenia

Khoren I Muradbekian (Armenian: Խորեն Ա Մուրադբեկյան; December 8, 1873 – April 5/6, 1938) was an Armenian Apostolic religious figure who served as Catholicos from 1932 until his murder in 1938. He previously served as locum tenens, between 1923 and 1932, in the latter years of and after the death of Catholicos Gevorg V, and bishop of Yerevan from 1910 to 1924.


Khoren I Muradbekian
Catholicos of All Armenians
Khoren I of Armenia.jpg
ChurchArmenian Apostolic Church
SeeMother See of Holy Etchmiadzin
Elected12 November 1932[1]
Installed13 November 1932[1]
Term ended5/6 April 1938
PredecessorGevorg V
SuccessorGevorg VI
Personal details
Birth nameAleksandr Muradbekian
Born(1873-12-08)8 December 1873
Tiflis, Tiflis Governorate, Russian Empire
DiedApril 6, 1938(1938-04-06) (aged 64)
Pontifical Residence, Vagharshapat, Armenian SSR, Soviet Union
BuriedEtchmiadzin Cathedral (since 1996)
Saint Gayane Church (1938-96)
OccupationPriest, educator
Previous post(s)Bishop of Yerevan (1910–24)

Khoren I died in mysterious circumstances at the Pontifical Residence in Etchmiadzin. The Armenian Church and most historians believe he was murdered by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. He was reburied at the courtyard of Etchmiadzin Cathedral in 1996, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, next to other Catholicoi. The Armenian Church considers him a martyr.[2]


Early yearsEdit

Aleksandr Muradbekian (Armenian: Ալեքսանդր Մուրադբեկեան) was born on December 8, 1873 in Tiflis. In 1883 he began his education at the Nersisian Seminary in his hometown, from which he graduated in 1892. Among his teachers were prominent Armenian intellectuals Stepan Malkhasyants, Perch Proshian, and Makar Yekmalyan.[3] Almost nothing is known about his life and career from 1892 to 1897. He may have attended the Imperial Moscow University as an auditing student[4] or he may have studied at universities in Switzerland.[1] In 1897 he was appointed a music teacher at the seminary by Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian. In June 1901 he was relieved from his position as teacher and became a member of the Etchmiadzin congregation. In September he was ordained sarkavag (deacon) and in December an abegha (priest) and was given the ecclesiastical name "Khoren". He initially served as a priest in Nor Bayazet (modern Gavar) and the surrounding villages. In March 1902 he was given the title of a vardapet. He oversaw the construction of new churches in Nor Bayazet and Basargechar (modern Vardenis).[4]

In June 1903 he was exiled to Oryol, Russia by the orders of Grigory Golitsyn, the Russian Viceroy of Transcaucasia, for disobeying the Russian government's decision to confiscate the properties of the Armenian Church. He returned to Russian Armenia in April 1905 after the decision was cancelled. In August 1905 he was appointed head of the Armenian Church in western Georgia (Gori, Imereti, Batumi) and Ardvin. He returned to Etchmiadzin in 1907 only to move to Nor Bayazet.[5]

In 1910 Muradbekian was appointed primate of Yerevan (Erivan), the single largest diocese of the Armenian Church. He was ordained bishop by Catholicos Matteos (Matthew) II in September 1910.[5] After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 he headed the Armenian National Council in Yerevan. In 1919 he participated in the Paris Peace Conference as a mediator between the two competing Armenian delegations.[6] He traveled to the United States in 1920 to help reorganize the Armenian Church life there and raise funds for the First Republic of Armenia.[1]

Soviet period & CatholicosEdit

Muradbekian returned to Armenia in December 1920 after the country's government was already taken over by the Soviets. He was selected by Catholicos Gevorg (George) V as the church's chief negotiator with the Soviet government of Armenia. On March 4, 1923 the Catholicos appointed him as the head of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council and as locum tenens of the Catholicos.[1] In the next year, Muradbekian was relieved from his position as primate of the Araratian (Yerevan) Diocese.[7]

Following the death of Catholicos Gevorg V on May 8, 1930,[8] Muradbekian served as actual locum tenens for more than two years, until he was elected Catholicos on November 12, 1932.[7] He was enthroned as Catholicos on November 13 at Etchmiadzin Cathedral.[1] His reign was coupled with heavy repressions against the Armenian Church by Soviet authorities. Nevertheless, he was as "more pro-Moscow" than his predecessor.[9] During his reign, he tried to establish peace and improve relations with the dioceses in the Armenian diaspora and raise funds for the restoration of Etchmiadzin Cathedral.[10]


Muradbekian died in the late hours of April 5 or early hours of April 6, 1938.[11] According to the Armenian Church and post-Soviet historiography, he was strangled to death by NKVD agents in his bedroom at the Old Pontifical Residence (Veharan) in Etchmiadzin.[12][13][1] This is also the view held by historians, such as Rouben Paul Adalian,[14] Vrej Nersessian,[15] Christopher J. Walker,[16] Felix Corley,[17] Tigran Matosyan,[18] Hratch Tchilingirian,[19] Theo van Lint,[20] and Thomas J. Samuelian.[21] Others such as Simon Payaslian,[9] George Bournoutian,[22] Manuel Sarkisyanz,[23] Thomas de Waal,[24] Mary Matossian[25] write about the widely held belief that he was murdered by the NKVD.

Muradbekian's murder was part of the larger campaign to suppress the Armenian Church under Stalin.[16][26] Violence against clergy was commonplace in the 1930s, especially during the height of the Great Purge in 1937-38. In total some 67 Armenian clergymen were killed by the Soviets, including 64 in 1937-38 alone.[11] The anti-Soviet dissident Armenian Church U.S. diocese noted that Muradbekian became the first head of the Armenian Church (Catholicos) to be murdered since the 5th century Hovsep (Joseph) of Vayots Dzor was killed by the Persians.[27]


The circumstances of his death were never definitely established.[8] Soviet Armenian authorities claimed he died of a heart attack.[28] Official Soviet Armenian historiography entirely overlooked the circumstances of his death. For instance, the Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia entry on him did not indicate the cause of his death.[29]

The tombstone of Khoren I near Etchmiadzin Cathedral.

According to a private investigation by Torgom Vehapetian, a diaspora Armenian who resided in Soviet Armenia in 1966-71,[30] Khoren I was killed by a woman named Piruz, a member of a group of security agents who wanted the key to the treasury, which Khoren I refused to give to them. They alleged that the church possessed a large amount of arms and treasures, which the state wanted to confiscate. The woman reportedly hit the Catholicos in the head with an electrical cable.[31] Vehapetian wrote that witnesses believed it constituted involuntary manslaughter since their intent was to scare him.[31] According to another version, Khoren I was strangled to death by Soviet security agents.[32] This view has become more widely accepted, based on forensic evidence and evidence from his burial.[33]

According to Vazgen I, Catholicos from 1955 to 1994, Khoren I was killed on the orders of Viktor Khvorstian, the Interior Minister of Soviet Armenia, who himself was executed shortly thereafter.[34] Khvorstian claimed in June 1938 that Khoren I had died of a heart attack because he foresaw the end of his life and the catholicosate of Etchmiadzin.[35] Vazgen I also noted that Grigor Harutiunian, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Armenia in 1937-53, had told him that Lavrentiy Beria was ultimately responsible for Khoren I's murder.[36]


His body remained at the residence for two days until he was buried at the cemetery of the nearby Saint Gayane Church by several nuns of Etchmiadzin. His remains were reburied near the entrance of the same church by locum tenens Gevorg Chorekchian in 1941 with a gravestone.[31] On September 7, 1996 the remains of Khoren I were reburied by Catholicos Karekin I near the entrance of Etchmiadzin Cathedral, next to other Catholicoi of the Armenian Church.[37]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Խորեն Ա Մուրադբեկյան [Khoren I Muradbekian]". (in Armenian). Yerevan State University Institute of Armenian Studies. Archived from the original on 21 April 2019.
  2. ^ Editorial (2008). "Հուշ-երեկո' նվիրված Խորեն Ա Ամենայն Հայոց Կաթողիկոսին". Etchmiadzin. 64 (4): 127–128.
  3. ^ Terteryan 1994, p. 68.
  4. ^ a b Terteryan 1994, p. 69.
  5. ^ a b Terteryan 1994, p. 70.
  6. ^ Terteryan 1994, p. 71.
  7. ^ a b Terteryan 1994, p. 72.
  8. ^ a b Manukyan 1996, p. 191.
  9. ^ a b Payaslian, Simon (2007). The History of Armenia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 179. ISBN 978-1-4039-7467-9.
  10. ^ Terteryan 1994, p. 73.
  11. ^ a b Hayrapetyan 2018, p. 136.
  12. ^ "The Armenian Church during the Soviet Period (From 1920 to 1990)". Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Archived from the original on 2019-04-21. Retrieved 2019-04-22.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)()
  13. ^ "Խորեն Ա Մուրադբեկյան". (in Armenian). Araratian Pontifical Diocese. Archived from the original on 22 April 2019. Պետանվտանգության գործակալները Խորեն Ա Մուրադբեկյանին խեղդամահ արեցին Վեհարանի իր ննջասենյակում:
  14. ^ Adalian, Rouben Paul (2010). Historical Dictionary of Armenia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-8108-7450-3. Catholicos Khoren Muratbekian (1932-1938) was murdered by Stalin's secret police.
  15. ^ Nersessian, Vrej (2001). Treasures from the Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 62. ISBN 9780892366392. The low point came in 1938, when Catholicos Khoren I Muradbekian (193238) was murdered at his residence.
  16. ^ a b Walker, Christopher J. (1990) [1980]. Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 368. ISBN 978-0-312-04230-1. Until the second world war the Soviet record towards Echmiadzin had been a bleak one: the catholicosate had been left empty for long periods, and Catholicos Khoren had been murdered during the purges of 1938.
  17. ^ Corley, Felix (1996). "The Armenian Church Under the Soviet Regime" (PDF). Religion, State & Society. Keston Institute. 24 (1): 9. doi:10.1080/09637499608431724. ISSN 0963-7494. Like all religious groups in the Soviet Union, the Armenian Apostolic Church suffered greatly in the 1930s. The low point came in 1938, with the mysterious death - undoubtedly at the hands of the NKVD - of the Church's leader, Catholicos Khoren I (Muradbekyan).
  18. ^ Matosyan, Tigran (2015). "Church as Civil Society?: Recent Issues of Religion and Politics in Armenia" (PDF). Caucasus Analytical Digest. ETH Zurich (72): 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-05-13. The most outrageous act of violence against the Church took place in 1938, when Soviet State Security agents strangled Catholicos Khoren I for his disobedient stance.
  19. ^ Tchilingirian, Hratch (9 June 2016). "The Armenian Church during the Cold War: Ejmiatsin‐Antelias Crisis". Nor Haratch. Paris (265). Archived from the original on 22 April 2019. ...the Holy See was practically closed because of the Stalinist purges and persecution of the Church ‐‐ at the height of which Catholicos Khoren I was assassinated in Ejmiatsin by the KGB operatives.
  20. ^ van Lint, Theo (2012). "Armenian Apostolic Church". The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. doi:10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0079. ISBN 9781405157629. Many churches were destroyed, and Catholicos Khoren I was strangled (1938).
  21. ^ Samuelian, Thomas J.; Aramian, Mesrop; Davidian, Dajad; Hergnyan, Manuk; Hajian, Tamar; Demirchian, Jason. "Church, State and Religion in Armenia" (PDF). Arak-29 Foundation: 9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-04-22. Indeed from 1938 through 1946, the Catholical See at Etchmiadzin was empty, after the NKVD murdered Catholicos Khoren I in Etchmiadzin and postponed elections until after WWII. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  22. ^ Bournoutian, George (2006). A Concise History of the Armenian People (5th ed.). Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers. p. 323. The Church was not spared either, for antireligious activities increased and when Catholicos Khoren I (1933-1938) was reportedly strangled in Ejmiatsin, no new catholicos was elected (until 1945).
  23. ^ Sarkisyanz, Manuel (1975). A Modern History of Transcaucasian Armenia: Social, Cultural, and Political. Udyama Commercial Press. p. 299. Apparently he was killed by the political police ( NKVD ) during the night of April 6th, 1938.
  24. ^ de Waal, Thomas (2015). Great Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide. Oxford University Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0199350698. In 1938, Catholicos Khoren I died, almost certainly at the hands of the NKVD.
  25. ^ Kilbourne Matossian, Mary Allerton (1962). The Impact of Soviet Policies in Armenia. Leiden: E.J. Brill. p. 161. ISBN 978-0830500819. Another probable victim of the Great Purge was the Catholikos of the Armenian Church, Khoren I. According to emigre reports he was killed by secret police officers on the night of April 6, 1938 in Echmiadzin monastery.
  26. ^ Hakobyan, Julia (1 April 2007). "At Odds With God: Communist Repressions Were a Setback, but not a Defeat". AGBU Magazine. Armenian General Benevolent Union. Archived from the original on 22 April 2019. Retrieved 22 April 2019. The elimination of the Catholicos was the culmination of widespread persecution in the Armenian experience of the so-called “Great Purge.”CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)()
  27. ^ Central Diocesan Board (1958). Crisis in the Armenian Church: Text of a Memorandum to the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America on the Dissident Armenian Church in America. Boston: Armenian National Apostolic Church of America. p. 51.
  28. ^ Hayrapetyan 2018, pp. 137-138.
  29. ^ "Խորեն Ա Մուրադբեգյան [Khoren I Muradbegian]". Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia Volume V (in Armenian). 1979. p. 89.
  30. ^ Hayrapetyan 2018, p. 139.
  31. ^ a b c Hayrapetyan 2018, p. 140.
  32. ^ Hayrapetyan 2018, p. 141.
  33. ^ Hayrapetyan 2018, p. 142.
  34. ^ Hayrapetyan 2018, p. 144.
  35. ^ Hayrapetyan 2018, p. 143.
  36. ^ Hayrapetyan 2018, p. 145.
  37. ^ Editorial (1996). "Խորեն Ա Կաթողիկոսի աճյունն ամփոփվեց Մայր Տաճարի բակում". Etchmiadzin (in Armenian). 53 (9): 24–26.


Preceded by
George V of Armenia
followed by
Vacant position
Catholicoi of the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin and All Armenians
Succeeded by
Vacant position
followed by
George VI of Armenia