Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Dr Dikran Abrahamian - Keghart.com

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Thank You!

Keghart.com celebrated its 11th birthday this month. You may recall that it halted operations as an online magazine two years ago. Since then the website was primarily a blog without the complement of an editorial board. Read More


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«Խեղաթիւրում եւ Ժխտում» [Distortion and Denial] is Armen Kurkjian’s most recent work. Maitre Barkev Davidian will provide a review of the book at the “Kinetson” to be held on Friday, October 19, 2018 at 8:00 pm.

Click on the picture for details of location.

 

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Amara Possian is running for a seat on the Toronto District School Board. She is passionate about her candidacy and looks forward to a successful campaign that will lead her to achieve her goal. Keghart.com conducted the below on-line interview with Ms. Possian and it encourages the readers to support her candidacy by casting their precious votes for her. ....Read more

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The Kurdish question is de facto revisited by major powers and the states of the Middle East. It’s no secret that Armenians are quietly following developments in Syria and elsewhere. Over the past decade no other Armenian journalist has crisscrossed between Jezire and Iraqi Kurdistan as frequently as Beirut-based independent reporter Hamo Moskofian. Click on Kurdish Leaders Talk of the Jezire Self-Governing Region to read his most recent interviews with prominent Kurdish leaders who speak about their vision and their relation with the Armenians.

SMALL Investment for a BIG Positive Change

«Գնեցէք Հայաստանէն – Shop In Armenia» 

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Dr. Dikran Abrahamian · 15 Bridle Rd. · Penetanguishene, On L9M 1J5 · Canada

Armenian News... A Topalian... Breaking News Pashinyan resigns

Breaking News:
Pashinyan resigns paving way for snap elections



Public Radio of Armenia
Oct 15 2018
Magnitude 2.5 earthquake registered in Armenia’s Kajaean

A magnitude 2.5 earthquake was registered 9km northeast of the city of Kajaran, Armenia,  at 07:59 local time (03:59 UTC) today.

The quake measured 3 at the epicenter.

According to preliminary data, the earthquake measured 2-3 in Lernardzor community in Syunik.


168.am
October 15 2018
Istanbul Municipality renames one of streets of Şişli district after Hrant Dink

One of the streets of Şişli district of Istanbul has been renamed after late Istanbul-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Istanbul-based Agos periodical informs.

Founder and former editor-in-chief of Agos periodical Hrant Dink was killed on January 19, 2007 in front of Agos editorial office.


Bloomberg
Oct 13 2018
Putin Ally Leads Counter-Charge to Armenia's Velvet Revolution
By Sara Khojoyan and Anthony Halpin
 
Five months after a democratic “velvet revolution” that ousted Armenia’s former rulers, an ex-president with close ties to the Kremlin says he’s returning to politics to challenge the new government.
 
Robert Kocharyan, who’s facing possible imprisonment over the deaths of protesters at the end of his presidency a decade ago, criticized the “revolutionary romanticism” of the authorities under Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the opposition leader swept to power in May by peaceful mass protests.
 
Pashinyan, who hosted world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a Francophone summit in Yerevan this week, remains hugely popular with Armenians angered by widespread official corruption and lawlessness under the old regime that left many citizens in poverty. He’s still striving to consolidate his hold on power as parliament is controlled by the party of Kocharyan’s hand-picked successor.
 
“I see the shortcomings of the government, they are very much in need of sound and rational criticism,” Kocharyan, 64, said in an interview in the capital, Yerevan, on Tuesday. He didn’t specify what he would change.
 
The Kremlin is watching events closely in the Caucasus nation of 3 million people that hosts a vital Russian military base and is engaged in a thirty-year conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The arrests of Kocharyan and other senior former officials prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to complain in July that Moscow had “brought our concerns to the attention of Armenia’s leaders on several occasions.”
 
Birthday Greetings
 In August, Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Kocharyan to offer “heartfelt birthday greetings,” according to the Kremlin.
 
Kocharyan said he and Putin “have been in regular contact all this time and have friendly personal relations.” The concern expressed by Russia over the treatment of former leaders is “quite natural,” he said, declining to say whether he and Putin had discussed the charges against him.
 
Still, Kocharyan shouldn’t expect Russia to support a comeback, even though it may not trust the new Armenian leadership yet, according to Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center, a think tank in Yerevan. “The stakes are far too high to risk the real instability that will come from any such wager,” he said.
 
Pashinyan told supporters at a rally in August that he has good relations with Putin and that “the Armenian-Russian strategic friendship will be deepened,” even as he also seeks to strengthen ties with the European Union. Former officials being held accountable for crimes “are making phone calls to Russia to say that we are targeting Russia,” he said.
 
Kocharyan was president for 10 years before choosing Serzh Sargsyan to succeed him in elections in 2008 that sparked opposition protests against alleged ballot-rigging. He’s facing prosecution now over his decision to order police and troops to disperse protesters, resulting in violence that killed 10 people. Pashinyan, one of the opposition leaders, went into hiding and was later jailed.
 
Sargsyan’s attempt to extend his rule by switching to the premiership from president in April sparked the rebellion that led to his ouster, ushering in Pashinyan.
 
Robert Kocharyan during the interview in Yerevan on Oct. 9.Photographer: Nazik Armenakyan/Bloomberg
 
Jail Precedent
Armenia set a precedent in July when Kocharyan became the first former head of an ex-Soviet republic to be jailed after a court ordered his detention on charges of subverting constitutional order. He was later released on appeal. Kocharyan said he acted within his authority and that the case was driven by Pashinyan’s “personal hatred” of him.
 
Pashinyan is moving to secure his revolution by demanding snap parliamentary elections in December, arguing the legislature no longer reflects Armenia’s political reality after his supporters won 81 percent in voting for Yerevan’s city council last month. He’s threatened to resign as premier as early as next week to trigger the process of requiring parliament to call elections that are opposed by the Republicans.
 
While Kocharyan is wading into the political scene with criticism of the current government, he said he hasn’t set himself a goal of returning to the top role for now.
 
“Even if the revolutionary government fails, Kocharyan’s return is still unlikely,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, senior analyst at IHS Markit in London. “He offers no vision of change but rather a return to the oligarchy that enriched a handful and drove every third Armenian into poverty.”
 

The Mail, UK
Oct 13 2018
Gibraltar beat Armenia after national anthem mix-up

Gibraltar’s players could be forgiven for not joining in with the national anthem ahead of their Nations League match away to Armenia – because their hosts played Liechtenstein’s by mistake.
 
The Gibraltar Football Association said it was “very disappointed” by the mix-up ahead of the clash in Yerevan and that the Armenian FA had apologised.
 
A statement on the Gibraltar FA Twitter feed read: “The Gibraltar FA is very disappointed to note that, prior to tonight’s UEFA Nations League match versus Armenia, the national anthem of Liechtenstein was played.
 
Full time in Yerevan:
 
Armenia 🇦🇲 v 1 🇬🇮Gibraltar 
  
“The Armenian FA has apologised to the Head of Delegation representing the Gibraltar FA in Yerevan for this oversight and an announcement has been made at the national stadium apologising for the error.”
 
Gibraltar got the last laugh on the pitch, though, as they claimed a shock 1-0 win thanks to Joseph Chipolina’s second-half penalty.
 
It was their first ever victory in a competitive match.
 
And next up for Gibraltar on Tuesday – Liechtenstein.
 

Aysor, Armenia
Oct 15 2018
¾ of Armenia’s economy comprises of Russian companies: Russian trade representative

While making political reforms it is necessary not to forget about formation of favorable atmosphere for investments, Russia’s trade representative in Armenia Andrey Babko told the reporters on Monday.

As to whether the political developments in Armenia affected Armenian-Russian trade relations and volume of investments, Babko said, “Our cooperation has been established before the political developments. They did not have any impact as the process continues as usual. Besides, we see that Armenia and Russia preserve and implement the arrangements reached during the previous years,” he stressed, adding that no changes have been registered in this regard.

“We see activation of contacts between Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Russia’s PM Dmitry Medvedev. Another thing is that while dealing with political reforms it is necessary to continue assisting formation of favorable environment for investments,” Babko said.

He though added that certain developments and “revelations” do not have positive impact on the process but expressed hope that everything will settle down.

“The Armenian political figures must understand what Armenia’s economy is comprised of, what companies work here. Let us openly say that the ¾ of them are companies with Russian capital, subsidiaries of Russian leading companies, so the political figures should take it into consideration too,” he said.


Aysor, Armenia
Oct 15 2018
Armenia-Russia trade turnover grows by 26% in January-June 2018

In January-June of 2018 the trade turnover between Armenia and Russia has exceeded the figures registered in the same span of the past year by 26%, Russia’s trade representative in Armenia Andrey Babko told the reporters today.

He said Russia is trying to promote not only export to Armenia but import from Armenia as well.

“Besides the import of usual agricultural products import of fish, textile and shoes has also been intensified. These are high-taste things demanded in Russia,” Babko said.

He emphasized Russia’s serious role in Armenia’s economy and said that about 37% of direct foreign investments in Armenia come to Russia’s share.

The Economist
Oct 1 2018
 Obituary: Charles Aznavour
 
The French-Armenian troubadour died on October 1st, aged 94
 
FOR a small guy, Charles Aznavour liked his stage to be big. Really big. He would slip through the curtains at the back and slide into the spotlight, left hand in his pocket, ready to face his audience head-on. Wearing a black rollneck or a skinny tie, he projected an almost jaunty insouciance with his little crooked smile. But his fans knew he was a survivor, someone who got knocked down a lot but always rose again—someone a lot like them. As he lifted the microphone, his face showed a defiant chin, a circumflex of dark eyebrows, closed eyes. For a moment their lids were as white and as curved as a beach in Cuba (one of the many countries that broadcast hours of his music in the days after he died). His dark eyelashes fluttered like palm trees. And then came that voice, crashing on to the heart’s shore.
 
He was born Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian near the Latin Quarter in Paris in 1924, and christened “Charles” by a French nurse who could not pronounce his name. His Armenian parents had taken refuge there while they waited for visas to America. Meanwhile, his father took over a restaurant that featured live music and offered free food to the less well-off. When the business inevitably went bust his mother took in work as a seamstress. But it was singing and performing for other émigrés that consumed the family. Both parents had been trained in the theatre. He made his inadvertent stage debut at three when he wandered in from the wings towards the lights.
 

President Macron's speech in Yerevan (in French)
It's 40 minutes long and you wish that we had such a political leader in the UK.
He mentions kind words at the start on how well Armenia organised the conference, that France will remember the Armenian Genocide, and his sentiments on losing Aznavour stressing his Armenian heritage that merged well with his role in French culture.
 

Look at how a lecture n tea tunes into a PR exercise for Turkey including its tolerance nd its adherence to democracy (what joke). 

Monday, 15 October 2018

Armenian News... A Topalian Our Ancient City on the brink of change.

Informative Articles on Armenia:

BBC - Travel - Armenia’s ancient city on the brink of change



The interaction of History and Innovation 

 

From Rouben Galichian
An interview regarding the beginnings of the Armenian velvet revolution, up to the arrest of Mr Kocharyan that provides some basic facts and description of events, with English subtitles.

Today Online, SIngapore
Oct 10 2018
Armenian PM to resign for early election

PARIS - Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Wednesday he would tender his resignation in the coming days in preparation for an early election in December. 

Pashinyan, the former opposition leader, became prime minister in May after the Republican Party was toppled following weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism. He submitted a new government program and promised an early parliamentary election. 
"Early elections should be held around Dec. 9-10, give or take a day. It will be in that timeframe so I will have to tender my resignation by Oct. 16," Pashinyan told France 24 TV. REUTERS


Emerging Europe
Oct 9 2018
US tech start-up to set up shop in Yerevan
Tamara Karelidze

DISQO, a fast-growing tech company from the US has announced that it is to set up operations in Armenia. The founders of the company – American-Armenian entrepreneurs – have confirmed that they are ready to invest 13.5 million US dollars in the business. DISQO provides high quality first-hand consumer data to the world’s most extensive market research and analytics companies. The founders intend to recruit senior Armenian specialist, creating 30 ne jobs.
 
“We are excited about tapping into a talented pool of people to help us build the product and scale our company. Armenia has a flourishing tech community which we want to connect with at this early stage,” said DISQO’s CEO, Armen Adjemian.
 
The Armenian office of DISQO’s will operate as an official branch of the company and not as an outsourcing team. In doing so, the company believes that it will double its potential and disrupt the industry with new initiatives and projects. The Armenian team will continue working for current customers, which include the world’s largest market researchers and a number of organisations listed in the Fortune 500.
 
The Armenian team will start work within the next month at the Tumo Centre for Creative Technologies in the country’s capital, Yerevan. DISQO promises new perspectives for developing the local IT industry and believes that it will strengthen the country’s economic relations with the international market.
 
DISQO was founded in 2015 by Armenian entrepreneurs, Armen Adjemian, Drew Kutcharian and Armen Petrosian in Los Angeles. It boasts the largest consumer research panel in the US.


News.am, Armenia
Oct 9 2018
US announces assistance increase for Armenia 
                  
US Ambassador to Armenia Richard M. Mills, Jr., was pleased to announce on Tuesday an increase in U.S. assistance funding for Armenia. 

The United States recently provided more than $14 million in additional foreign assistance resources for initiatives in Armenia following the political transition, and in the coming year the U.S. government intends to provide more than $26 million in FY 2018 foreign assistance funds, an increase of approximately $20 million above what had been requested for Armenia.  These funds will support priority programs in the political processes, anti-corruption, civil society, and independent media sectors.  Funds will also advance the Administration’s foreign policy priorities to increase business and trade opportunities for American and Armenian companies including by supporting energy reforms as well as Armenia’s fast-growing information technology industry. 
U.S. assistance to Armenia supports many areas of bilateral cooperation, including governance, transparency and accountability, political inclusion, legislative strengthening, and local governance reforms.  To support Armenia’s political transition, programs will help rebuild multiparty political systems and support free and fair elections.  Assistance will also strengthen civil society and improve access to independent media.  In the economic growth area, programs will seek to generate sustained and broad-based economic growth by supporting sectors that have high growth potential, enhancing workforce skills, and facilitating innovation.  Assistance will also support energy market liberalization reforms and promote cross-border trade and integration.


[Azeri press articles are attacking Armenia as the bogus ;ovation for this festival and conference. Apparently it is corrupt, undemocratic and does not respect human values. Anyone read the news that the £16 million UK property purchases of the daughter of an Azeri central bank CEO are being investigated  by the British authorities as to the source of the funds?]
Radio Canada International
Oct 10 2018
Trudeau, Legault travel to Armenia for La Francophonie summit
By Levon Sevunts 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier-designate Francois Legault are set to depart for Armenia Tuesday evening to attend the XVII Francophonie Summit in the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

The three-day summit of heads of state and government in Armenia’s 2,800-year-old capital brings together leaders from 84 member states and governments from five continents from Oct. 11 to 13.

Canada has four seats on the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF): the federal government and the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec are full members, while Ontario has observer status.

The Canadian delegation in Yerevan will also include Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie  Mélanie Joly who is already in Armenia to participate in the 35th Ministerial Conference of La Francophonie, which is wrapping up Tuesday.
Joly, whose riding in northern Montreal has a large and active Armenian community, will then join Trudeau to take part in the leader’s summit.

The theme of this year’s summit is “Living together in solidarity, shared humanistic values, and respect for diversity: a source of peace and prosperity in La Francophonie.”

Trudeau will highlight the importance of working together to address shared challenges, inclusive economic growth, and promoting diversity and inclusion, said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Canada’s Michaelle Jean facing an uphill battle for re-election as secretary general of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF). The Canadian government under Trudeau said it would support her bid for a second term.

He is also expected to lobby world leaders on behalf of outgoing IOF secretary general Michaelle Jean, who is facing a stiff challenge from Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
Jean, Canada’s former governor general, is fighting for her political future at the helm of the organization dedicated to the promotion of French language and culture.

Armenia joined La Francophonie in 2004 as an observer and obtained full member status in 2012.

The summit in Yerevan comes as Armenia mourns the passing of French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour.

French President Emmanuel Macron had invited Aznavour to participate in the summit and the 94-year-old was even expected to perform at a gala concert, which will also feature Canadian diva Celine Dion, according to Armenpress news agency.

Trudeau’s second visit to Armenia, but first official
Following the summit, Trudeau will stay on for a bilateral visit to the country. This will be Trudeau’s second visit to Armenia but his first official visit as prime minister.

Trudeau told Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during a brief introductory encounter at the NATO summit in Brussels in July that he visited Armenia in 1988 together with his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and has good memories of his visit.

‘Excellent relationship’
Armenia declared independence from the Soviet Union on Sept. 21, 1991. Diplomatic relations between Canada and Armenia were formally established the following year.

“Canada enjoys an excellent relationship with Armenia, and I look forward to further deepening that friendship,” Trudeau said in a statement, issued on Sept. 21, officially confirming his participation at the summit and the bilateral visit.

“Together, we will discuss ways to create more economic opportunities for businesses and people in both our countries.”

Canada is host to an Armenian community of more than 60,000 people, with vibrant communities in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Many Canadian Armenians are the descendants of refugees and survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, which forced nearly the entire Armenian population of Turkey to flee their historic homeland and set up diaspora communities all over the world.

In 2006, despite strong objections by its NATO ally Turkey, Canada became one the 28 countries to officially recognize the slaughter of as many as 1.5 million people and mass deportations of Armenians during World War One as genocide.

In recent years, Canada has accepted thousands of Armenian refugees fleeing wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as skilled immigrants, mostly IT professionals, from Armenia itself.

However, bilateral trade between the two countries remains very modest. In 2017, Canada’s exports to Armenia totalled $9.3 million and imports from Armenia reached $26 million, according to government statistics.

However, Pashinyan, a 43-year-old former newspaper editor and opposition leader, who became Armenia’s prime minister in May after leading mass street protests against the former ruling elites, has promised to uproot endemic corruption and attract foreign investment.

Pashinyan hopes the summit will help showcase Armenia’s potential as an attractive investment and tourism destination with a highly educated workforce, a burgeoning IT and high-tech sector, and a rich culture and history.

On a lighter note, an Armenian company is hoping to add to Trudeau’s collection of flashy socks. The digital branding company Braind has made socks with the colours of the Armenian flag – red, blue, orange – as a special gift for Trudeau and Pashinyan.


Panorama, Armenia
Oct 9 2018
Armenia refused 78 asylum seekers this year

Armenia received 84 asylum applications about 145 people in January -September 2018, the head of the country’s migration service Armen Ghazaryan told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday. In Ghazaryan’s words, 36 applications out of the total number were solved with 67 people granted a refugee status, while 18 applications were rejected.

In terms of geography, Ghazaryan said most of the applications had been submitted from Syria, Iraq and Yemen: “As a result of the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, we have increased asylum seekers from that country. We live in a volatile region where the number of asylum seekers increases during an escalation of any conflict,” added the speaker.

Ghazaryan outlined the housing issue as the main problem refugees currently face.
“Housing was been periodically provided to refugees from Azerbaijan, yet the housing issue has not been fully addressed even after they obtained Armenian citizenship. In 2004, the Armenian government adopted a decision to provide housing to refugees yet the programme was stopped in 2009 due to insufficient budget means. Today, we are working to address the matter both through budget and at the same time elaborate on attracting alternative means,” the head of the migration service said. 


JAM News
Oct 9 2018
Armenia’s young men increasingly suffering strokes

Specialists say contributing factors are social issues and irregular work schedules

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of young Armenian men aged 20-30 who suffer strokes. The Armenian media has begun paying particular attention to the problem.

Reasons
The head of Armenia’s Association of Neurology, Gurgen Hovhannesyan, states that it is aggravated by social factors and irregular work schedules.

“For example, taxi drivers work up to 14-16 hours per day without extended breaks or weekends off. This also interferes with their ability to receive proper nutrition. All of this, in addition to harmful habits such as smoking, can lead to a stroke.”

Hovhannesyan says that immunity issues and resistance to strokes are specific to individuals.

Moreover, cardiovascular issues are not properly observed and treated in Armenia:

“Healthcare is not free in Armenia, and thus many avoid going to the doctor.”

Why people do not stay in hospitals after strokes
Most people who suffer strokes in Armenia do not remain in hospitals. They try to leave as soon as possible due to socio-economic problem.

Hovhannesyan says that hospitals approach stroke patients in a number of various ways, and there are no standards as to their treatment. Moreover, rehabilitation is costly and not everyone can afford the costs associated with a rehabilitation centre.


PanArmenian, Armenia
Oct 10 2018
Moody's: Armenia among countries that face greatest funding risks 

Sri Lanka, Armenia and Pakistan top the list of smaller emerging economies most vulnerable to refinancing risks, because they face a combination of large upcoming repayments and low foreign currency reserves, ratings agency Moody's said on Wednesday, October 10, according to Reuters.

Across frontier markets - a subset of riskier and often smaller emerging economies - some $4 billion of hard-currency sovereign bonds will mature each year from 2019 to 2021, with Asia most affected, Moody's found.

The refinancing burden will soar to $7 billion to $9 billion a year from 2022 to 2030 as large repayments come due in sub-Saharan Africa.

"As international sovereign bonds mature in 2019 and 2020, governments in Sri Lanka, Armenia and Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Honduras and Kenya will be most exposed to more costly debt financing," Moody's analyst Matthew Circosta wrote in a note.
"If pronounced and sustained, this would weaken debt affordability and raise their debt burdens, especially if local currencies depreciate," he said.

While the sovereign credit ratings of Sri Lanka, Armenia and Pakistan reflected how vulnerable they are, a further hit to their foreign currency reserves could raise the risk of lower capital inflows and higher refinancing costs. That in turn could spell a cloud over credit ratings, said Moody's.

Sri Lanka has $1.5 billion of hard-currency bonds maturing in the first four months of 2019 and another $1 billion in 2020, translating to 2.7 percent of its gross domestic product, Moody's calculated. Armenia has $500 million coming up for repayment in 2020, which translates to 3.9 percent of GDP.


Lonely Planet Magazine
Oct 8 2018
How to get the first modern hiker’s map for Armenia’s Dilijan National Park

Travellers who want to explore Armenia’s beautiful Dilijan National Park may soon have some help, thanks to a new modern hiking map of the region.

Cartisan is a new independent branch of the Transcaucasian Trail that has spent the last year researching and developing a hiking map for the area. They are aiming to raise US$12,900 (€11,206) to create the map and are currently halfway to their goal. While any amount can be donated, a US$30 (€26) donation will get you a copy of the finished map as well as “bonus goodies”.

The organization notes that paper maps are important when exploring remote regions, as they don’t lose signals or run out of battery like electronics. Since there’s now a trail network in the park that is seeing more and more visitors, some people have been seeking out maps, but none existed.

The map is just one part of the TCT’s efforts to turn the region into a destination for hikers, starting with this small region. “If successful, the 1:25,000-scale topographical map published through this campaign will represent another huge step towards transforming Dilijan National Park into a sustainable, world-class hiking destination”

While the TCT is still being completed, one eager traveller has already hiked the trail between Georgia and Armenia. University of Bristol student Val Ismaili became the first person to hike the uncompleted trail last year.

** FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant 789 bis 11 October 18 POPE FRANCIS’ TERRIBLE SECRET



POPE FRANCIS HAS SECRETLY EMBRACED ISLAM. OUTRAGEOUS FAKE NEWS? NOT ACCORDING TO SOME VATICAN INSIDERS.
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The Pope has secretly converted to Islam. Shock and horror! Relax: the fakest of all fake news? Yet Vatican voices – admittedly not benevolent - are whispering that much.

In the Holy City last week, close to St Peter’s Basilica, I rubbed shoulders with top churchmen attending the current XV Synod on Youth and the Faith. Father Frank is utterly obscure but, oddly, that obscurity helped. Maybe they mistook me for someone else. Anyway, a post-prandial conversation between two bishops was the first clue. Francis is alleged to have embraced Islam. ‘A joke’, I thought. Until a Middle East bishop who approached me murmured confirmation. Well, not explicitly – the man is no fool – but he hinted that much. And he was not pulling my leg – though I remain sceptic.

In the past Francis has shown himself perhaps the most Islam-friendly Pope of all times. He personally took Muslim refugees from Syria to come and stay in the Vatican apartments. As part of the sacred liturgy of Holy Thursday, recalling Christ’s supreme example, Francis washed the feet of Muslims. When asked publicly to condemn terrorism in the name of Islam, he declined. ‘If I spoke of Muslim violence I would also have to condemn Christian violence’, he said. Islamic scholars in Pakistan were happy. ‘By not linking terrorism with religion, Pope Francis will help promote interreligious harmony’, one Mufti commented. Conversely, some Christians were unimpressed. Worse, they felt betrayed. Little they knew what was brewing up.

In truth, it is not unprecedented for the head of a great Christian Church to adhere to another faith. Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople from 1601, converted to Protestantism – a heresy the Orthodox abominated as much as Islam. Later, Lucar signed a ‘Confession of Faith’ which recast the Orthodox Faith in Calvinistic terms. Several angry Eastern Synods condemned him, though the support of Protestant countries kept him in power. To get rid of him his fellow bishops appealed to the Turkish rulers. Accused of colluding with the Russians, the Sultan had the apostate Patriarch hanged.

Suppose the rumour was true? The Pope really has become a Muslim. Why on earth would Francis do that? Let’s take the lowest motive: money. No question the Saudis would dish out billions of dollars to bag the Head of the Catholic Church, as they did with former Western ambassadors to Riyadh. It would be a propaganda coup for the Crescent faith worth Paradise. I reject this hypothesis out of hand, however. Francis is not venal. He lives in simplicity and shuns pomp and circumstance. He doesn’t care for worldly goods. No amount Wahhabi gold would ever tempt him - forget it.

Blackmail? Do, the Saudis or other Muslim potentates know something about Francis that would severely tarnish his reputation? ‘Either you become a Muslim or we tell the whole world the unsavoury truth about you?’ Is that possible? But the universal scandal of a Supreme Pontiff apostatising would exceed anything else, however shameful. Nothing could outdo the gravity of that. Besides the blackmailers could still reveal Francis’ secret whenever they wished... Hence this possibility too is a no-no.

Madness? Could the Pope have gone crazy? It is true that Francis occasionally makes eccentric, even un-Christian remarks – like the one about his hitting the man who insulted his mamma – but becoming a Muslim? That strains credibility. Unless…unless there was method in that madness. Some idealism. Some mystical ‘kenotic’ scheme. (‘Kenosis’ is a Greek word meaning ‘emptiness’.) St Paul in the Letter to the Philippians (2: 6-8) says that Christ Jesus, though in the form of God, did not cling to that equality but ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death…’ Sounds tortuous and wildly implausible but…could Francis’ alleged conversion be like that? Loving Muslims to the point of himself, the Head of the Catholic Church, becoming one of them? Humbling himself, incurring the opprobrium of his Christian flock in order to act like Christ, to sacrifice his exalted status
for the sake of Muslim salvation?

Would that disappoint Muslims? Not necessarily. Providing the Holy Father had uttered the full Shehada, the Islamic profession of faith, meaning it, that would suffice. The problem would be practicisng it. Being a Muslim isn’t just a matter of subscribing to certain beliefs. You also have to pray the Islamic way, do the ritual ablutions, eat the right things, renounce lending at interest and so on. Tricky to do all that in secret, although it might have been part of a deal, who knows?

When Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Second Rome, dismayed Pope Pius II thought up a desperate stratagem. He addressed a letter to Mehmet, to this effect: ‘You have become the master of the city of Emperor Constantine and so won for yourself half of the Roman Empire. Now act like Constantine did. Be baptised, be a Christian and the rest of the Empire will be yours as well!’ Unsurprisingly, Mehmet shunned the Pope’s call. He had no desire to incur the hatred of Muslims by being a renegade. Besides, he intended to grab Christian Europe by force of arms. His successors tried and nearly made it. What Pius II would never have dreamt of doing is, in order to stop the Turks, to turn Turk himself.

A Muslim Pope. Just a scam? Cooked up by Francis’ enemies in the Curia to undermine his reputation? Probably. And yet…

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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