Parishioners accuse Armenian church of playing politics with popular reverend

Dozens of parishioners demonstrated outside St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church in the rain Sunday to express their anger over the transfer of a popular reverend who was forced to leave the country because his visa expired.

His supporters said church officials did not work to extend Fr. Rev. Barthev Gulumian’s visa because of internal politics, sparking a campaign on social media against the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Gulumian was removed from his Glendale post, where he has worked for the last six years, and transferred to Venezuela.

“We want to make sure that we do get Rev. Barthev back,” said 27-year-old Liliya Chobanian of Pasadena.

In referring to the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, she said, “We know that they don’t want him here.”

Chobanian helped launch the demonstration using social media alongside others who believe that the Western Prelacy did not act fast enough to acquire a green card for Gulumian, whose visa expired in October 2011.

“We asked them to give us a receipt that they did apply [for a green card]. They refused to provide that,” Chobanian said of the Western Prelacy as she stood outside the church on Central Avenue.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the Western Prelacy said that while it wanted Gulumian “to continue his valuable work in the Armenian American community, the Western Prelacy is compelled to comply with U.S. laws which in this case mandated that Father Barthev leave the U.S. albeit for a temporary basis.”

The statement added that his return “will be processed in compliance with U.S. immigration laws and policies.”

Gulumian was “the best of the best” and known for visiting prisoners weekly, attracting youth to the church and guiding them away from drugs, said Sossi Postajian, who was at the demonstration.

As she walked with others on Sunday, Postajian said the group did not have anything against the Armenian Apostolic Church, adding that church leaders had repeatedly rebuffed requests for a conference on the matter.

“Our biggest, biggest problem is the Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian,” she said. “The elections are coming up in May and he felt threatened."

-- Kelly Corrigan, Times Community News

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