Paul Werth’s article explores the international dimension of Russia’s confessional affairs by focusing on the spiritual head of the Armenian church, the Catholicos. The annexation of eastern Armenia in 1828 placed the seat of this patriarch, the monastery of Echmiadzin, within Russia’s borders and rendered the Catholicos himself a subject of the Russian Emperor. The imperial government thus acquired an unprecedented opportunity to influence Armenian communities in Persia and Turkey, since the Catholicos claimed spiritual authority over all adherents of the Armenian Apostolic confession wherever they resided.
Werth demonstrates, however, that defining precisely the rights and status of the Catholicos proved exceedingly complex. For the Catholicos both to command allegiance abroad and to fulfill imperial administrative requirements at home, his power and authority needed simultaneously to be augmented and restricted. In practice, the promotion of the Catholicos’ prestige among foreign Armenians compelled the imperial government to make substantial compromises with respect to the administration of religious affairs within the Russian empire itself. By accentuating the transimperial implications of the catholicosate and above all by emphasizing the Ottoman factor in Russia’s administration of the Armenian confession, Werth emphasizes that practices of imperial governance in Russia need to be placed in an international context, and that the conduct of foreign policy needs to be connected to processes occurring within Russia’s borders.