Hamzeh Mohammad Hosseini – Being with Iranian Armenians
Every year, after the first month of summer, countless Armenians from all over the world are eager to travel to the first cathedral of the Christian world to participate in the religious ceremony that coincides with the murder of Saint Thaddeus and martyrdom of his Christian followers.
This church is located 20 kilometers northeast of Chaldoran city (northwest of Iran) in a village with the same name, Qara Kelisa (Black Church). This name comes from the fact that a portion of the church’s main structure is made of black stones, which have been replaced with white stones following the reconstruction of some of the stones.
The Church of Thaddeus, along with the Dzordzor Chapel and St. Stepanos, was added to the World Heritage List as a collection on July 7, 2008.
The Armenians of Iran hold special ceremonies every year at the end of July and the first week of August, which commemorates the martyrdom of Thaddeus, one of Christianity’s first apostles, and Santukhd, the first female Christian martyr.
The ceremony is attended by Armenians and a number of Christian ambassadors in Iran.
The Armenian people who live in Iran are called Iranian Armenians and speak the Armenian language that is the main loss.They are the largest Christian community and religious minority in Iran and are the result of the interaction between Iran and Armenia in ancient times. That’s why many churches and monastery in the northwest of Iran.
The Holy Thaddeus Church draws about 25,000 Armenians from Iran and the world each year. But another ceremony is held in the first week of August. Armenians come from different cities to the church. In addition to the Armenians, families from the Assyrians and rarely Catholic Christian families also attend the celebration. The days of families staying in the church are different. The custom is that they have to stay there for three days, but those who come from a distance sometimes remain for more than three days. Families that come from nearby cities may be present for only the second day. One of the most popular rituals during the three-day pilgrimage is the baptism of Armenian children and adolescents in this church. Some believe that their children’s baptism in the first church of Christ is accompanied by goodness and blessings.
In the last two years, due to the epidemic of the Corona virus, the ceremony was not held as before, and due to such problems, it is unclear what will happen to the ancient ceremonies and customs, and whether they return to their former attendance and glory in the future.
I was born and raised in Iran-a country where Islam is the official government religion, and where more than 90% of the population is the Shiite branch of Islam. Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism are supported and recognized by Iranian authorities and have seats and representatives in the Iranian parliament.This is the first time I am photographing a non -Muslim ritual and publicly held in Iran. I did this collection in 2014 and on a one-week trip. This complete ceremony is controlled by the government with the support and security of the security forces, and no one except Armenians are allowed to enter the village and attend the ceremony.