State visit of the Grand Master to Armenia
Fra’ Matthew Festing has paid a State Visit to Armenia, from 22-26 October. He was received by the President of the Republic, Serzh Sargsyan, in the capital, Yerevan, on 24 October. After full military honours in the courtyard of the Presidential Palace, the Grand Master and the President and their delegations engaged in extended discussions.
“Your Highness, it gives me a special pleasure to welcome you to Armenia. The visit of the Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta to Armenia is a most important event in the history of our diplomatic relations which, I am sure, will thus be even further reinforced. The links between the first Christian nation and one of the oldest Christian orders go back to medieval times, and were based on reciprocal respect and mutual benefit. We share the same Christian values, which constitute the basis which allows us today to shape active relations between our States,” declared President Sargsyan during their combined press conference.
Fra’ Matthew Festing thanked the President, reaffirming that “our meeting is especially important considering the extraordinary problems that confront us today. The conflict in the Middle East, the exceptional influx of refugees and migrants, the persecution of religious minorities, are tragedies which demand a common commitment. I am proud that the Order of Malta has shown its commitment to the Armenian people by aiding refugees after the First World War, and then, in December 1988, after the terrible earthquake which struck your country. Today, through our Embassy, we are running programmes for orphans in Echmiadzin and Zvartontz, we are giving assistance to the medical centre in Dilijan and to the school for deaf and dumb children in Yerevan, which I will be delighted to be able to visit on 25 October.”
The President and the Grand Master then continued their discussions during a luncheon offered in honour of the Grand Master.
On 24 October the Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Albrecht Boeselager, had discussions with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edward Nalbandian, centering in particular on the situation in the Middle East, the conflict in Syria and the drama of the refugees and migrants. On the same day, the Grand Hospitaller, Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel, was received by the Minister of Health, Levon Altunyan, where the possibility of cooperation, focussing on the improvement in the rate of infant mortality in the country, was discussed.
The most touching moment for the Grand Master was his visit to the Armenian genocide memorial, in Yerevan. Fra’ Matthew Festing laid a wreath of flowers and planted a tree in the memorial garden. Later, he visited its Museum, which keeps the memory of the tragedy alive. Replying to journalists after the visit, the Grand Master declared that he “felt the need to come to this place and pay homage to the victims of the genocide and to the courage of the Armenian people. It is of vital importance that tragedies such as these which happened a hundred years ago are not forgotten, especially by the younger generation. I wanted to express my feelings with this gesture,” he said.