Just a few miles north of Dilijan, tucked away in the quiet mountain ranges of the Tavush Province, sits the ancient Haghartsin Monastery complex. Since the 10th century, the complex has served countless congregants. In recent years, it has become a destination for scores of Armenia's international tourists. And, in 2005, it drew the attention of a new patron: His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Governor of Sharjah.
Almost a decade ago, His Highness took a sightseeing tour across Armenia as part of the framework of an agreement signed by Armenia's government and the Abu Dhabi Development Foundation, which aims to strength the relationship between the two countries. It was His Highness' first visit to the area, but not the first time he was involved with the Armenian Church: he had previously donated a site for the construction of the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in the UAE. St. Gregory and its extension building, which houses a school and community center, was consecrated in 1998. It now serves a growing Armenian diaspora community—one that has had an active presence in Sharjah since the 1970s.
During his tour of the complex in 2005, His Highness saw another opportunity to support Armenia, while the Very Reverend Father Sassoon Zumrookhdian, Vicar of the Diocese of Gugark, led him through the grounds, stopping at the sacred canteen, the cross stones (Khatchkar) and other monuments. The Reverend explained, in Arabic, the history, architectural and cultural value of each. Later, it was reported that His Highness hung a photograph of Haghartsin in his office, relaying to each guest the details that the Reverend had shared with him.
After spending time in the main monastery, His Highness described that he could hear the word of God inside. What he saw, also, was a structure in great need of repair. Inspired by the visit, he quickly agreed to finance the complex's complete renovation, donating five million dollars. The restoration process began in 2008, and for the next five years, the monastery complex and surrounding areas were completely refurbished by an architectural team led by Eduard Grigoryan and Mary Danielyan.
On October 19, 2013, when the restored complex was inaugurated, it boasted a reinforced foundation, new drainage system, repaired walls and floors, brand new windows, water, and electricity and gas systems, as well as a new road leading to the monastery.
The opening ceremony was presided over by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and attended by numerous public officials including Hovik Abrahamyan, Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia; Hamid Dhiya Jafar, Representative of the Governor of Sharjah; Hasmik Poghosyan, Armenia's Minister of Culture; Gegham Gharibjanyan, Armenia's Ambassador to the UAE; Ara Vardanyan, Director of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund; Armen Ghoularyan, the governor of Tavush; Armen Sandrossyan, the mayor of Dilijan; along with Mother See congregates and representatives of the Armenian community of Sharjah.
In his address to the crowd, His Holiness noted the role of the initiative in creating a bridge across different cultures and religions. "This is a beautiful example to the world that religions are in harmony with each other. Through this, humanity can lead a God-pleasing life during its brief physical existence," he remarked. "And the symbolism, that a representative of the Islamic religion becomes a sponsor of the Haghartsin Monastic complex, will penetrate the souls of all the faithful and awaken the awareness that we are the children of one and the same God, called to praise Him on this earth.”
At the inauguration, he also acknowledged the key groups and individuals who made the new complex possible. He thanked the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, and His Highness' advisors, Hrayr Soghomonyan and Varoujan Nerguizian, for their contributions during every stage of the restoration. The following day, His Holiness awarded Nerguizian with the St. Nerses Shnorhali Medal of Honor, and presented Soghomonyan and Hamid Dhiya Jafar, the Representative of the Governor of Sharjah, with Holy Etchmiadzin medals. As he received his award, Jafar stated that the Church's activities are highly respected and most appreciated by Sheik Al Qasimi.
In January 2014, His Highness expressed his gratitude by inviting His Holiness and Assembly Speaker Hovik Abrahamyan to the UAE, where, during a ceremony at the Sharjah American University, Abrahamyan, bestowed His Highness with the Republic of Armenia Medal of Honor, on behalf of Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan. He acknowledged His Highness' significant efforts to further strengthen ties among Armenia and the UAE.
After helping to bring new life to the Haghartsin Monastery, His Highness reaffirmed the UAE's support of Armenia and its commitment to keeping the two-centuries-long relationship alive.