The Armenian Apostolic Church
Authors: Saad Hanna Ghazala
Foundation and History
The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of Erbil’s new churches, built and established in the suburb of Ankawa in March 2019. The caretaker of the church, Father Anona – who has been a priest for the Christian Armenian people since 1997 and the caretaker of the congregation since 2014 – said although the main building is fully constructed, it is still missing chandeliers and some infrastructure, such as an event hall or an asphalt drive from the main road, both of which are in the making. Since the church is so new it has not yet published any literature.
Before the church was built, the Armenian community held services at the Syriac Orthodox Church (“Um El-Noor” in Arabic). The new church now hosts these services, even though the structure is not completely finished.
Father Anona added that the congregation found a new church was needed to accommodate the rising number of visitors after the ISIS occupation in 2014, which forced many people to flee to Erbil.
 Interviews with Father Anona, November 22, 2020, and July 8, 2021.
Location and Building
The church is on the old Bahirka road in Ankawa, facing the Queen of Peace Church (“Sultana Al-Salam” in Arabic). The exterior of the church is typical of Arminian style, featuring two domes with crosses on top.
The small dome is a belfry, while the big one is the main church dome. As you enter the church, you notice a garden on the right with a statue facing north (see photos below). Father Anona said the stone statue is called a “Khachkar,” a cross memorial from Armenia dedicated to the fallen in the Armenian Genocide of 1915. He added that each Armenian church has a similar monument. The inscription in Armenian says: “For the Armenian souls that were killed 100 years ago.”
The main entrance to the church is north of the garden through a tall wooden door with a cross-like window above it. This entrance leads directly to the main hall. The main entrance opens directly onto the nave and is opposite the altar. To the left of the narthex is a door to a small room where the families of the congregation meet after the service. The altar has three domes topped with crosses, and a picture of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. There is a curtain that closes in front of the altar. On one side of the altar, there is a seat for higher clergy such as the bishop. The chancel leads to two chambers used by the priest and deacons to change and prepare for the service. These chambers are also used for baptisms.
The church has a seating capacity of about 450 persons, but there are still no rooms for catechism, healthcare, daycare, library or offices. Father Anona said a hall will be added for religious instruction and teaching the Armenian language.
Prayer and Worship
The church usually holds two masses per week, on Sunday and Friday. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, services are held only on Friday. Father Anona said that the masses are attended usually by about 45 people; the large majority of them are adults. Usually, more women attend than men.
The mass follows the Armenian Rite with the Athanasius-Anaphora. The prayer is led by the priest with the help of three voluntary deacons. The service including the sermon is held exclusively in Armenian. The sermon is usually based on the Bible reading of that day, and relates to everyday life situations, individuals’ morals and ethics.
The main holidays are Christmas and Easter. The church also celebrates the Feast of the Cross (the day the cross was found) and the number of attendees rises during such events. After the service, people gather to exchange greetings and eat together.
As mentioned by Father Anona, the church doesn’t have many life-cycle events due to its small circle of worshippers. In 2020, two weddings, two baptisms, and two funerals were held there, he added.
Community and Group Activities
The congregation consists of a few families listed among church members. According to Father Anona, these members were not originally from Erbil, and came mostly from cities like Mosul, Baghdad or Basra. He added that the doors are open to anyone who wants to join and become a member. The only obstacle to joining would be the language of the mass, which is held in Armenian, a tongue few visitors can speak.
The church has a women’s choir and an organist. Since the community does not have a building of its own, it rents a house in Ankawa as a place for the congregation to gather. Here, parties are given on special occasions, as well as religious and Armenian language classes. Participants tend to gather in small groups at the house after mass to drink tea or coffee and have a chat.
People in need are usually supported through donations by the congregation or from the church’s own funds, whenever that is possible, or through donations from richer families in the congregation. The church is cleaned voluntarily by a woman of the community.
The Armenian Apostolic Chruch has neither a website nor a notice board. The church has no political affiliations, but it has good relations with other parishes.
The church is part of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Baghdad, from which it receives all its funding, including for the building and salaries.