Armenia's Jehovah's Witness officials are vehemently protesting the linkage of a recent patricide in Armenia with the religious group after a barrage of criticism and disparaging reports were spread in the local media.
An Armenia representative of Jehovah's Witness - viewed skeptically as a cult or a sect, but themselves claiming to adhere truly to the Bible and best known for door-to-door proselytizing - has strongly denied that the 23-year-old man who killed his two parents in the town of Sevan on November 8 is or has ever been a member of the organization (which claims 10,500 members and 24,000 followers in Armenia).
The man, Arman Torosyan, allegedly said he committed the double murder "fulfilling the commandment of Jehovah."
The case - and especially the alleged link of the suspected criminal with Jehovah's Witnesses - caused an uproar in Armenia and was widely covered by the local media, with follow-up TV talk shows, teleconferences, press conferences of psychologists, sociologists, clergy and generally "people concerned about the influence of decadent cults" in Armenia staged in its wake.
ArmeniaNow also reported news on the suspected double murder that within a few days attracted scores of comments (critical or supportive of Jehovah's Witnesses). That report quickly became the most "read, commented or emailed" story on the current website, revealing the controversy that exists around the issue.
In a rare letter sent to Armenian media, and ArmeniaNow in particular, on Tuesday the Jehovah's Witnesses organization said the man suspected of murdering his parents "is not a Jehovah's Witness, has never been one and has nothing to do with Jehovah's Witnesses."
The letter signed by the head of the local JW Board Chairman H. Keshishyan further stresses that "Jehovah's Witnesses respect their parents, value life, therefore for them depriving another person of his or her life or commit suicide is an unacceptable idea. And they also respect other people's rights and dignity."
Soon after the reports came about the crime in Sevan Armenia's Ombudsman Armen Harutyunyan urged media to stop presenting the suspect as a Jehovah's witness.
The Ombudsman's office said the details of the case would be clear only after the completion of the ongoing investigation.
Earlier, media picked up unverified claims and reports quoting Torosyan's neighbors as saying he was known as a "Jehovah's Witness" and constantly had quarrels with his parents - Khachik Torosyan, 64, and Marietta Torosyan, 57.
The letter disseminated by the Jehovah's Witnesses organization also particularly stresses that they are not a sect, but are "a Christian religious organization registered in the Republic of Armenia on the state level."
While the church is constitutionally separated from the state in Armenia, the country's Basic Law still recognizes the "exceptional role of the Armenian Apostolic Church as national Church in the Armenian people's spiritual life, development of national culture and preservation of national identity."
The Church, meanwhile, regards Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious groups registered in Armenia as sects.
Surb Hovhannes (St. John) Church priest Ter Shmavon Ghevondyan says in any country where there is a traditional church, other religious organizations are considered to be sects.
"A sect is a sect no matter how hard you try not to call it one. They act like petty looters during a disaster, looters who want to get as much as they can during the time of trouble," he says.
There are no verified data on the number of people who adhere to religious denominations other than Armenian Orthodox Christian in Armenia. Some sociologists in recent days have claimed the number of such people in Armenia could be as high as hundreds of thousands.