Donations tilt Vatican in favor of Azerbaijan

In a lengthy article published in the in Italian on March 27, 2024, titled, “How Vatican helped legitimize the Aliyev autocracy in Azerbaijan,” Simone Zoppellaro exposes the Vatican’s pro-Azerbaijan tilt due to financial donations, despite Armenia being a Christian nation, while Azerbaijan is Islamic.

On Feb. 22, 2020, the autocratic leader of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva, the country’s vice president, paid a state visit to the Vatican. They were received officially by Pope Francis, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher. Aliyeva was at the Vatican to receive the highest honor awarded to a lay person by the Holy See, “The Grand Cross.” The award is proposed by the diocesan bishops “as a sign of appreciation and gratitude for services to the Church or to society reserved for Heads of State, ministers, ambassadors and royalty.” However, the driving force behind the Vatican’s interest in Azerbaijan is the financial support provided by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

Ironically, despite Azerbaijan’s intolerance of minorities, dissidents and other religions, the Holy See expressed its appreciation to “Azerbaijan’s openness and peaceful attitude towards different faiths.”

Fearing the loss of Azerbaijan’s donations, the Vatican has been reluctant to allow any criticism of Baku, particularly by its own clergy. “Father Georges-Henri Russyen was expelled from the Pontifical Oriental Institute because he was critical of those who did not want to use the formula ‘Armenian genocide,’” the article reads. 

Given the expectations of benefiting from Azerbaijan’s “caviar diplomacy,” the Vatican has not been willing to say anything more substantial than emphasizing “the importance of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in favor of peaceful coexistence among different religious and ethnic groups,” meaning Armenians and Azeris. The Pope prayed for the inhabitants of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, hoping “that the talks between the parties, with the support of the international community, will foster a lasting agreement that will end the humanitarian crisis.” Even during the 2020 War, “the Church was unable of going beyond generic appeals for moderation to all the parties involved and to the international community to lay down their weapons.”

On October 24, 2023, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan received from the Apostolic Nuncio José Avelino Bettencourt the same award given three years earlier to Aliyeva. However, there was a major difference. While Aliyeva received her award directly from the Pope, Pashinyan was honored by an Apostolic Nuncio. There were also other differences which “helped consolidate the power of the Aliyev family, despite human rights violations in Artsakh.”

“Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, honorary president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Culture and chairman of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, is the highest Vatican official who has made the most efforts to open a dialogue with Azerbaijan.” He was awarded the Order of Friendship in 2013 by the Azerbaijani authorities – a high honor offered for a “special contribution to the development of friendly, economic and cultural relations between Azerbaijan and a foreign state.”

Cardinal Claudio Gugerotti is considered “the protagonist of the privileged channel” established between the Vatican and Baku. “Highly educated and polyglot, ambitious and lover of power, Cardinal Gugerotti has known the Aliyev family since 2002, when Pres. Heydar Aliyev, in power since 1969, was still alive,” the article reads.

President and Vice President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev and Mehriban Aliyeva, with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Feb. 22, 2020 (President of Azerbaijan)

“In the early 2000s, Gugerotti met with the Azerbaijani authorities as Nuncio for the Southern Caucasus, a position he assumed in 2001. Before then this nunciature for the Holy See included only Georgia and Armenia. Those were the years in which Russia guaranteed a ceasefire in the region, after Armenia had defeated Azerbaijan in the first conflict. The ethnic hatred that is still fuel for the conflict was beginning to settle, but Nuncio Gugerotti called Azerbaijan a ‘country [that] is a symbol of peaceful coexistence between people of different religions,’” the article says. 

“Ten years after he began his mission as Apostolic Nuncio in 2011, Gugerotti signed the historic agreement which, for the first time, regulated relations between Baku and the Catholic Church. At the time of ratification, recalls a 2019 book produced by the Foundation for the Promotion of Moral Values from Baku entitled ‘Christianity in Azerbaijan,’ Gugerotti expressed gratitude to the (Azeri) government for creating the conditions that made possible [the agreement], emphasizing that our country always remained committed to the principles of tolerance, and noting that the agreement was the first document of its kind, because the Vatican had never signed such an agreement with any state before,” the article continues.

According to Gugerotti, “Azerbaijan has once again demonstrated its tolerance. Now the whole world is witnessing it. I am sure that this document will receive a positive response in the international world and will be remembered as a great historical event. The reaction of the press from day one proves us right. On behalf of the Holy Throne and the Crown, I extend my deep thanks for all this to President Ilham Aliyev and the Government of Azerbaijan.”

Since 2009, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, headed by Aliyeva, has funded various activities in the Vatican, including restoration projects, exhibitions and concerts. Other projects funded by Azerbaijan included the Roman catacombs, the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Apostolic Library and Catholic churches in France and Azerbaijan. These donations amount to one million euros.

In 2013, Gugerotti received the Movses Khorenatsi Medal – the highest Armenian honor – from then-president Serzh Sargsyan for his important contribution to Armenian studies, as well as the effort aimed at strengthening relations between Yerevan and the Holy See.

The author of the article concluded that the close relationship between the Vatican and Azerbaijan has had the effect, perhaps unintended, of strengthening the hegemonic role of the Azeri autocracy…which may contribute to a diplomatic normalization that would put in the background, or erase, crimes and aggressions committed by Azerbaijan. 

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Whilst Armenia is predominantly Orthodox Church. The tired notion of clash of civilizations really ought to be let to go. Iran is Shia Islamic yet this doesn’t mean that it’s relationship with secular Shia Azerbaijan is particularly remarkable. Georgia; Armenias Christian neighbour doesn’t make it a natural ally it seems, although probably has some moderation on the relationship owing to communality of faith. Russia and Ukraine are both predominantly Orthodox Church and are embroiled in war. Azeri gas helps to keep the Vatican’s lights on. Whilst of Shia Muslim traditions Azerbaijan is quite secular and a personality cult in governance, and is certainly not an Islamic theocracy.

  2. I don’t know why you focused on the religion of Islam. I mentioned that once as a fact. But I mentioned that Aliyev is an autocrat and his corrupt practices of “caviar diplomacy.” Why did you ignore that? it is also an autocracy? It is funny you dismissed the bribes Azerbaijan distributes around the world by saying Azeri gas keeps the Vatican lights on. It is not gas. It is bribes in cash. If Vatican needed gas, they could have bought it and paid for it, not accept bribes from a corrupt dictator.

  3. Arab historians, politicians and Muslims clerics are saying with evidences that Turkey and Azerbaijan are users of the Islam religion in Middle East and Caucus regions for their expansion plans in the region.

    Turkey occupied and controlled Arabia, Greece, Middle East and North Africa LANDS for four hundred years by sword and cover of the Islam religion. On the other hand Europe used its technologies to colonize other peoples lands and to take their wealth including oil.

    Turkey and Azerbaijan are recently exposed by real Muslims for their unislamic deeds to their immediate neighbors.
    Armenia and Armenians are the native nation in the area and their history extends for many thousands years around Mount Ararat, Asia Minor and Middle East unlike to Mongol, Tatar and Turkic tribes [late invaders] where their origins are the central Asia and beyond.

    In conclusion. the Pope is carrying his PR responsibilities and respect to other leaders. It is the Armenian leaders and religion leaders responsibility to have their photos with the Pope and raise to his Holiness the evidences of Aliev’s demolishing and eradication of Armenian churches and cemeteries on Armenian lands as we speak.

  4. A lot of countries use foreign aid as a tool of national policy to further national interests. As one was citing the Vatican having a bias in favour of Azerbaijan regarding the fact that Armenia is Christian (the first Christian state) and Azerbaijan Islamic, Muslim would actually be a better description since it’s a secular state with a predominantly Muslim population but isn’t constituted as an Islamic state with a form of Sharia law as it’s jurisprudence. As the Vatican has the same gas supplier as Italy which is Azerbaijan, Azeri gas literally does help to keep the lights on in the Vatican. Although Russian gas has been locked out of the European market at the behest of the USA it’s believed that some Russian gas is laundered through Azeri controlled pipelines so appearing on the market as Azeri. This is another reason why Azerbaijan is more important to Russia than Armenia despite what the pro Russian Armenians and evermore fanatical in the light of reality would like to believe. Although the current papacy is less concerned about Catholic – Orthodox issues unlike J.P. II was Armenia is predominantly Orthodox hence in their eyes of the wrong church. Thus on the principle of politics is politics and business is business Azerbaijan is pursuing national interests in a dynamic way unlike Armenia who was so long stuck in the must ask Moscow first mindset. Azerbaijan is able to ingratiate well with various countries some of them officially at odds with eachother such as Israel and Pakistan. Azerbaijan was able to get Pakistan support over said Armenian occupation of Muslim land whilst in turn being on good terms with Israel who is occupying from a Muslim perspective lands rather more important to the Islamic mythos than any lands Armenia held, also knowing how to curry favour has sponsored conservation work at Auschwitz. As for the Vatican Pope Francis is probably the least popular Pope in living memory amongst many Catholics

    • Currently most of Italy’s natural comes from Qatar, Algeria, and the United States. You mentioned Armenia’s occupation of muslim lands. Can you name me a Azeri King, President or any ruler that ruled Karabagh (Artsakh)before 1921, which was given to them by Stalin in 1921 and Azerbaijan as a nation never existed before 1918 in the history of the world. Armenians kings have ruled Artsakh for thousands of years. Prince of Khachen of Armenia ruled, and prince Hasan Jalalyan. Artsakh was mainly ruled by the representatives of the Haikian-Sisakian-Aranshahik family. From 484 AD until the first half of the 6th century, the Armenian regions of Artsakh and Utik comprised the Kingdom of Vachagan the Pious. Azerbaijan is among the most corrupt countries in the world. Azeri oil was first found and drilled by Ivan Mirzoev who was Armenian. Being Azerbaijani means to live on Persian land, read Russian literature, have Armenian architecture, believe in Arab religion, celebrate Talysh holidays, buy Western technology, listen to Caucasian music, drink Georgian wine.

  5. I guess the Vatican accepted the blood money from Azerbaijan to pay off all the lawsuits resulting from rampant pedophilia among their clergy.

  6. Whilst there wasn’t a self governing Azeri ruler of Arktash as part of Iran it had been under Muslim authority. For the easily led rent a mob countries such as Pakistan this is enough to satisfy their Muslim lands ideology and side ardently with Azerbaijan notwithstanding the well known fact Azerbaijan is very close to Israel which from an Islamist principle is occupying lands far more important to Islam than Arktash and the areas of Azerbaijan which Armenia held 1994 – 2020 . The principle useful idiots springs to mind. In turn despite Israel animosity to Armenia is unique in the area for not recognising Palestine thus a case of hiding to nothing.

  7. The Pope’s appearance with Aliev is entirely a pure PR between Vatican and Azerbaijan which should benefit Arsakh and Armenia considerably!?.

    The Armenians have their own Catholic representatives in Vatican at the highest levels and their own island in Venice/Italy run by Armenian monks because the Armenians are respected by EU and being very old Christian nation.

    The Vatican does not need Azerbaijan’s Gas. The West,US and Turkey needs Azerbaijan Gas for their peoples;
    a- For Price control: more gas on market a lower price for factories and people.
    b- Because of Major proxy wars happening in Europe by US,EU and Russia and in other places etc. To conduct wars countries need cheap Oil and Gas

    So what are the requirements for Armenia;
    1- Replace the current PM with young and presentable Minister such as Armenia’s Minister of Public works MR.Gnel who has hands on experience with real issues of Armenia, further
    2-he needs to consult with competent ministers in industry and security matters in a MATURE and CALM way and
    3- externally, to extend his hand to relevant nations who acts equally to provide security and prosperity to their Nations

    Azerbaijan has to release the Arsakh leaders from detentions and prepare them to run their own internationally known NK land and return of displaced Armenian people

  8. Arch.Bagrat GALSTANYAN who is defending Armenia’s homeland, people of Tavush and guiding Armenia’s interests by actions and clarity is the right person to take position of Armenia’s FM [Foreign Minister] or an acting FM in new government of Armenia.


    ps. PM Nikole still does not understand that he failed in his responsibilities when mass people are SUDDENLY demonstrating against his dangerous policies and his ERRATIC and undemocratic behaviors. PM Nikole you are not the ARMENIA.

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