Tuesday, 17 September 2013



Rouben Melkonyan
Over the last several months the election in the Patriarchate of Istanbul has been the matter on the agenda in the Armenian community in Istanbul. The point is that the incurable disease connected with the memory was found on Patriarch Mesrop Mutafian which made him incapable. According to the church rules the elected patriarch, despite different circumstances, bears the title lifelong and in case of a disease a co-patriarch, who has equal authority, is elected. The health problems of Patriarch Mutafian seriously affect different spheres of life of the Armenian community because continuing the Ottoman traditions, Turkish authorities today also recognize Patriarch as a head of the Armenian community and his factual absence disorganizes the situation.
Let us remind you that the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople was founded in 1462 when after the conquest of Constantinople Sultan Mehmet II invited primate Bishop Hovakim from Bursa and he became the head of a newly established patriarchate. But only since 1543, beginning from Astvatsatur I, the Armenian Patriarch title has been used. Till present the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul has had 84 Patriarchs.
The last Patriarch of the Ottoman period – Zaven Ter-Eghiaian, who had started rather vigour activity especially in 1918-1922 – was forced by the Kemalist authorities to leave Turkey in 1922. After that, till 1927, the patriarchal see had been vacant, and in 1923-1927 the patriarchate was headed by Vicar Bishop Gevorg Aslanyan.
For the first time in the Turkish republic the elections of Patriarch took place in 1927 and Mesrop Naroyan (1927-1944) was elected a patriarch. After his death the patriarch see again remained vacant and Bishop Gevorg Aslanyan became Vicar for the second time (1944-1950). And only at the end of 1950 the patriarch elections were arranged. Archbishop Garegin Khachatrian who was the spiritual leader of the Armenians in Latin America was elected a patriarch. After returning to Turkey in 1951 he became a Patriarch. After the death of Garegin Khachatrian Archbishop Shnork Galustian was elected a patriarch who became one of the Patriarchs who hold the throne for the longest period (1961-1990). Due to his efforts the life of the community became more active; the works were carried out to improve the condition of the Armenians living in provinces. After the death of Patriarch Shnork in 1990 Archbishop Garegin Kazanjian (1990-1998) came to the throne and after the death of the latest, in 1998, Archbishop Mesrop Mutafian was elected a Patriarch.
All the Apostolic Churches on the territory of the Ottoman Empire belonged to the Patriarchate of Istanbul since the beginning of the 17th century. In 1900s the Patriarchate had 1181 churches and 132 monasteries. Today 42 Armenian churches at the territory of Turkey and one on the island of Crete are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Istanbul. 6 of 42 Armenian churches are outside of Istanbul – in Kesaria, Diyarbekir, Derik, Iskander, Kirikhan and village of Vakifli. There are also many other institutions under the charge of Patriarchate.
It is not a secret that the Armenian community in Istanbul faced a number of serious problems and under factual absence of Patriarch those problems remain unsolved and even more aggravated. The incapable condition of Patriarch Mutafian made the Patriarchate and community look for the way out of the situation. Basing on some norms of the Armenian Apostolic Church discipline a decision was taken to hold the co-patriarch elections.
According to Turkish laws Istanbul governor’s office allows holding the elections of the Patriarch, which, in its turn gets the permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Several months ago an application was submitted to Istanbul governor’s office by the Armenian Patriarchate to allow to hold the elections of the co-patriarch and some time later the Initiative group formed of the Community members, in its turn, submitted request to the Governor’s office to allow electing Patriarch. Thus, two different applications were submitted by the Armenian community which contained one important legal difference, i.e. to elect Patriarch or co-patriarch. This issue put forward some problems in the community and the existing discrepancies were even strained and Turkish authorities under the pretext of this judicial uncertainty had left those two applications without response for months.
The initiated process implies nominating candidates. According to the law of the Armenian Apostolic Church and law of Turkey only 8 high ranking spiritual figures of the Armenian Apostolic Church had a right to lay claim to the Patriarch see and five of them refused participating in the elections from the very beginning. The other 3 – the Head of the Gugarats Dioceses Bishop Sepuh Chuljyan, the Head of the German Dioceses Archbishop Garegin Bekchian and the chairman of the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Patriarchate of Istanbul Archbishop Aram Ateshian stated that they were going to run for the elections.
From the very beginning it was clear that Turkish authorities are going to meddle in the matter and try to see on the patriarch throne the candidate they want, and that candidate, in the opinion of many, is the citizen of Turkey Archbishop Aram Ateshian. But the initiated electoral campaign had rather interesting course and the visits and meetings of the candidates with the community essentially changed the scenario prepared by the Turkish authorities.
Bishop Sepuh and Archbishop Garegin visited Istanbul and had rather interesting and populous meetings with the community. Especially impressive were the meetings with the Head of the Gugarats Dioceses Sepuh which aroused serious enthusiasm and one may say that the candidate from Armenia became the possible favorite at the elections.
It is necessary to mention that the problems in the community are even more aggravated also due to the current stagnation and the preservation of the current status quo may have disastrous aftermaths. Of course Turkish authorities are not interested in the election of the active Patriarch and the improvement of the Armenian community so it was predictable that they would do everything to preserve the state of stagnation.
The wait state connected with the election of the co-patriarch had lasted for several months and only on June 29 the Ministry of Home Affairs responded through Istanbul governor’s office to the applications of the Armenian community. They said that they did not find the elections of either patriarch or co-patriarch reasonable and allowed carrying out only the elections of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens. Let us mention there had already been a Patriarchal Locum Tenens represented by the oldest spiritual figure of Istanbul see Archbishop Shahan Svajian who resigned after the response brought above and in several hours the Spiritual council of the Patriarchate in haste elected Archbishop Aram Ateshian a new Patriarchal Locum Tenens.
This whole process proves that Turkish authorities were very interested in the matter and directly meddled in it. On the other hand, the logic of their actions tells us that they gave a permission to elect Patriarchal Locum Tenens after they had understood that the available resources are not enough to provide the victory of their candidate at the communal election.
This all will have rather negative consequences for the Armenians in Turkey and aggravate the stagnation and uncertainty in the community. The inspiration which could be observed in the community during the electoral campaign seeded to disappointment and uncertainty. Besides, the split in the community and struggle between the groups will become strained. One may say that the election of Armenian Patriarch, however, is connected with the Armenian-Turkish relations and Turkish side considers it one of its aces which can be used when necessary.
It is worth noting that the similar situation when the elections of the Armenian Patriarch were prohibited had been in Turkey for two times – first when Kemalists came two power and Kemalist nationalism was spread, and second, in 1940s when chauvinism and pan-Turkic moods prevailed in Turkey. In both cases the regress, aggravation of the problems and split were observed in the community.

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