Turkey’s Armenian community has collected approximately 5,000 signatures in order to have the right to elect its patriarch following the appointment of a patriarchal vicar general as the current patriarch is permanently ill.
Calling themselves the “We Want to Elect our own Patriarch Initiative,” the group said in a press conference yesterday that they want to elect their religious leader, who is supposed to represent their community. The Armenian Patriarchate based in İstanbul had turned to the Turkish government to ask how to proceed with the election of the patriarch since Mesrob II Mutafyan, who was elected patriarch for life in 1998 by the Armenian community, has been permanently ill. One group within the Armenian community is of the view that they should choose a new patriarch; another group, however, objected to this, arguing that it was against their traditions to choose a new patriarch while the elected one was still alive, no matter how unfit for duty. However, the internal conflict within the Armenian community on the issue continues.
The second group suggested choosing a “co-patriarch.” At the end, both groups turned to the government for approval of the “election procedure.” Even though there is no law, bylaw or regulation in Turkey regarding this process, the Turkish government told the Armenian community to appoint a patriarchal vicar general because a new patriarch could not be chosen while the elected one is still alive. Aram Ateşyan was then elected as the patriarchal vicar general.
Speaking on behalf of the initiative, Harut Özer said their right to elect their own patriarch had been taken away even though the Armenian Church has traditionally elected its religious leaders by majority vote of its laity.
The initiative’s Tatyos Bebek said they tried to solve the problem within the Armenian community, but since Ateşyan refused to talk with them, they had to go public with their demands.
Taraf daily columnist Markar Esayan, also from the initiative, said their rights had been violated.
The initiative now plans to appeal to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to voice its demands. “Our right to elect our own patriarch has been taken away because the ‘patriarchal vicar general’ position was created against the traditions of the Armenian Church. In a democratic and secular state, we cannot accept such interference in the patriarchal election, which is the right of the Armenian community based on historical traditions,” their statement read.