“We did not want to mar the 550th celebrations; therefore, we told the church that a symbolic group of 100 people will be at the celebrations having a silent protest and wearing ribbons,” said Harut Özer, spokesperson for the “We want to Elect Our Own Patriarch Initiative,” which last year collected close to 6,000 signatures to appeal to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to restore their right to elect a patriarch.
Özer said that they also have court cases against the decision of the Interior Ministry and the governor's office because they think their citizenship rights have been violated.
Recalling the process of electing the patriarch, he said that while they were waiting for the elections to happen in May last year, the Interior Ministry came up with the new post of “General Acting President” for the Patriarchate; then, a few days later, Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, spiritual leader of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey, declared this position through a decision of the Spiritual Leaders Council of the Patriarchate.
In December, the Armenian Patriarchate issued a statement, saying that the Turkish government did not prevent the Armenian community from electing its patriarch.
“The rumors that the Turkish State is trying to debar Armenians from electing a patriarch are unfounded and untrue. A new patriarch will be elected after Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Mutafyan's death, according to the Armenian church's traditions. Any change on the matter is not being discussed,” the patriarchate said.
According to Tatyos Bebek from the “We Want to Elect Our Own Patriarch Initiative,” Ateşyan does not mind the state's decision to keep the civilian community away from the election of the patriarch. “Some Armenian community leaders also embrace this position. However, traditionally and in practice, the Patriarch is both a religious and community leader,” he said.
In addition, Özer said when they had a meeting with Interior Ministry officials last year they indicated that there was a “mistake made” due to “inadequate information” regarding the circumstances and it will be corrected following the June 12 election. Meanwhile, Özer said Ateşyan did not adequately meet their appointment demands.
“He should not have demanded to wear his robe from the government,” he said. “Our legal advisers say that this move can lead to removal of rights of civilians to elect their patriarch.”
Elected patriarch for life in 1998 by the Armenian community, Armenian Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan is seriously ill.
Ateşyan's rivals are Bishop Sebouh Chuljyan, the primate of the Gougark diocese in Armenia, and Bishop Karekin Bekjyan, the religious leader of Germany's Armenian community, both of whom are strong candidates for the position of co-patriarch, and they also noted problems in the election process of co-patriarch during their January 2010 visit to Turkey. They are both qualified to take up the position since they were both born in Turkey as required and have impressive religious qualifications.
Both Özer and Bebek stated that although young people in the community are demanding more vigorous protests, the “silent protest” will continue each Sunday in Armenian churches, and in addition they will have informative meetings with the Armenian community and Armenian community leaders to gain their support.
Despite all of this, the celebrations for 550th Anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian Patriarchate in İstanbul went smoothly on May 29 at the Surp Asdvadzadzin Church in the district of Kumkapı. Attended by many high ranking religious leaders from abroad, including from Armenia, Jerusalem and Germany, there were also spiritual leaders of Greeks and Syriacs in Turkey. Şişli Mayor Mustafa Sarıgül and Gülbenkian Foundations's Armenian Department Director Zaven Yegavian were honored with the Patriarch Golod Medal at the ceremony.