Turkey’s Armenians question election process of co-patriarch

Bishop Chuljyan, a candidate for the position of co-patriarch from Armenia, arrived in İstanbul on Wednesday to meet with members of the Armenian community in Turkey.

February 13, 2010, Saturday/ 16:38:00
As the Armenian Patriarchate in İstanbul tries to designate a co-patriarch in light of the illness of Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan, or Mesrob II, Turkey’s Armenians are questioning the election process for their co-patriarch as they think the community has not been informed by the patriarchate well.According to the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, which has been debating the issue in detail in its pages in recent weeks, the patriarchate’s Spiritual Board has not remained neutral in its position on the candidates.

The weekly indicated that Archbishop Aram Ateshyan, the head of the Spiritual Board and a candidate for the position of co-patriarch, aimed to strengthen his own base and desired quick elections to reduce the chances of other candidates who live abroad.

In its Jan. 22 edition, Agos called on the patriarchate officials to be transparent in their approach and inform the community about the steps that they take. The weekly stated that the community will watch the manner in which the patriarchate officials host Bishop Sebouh Chuljyan, a candidate for the position of co-patriarch from Armenia. They also noted problems during the January visit of another candidate, Bishop Karekin Bekjyan, the religious leader of Germany’s Armenian community. They are both qualified to take up the position since they were both born in Turkey as required and have impressive religious qualifications.

Bishop Bekjyan was quoted in Agos as saying, “I am going to come to İstanbul again,” after his 10-day visit. He also promised to maintain close contact with the community.

The Turkish Armenian community recognizes Mesrob Mutafyan as their community’s spiritual leader until the end of his life. Influential members of the community have been critical of the patriarchate officials because they were secretive about Patriarch Mutafyan’s condition and were therefore late in arranging the election of a co-patriarch. Patriarch Mutafyan, 54, has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.

An announcement on the patriarchate’s Web site in December stated that they had submitted an application to the relevant authorities regarding the selection of a co-patriarch. The statement noted that until the emergence of his health problems, Patriarch Mesrob II had served in the position for 11 years and that on Dec. 24, 2008, the patriarchate decided that he would be the community’s spiritual leader until his death.

The patriarchate has forwarded a request to the ministry that elections for the co-patriarch be held on May 9.

‘We should follow Hrant’s way’

Bishop Chuljyan, who is the primate of the Gougark diocese in Armenia, arrived İstanbul on Wednesday evening to meet with members of the Armenian community in Turkey.

A close friend of Hrant Dink, the former editor-in-chief of Agos who was assassinated in 2007, Bishop Chuljyan visited Dink’s grave on Friday.

“The road that Hrant Dink started down is the way to dialogue between Turks and Armenians. We should support this way and we should strengthen it,” he said, speaking to a group of journalists on Friday.

Bishop Chuljyan, who is staying at the patriarchate and says he is being treated very well, is making contact with the Armenian community in İstanbul. He will leave on Feb. 17 and said that he will come back to İstanbul following Easter in April.

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