Dec 1 2010

Lay representatives of the Armenian community have formed an initiative
to lobby for their right to select their own patriarch.


The Turkish Armenian community has filed two lawsuits against the
Turkish government, including one to get permission to go ahead with
a long-delayed election to select their own new patriarch.

"A committee composed of lay representatives from the community
filed two lawsuits," the community's attorney Sebuh Aslangil told the
Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "The first one is to make the
government allow an election for a patriarch to take place, and the
second is for canceling the substitute patriarch's post."

Aslangil told the Daily News that such a post does not exist in the
rules of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Lay representatives of the community, who have formed an initiative to
lobby for their rights to select their own patriarch, meanwhile held
a meeting Wednesday in Istanbul. The initiative previously organized
a petition campaign that gathered 6,000 signatures from Armenians in
Istanbul demanding that the election be allowed to take place.

Patriarch Mesrop II has been unable to fulfill his duties due to
dementia. Because of this, the Armenian community applied to the
Interior Ministry; the first was made by the patriarchate's clerical
committee to elect a co-patriarch and the second was made by the lay
committee to elect a new patriarch.

Speaking to the Daily News, initiative spokesman Garo Paylan said
the fact that there were two applications posed a problem, but that
this should "not get the Interior Ministry off the hook for what they
have done."

He said the ministry invented the post of "substitute patriarch"
in order to see the person they wanted installed in the patriarch's
place. "The Turkish state needs to give the Armenian community what
they are entitled to and should not impede the election process,"
Paylan said. "It is our most deserved right to be able to elect our
patriarch. In no time in history has the Armenian Patriarchate in
Istanbul been persecuted to this extent."

Secret meeting at the palace

In November, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a secret
meeting with Archbishop Aram AteĊ~_yan and a few prominent businessmen
from the Armenian community. The participants made no statement about
what was discussed at the meeting.

In subsequent months, AteĊ~_yan was assigned as substitute patriarch
through the intervention of the Interior Ministry.

According to Paylan, some prominent people from the community had an
interesting meeting with Interior Minister BeĊ~_ir Atalay last week.

"Atalay told us he was given information by AteĊ~_yan concerning
the election procedure," the spokesman said. "We do not know what
is happening behind closed doors, but we know there is a post that
has been left unfilled for three years and that is the post of the
community's spiritual leader."

Paylan said the election must take place as soon as possible and
that it does not matter whether it selects a co-patriarch or a new

"AteĊ~_yan imitates the Turkish government's official discourse
wherever he goes and says we have no problems with the Turkish state,"
he said.

"We want someone who is not afraid to speak his mind and who could
represent our community in a way that is true to reality."

CLARIFICATION: This article was amended on Dec. 2, 2010 to better
clarify the distinction between the spiritual (clerical) committee
and the civilian (lay) committee.

From: A. Papazian