Hurriyet Daily News

'Patriarch' and 'co-patriarch' chaos among Turkey's Armenians

Sunday, January 31, 2010
Vercihan Ziflioðlu

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Elections for the Armenian patriarch in Turkey have been cast into
confusion with two separate applications filed to hold the polls.
While the patriarchate's clerical board intends to elect a
'co-patriarch,' an 'Entrepreneur Committee' of community foundation
directors is insisting on electing a completely new patriarch
Mesrop II.

Upcoming elections to select a new patriarch for Turkey's Armenians
have become increasingly enveloped in confusion as two separate
community applications to hold the polls were recently filed with the
Istanbul Governor's Office.

The patriarchate's clerical board recently decided to elect a
co-patriarch for the Armenian community due to the deteriorating heath
condition of current Patriarch Mesrop II. The elected co-patriarch
would then become the patriarch following Mesrop II's death.

At the same time, the Entrepreneur Committee, a body consisting of the
directors of the community's foundations, has initiated proceedings to
elect a completely new patriarch. This means that two separate
applications to elect the community's religious leader have now been
filed with the Istanbul Governor.

After learning of the committee's application, the clerical board
released a statement condemning the filing of election papers, as the
double application has cast a shadow over the co-patriarch elections
tentatively scheduled to be held May 12.

Mesrop II was elected in October 1998 as the 84th Patriarch of
Turkey's Armenians by the community of 50,000. In addition to
fulfilling his clerical and communal duties for the past 12 years,
Mesrop II has also played an active role in bringing the problems of
the Armenian community to Turkey's agenda.

Mesrop II fell suspiciously ill following the Jan. 19, 2007,
assassination of Hrant Dink; the patriarchate has since declaring his
illness to be dementia. His duties have been assumed by the clerical
board under Archbishop Aram Ateþyan.

Intra-communal debate on the matter has led to calls for the election
of a co-patriarch. According to the canon law of the Armenian
Apostolic Church, an elected patriarch holds his title until death,
meaning that it is impossible to elect a new patriarch until the
passing of the incumbent one.

Possible legal problems

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review about the
situation, Arsen Aþýk, one of the former directors of the committee,
said the community was going through a very sensitive time, adding
that he approved of the committee's actions.

"Mesrop II is in a condition in which he cannot fulfill his duties.
Let us assume that a co-patriarch is elected and then a legal problem
occurs. At that point, the co-patriarch might say, 'I do not have
authority' and isolate himself [from the situation]," Aþýk said.

Sarkis Elbe, one of the current members of the foundation, also
approved of the committee's actions but expressed some wariness about
the general situation. "Nobody knows what is going on behind closed
doors," he said, referring to the clerical board's decision to elect a

'Mesrop II is the community's choice'

Sevan Ataoðlu, a young member of the community, disagreed with Elbe
and Aþýk, saying he is against the idea of electing a completely new
patriarch and adding that the community wants to see Mesrop II as full
patriarch until his death.

"I believe the government is interfering with the Entrepreneur
Committee. That is why they are so determined," Ataoðlu said, claiming
both the state and the committee had a secret candidate in mind for
the position.

"There may be government advice [but] not interference," Elbe said in
response to such claims. "Such rumors were seen during the previous
elections too; they do not seem that believable."