Thursday 26 April 2018 Last Update: 04:56 PM

Deadlock Over Patriarch Election Worries Armenians

Published: 02-16-2017

Nine years on, the seat of the patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate remains empty and the failure to elect a new head is frustrating members of the minority concentrated in Istanbul.

Acting Patriarch Aram Ateşyan serves as the leader of the church that, apart from its religious role, functions as an institution uniting the community.

Although prominent figures of the community outside the church have noticeably rallied for the election of the new patriarch who would replace Patriarch Mesrob II, who has been in a vegetative state since 2008, clerics are also apparently irritated over the stalled process.

Bishop Sahak Maşalyan, who heads the Spiritual Council of the patriarchate, announced his resignation earlier this week through a letter published in the Armenian Turkish weekly Agos. Maşalyan accused Aram Ateşyan of delaying the elections that would be held if the Council and local authorities approve.

Maşalyan says Ateşyan resisted the election of a new patriarch and "acted alone" when he announced he would not apply to the authorities for permission for a new election last month. Maşalyan said in his letter that the election process could have been "accelerated" by cutting the red tape but Ateşyan had prevented it.

"Ateşyan used his position as acting patriarch to abuse his duty and caused the seat of the patriarch to be left empty for nine years, the first time in the history of the Armenian church," Maşalyan said.

Bedros Şirinoğlu, a prominent figure in the community and the head of Surp Pırgiç, a Turkish-Armenian foundation, said the Spiritual Council has always been reluctant to elect a new patriarch "believing Mesrob will recover."

Speaking to reporters, Şirinoğlu said the community was "fed up with this state of uncertainty" and demands the elections be held. He said what was needed to be done in the absence of a patriarch was first appointing a custodian and a committee who will oversee election process, which can be held after permission from the governorate of Istanbul where the patriarchate is located.

Şirinoğlu said unlike other churches, the Armenian community elects the head of their church themselves but the divide in the community posed a challenge. He added that the Turkish state did not want to intervene in the "domestic affairs of the Armenian community" and distanced itself from the dispute over the election process.

"A regulation was introduced in the 1960s that would apply for future elections but it was later scrapped. The state expects us to draft our own regulation but we failed to do so," he said.