ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–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.
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.
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. Mesrop II fell 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 Atesyan.
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.
Speaking to the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review about the situation, Arsen Asik, 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],” Asik 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 co-patriarch.
Sevan Ataoglu, a young member of the community, disagreed with Elbe and Asık, saying he is against the idea of electing a completely new patriarch and added 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,” Ataoglu 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.”