ISTANBUL—The Istanbul Governor, after months of delays, finally announced its official rejection of Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian, who was elected the Patriarchal Locum Tenens during a March 2017 religious council meeting, further exacerbating the process of electing a patriarch, which has been marred by interference by Archbishop Aram Ateshian, who refused to step down as the Vicar-General following the Locum Tenens elections.
The letter from the Istanbul Governor’s office also asserted that the Turkish authorities did not recognize Bekdjian but saw Ateshian as the legitimate Vicar-General of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate.
Furthermore, the Istanbul Governor’s office has notified the Patriarchate that the only criteria for a patriarchal election are the death of the sitting patriarch, resignation or the vacancy of the position for other reasons. The governor’s office also stated that the Patriarch Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan, who has been incapacitated for years due to dementia, is the recognized leader of the Istanbul Patriarchate and his illness does not meet the state criteria for electing a new patriarch.
Thus, the governor’s office stated that it cannot accept any appeal or letter sent by Archbishop Bekdjian, since it does not recognize him as the legitimate leader of the institution, despite the fact that he was elected by the religious council currently in place at the Patriarchate.
Last March, the governor’s office sent a letter to the Patriarchate saying that the election of locum tenens and the entire process of preparing for the election of a patriarch were not recognized by the Istanbul Governor. This initial rejection was presented by Ateshian at the meeting, which elected Bekdjian, after Ateshian did not receive the necessary votes to remain in the leadership of the Patriarchate.
The government’s intervention in the patriarchal election process has been at the center of controversy for the Istanbul Armenian community and has prompted Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament to call for an investigation by the legislature into the government overreach into the Armenian community’s issues.