ISTANBUL—The 84th Patriarch of Istanbul, Archbishop Mesrob Mutafian passed away on Friday after a long illness, which claimed his ability to run the Istanbul Patriarchate. He was 62.
The official cause of death was reported to be a heart attack, according to the Istanbul-based Agos newspaper, which also reported that funeral service for the Patriarch will be held on Sunday, March 17.
In July 2008, it was announced that Mutafian was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and he withdrew from all his duties and from public life; however he still officially remained Patriarch. In 2016, by a synod of the church, Mutafian was relieved of his duties, thus setting the stage for a contentious race—marred by interference by official Ankara—to elect a new Patriarch.
He was elected Patriarch on October, 1998 after the death of his predecessor Archbishop Karekin II Kazanjian
Born in Istanbul on June 16, 1956, Mutafian graduated from the American High School in Germany. From 1974 to 1979, he studied philosophy and sociology in Memphis, Tennessee, and was ordained to the priesthood in May of 1979. In 1986 he was elevated to the rank of bishop and in 1993 he became an archbishop.
Following his illness, Archbishop Aram Ateshian was named the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchate, a title he still holds, despite an election process in 2018 that ousted him from power and installed Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian as the caretaker of the Patriarchate. Local and national Turkish officials deemed Bekdjian’s election unconstitutional and re-installed Ateshian as the Vicar General of the Patriarchate.
Condolence messages poured in after the official announcement of Mutafian’s death, including one from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan who praised Mutafian for his service to the Armenian Church and the Armenian community in Turkey.
“He will remain in our memory as an unforgettable spiritual leader,” said Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament representing the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Also extending condolences was President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. His spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin posted a message on Twitter saying: “On the occasion of the passing of Armenian Patriarch in Turkey Mesrop II Mutafyan, I offer confolences to his family, relatives and all our Armenian citizens.”
Խոր վշտով տեղեկացայ Թուրքիոյ հայոց պատրիարք Յարգելի Մեսրոպ Մութաֆեանի մահը։ Այս կապակցութեամբ կը ցաւակցիմ իր ընտնիքին, հարազատներուն եւ մեր հայ քաղաքացիներուն։
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) March 8, 2019
The Speaker of Turkey’s parliament Binal Yildirim also offered condolences, saying, “Turkey learned with pain about the death of Armenian Patriarch in Turkey Mesrop Mutafian. I offer my condolences to all our citizens, especially his family members and the Armenian community.”
In a message posted on Twitter, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said: “Our deepest condolences on the passing of Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan.”