ISTANBUL—The tumultuous start to the election of a new patriarch in Istanbul took another unexpected turn Tuesday, when the head of the Istanbul Patriarchate’s Religious Council, Bishop Sahak Mashalian withdrew his candidacy for the locum tenens position urging his supporters to cast their votes for another cleric vying for office, Radio Agos reported.
On Wednesday, the Patriarchate’s will convene to vote for a locum tenens—the patriarchal alternate—after which the current Vicar-General Archbishop Aram Ateshian is expected to step down.
In announcing his withdrawal from the candidate’s pool, Mashalian called on his supporters to vote for Archbishop Garegin Bekchyan, the Primate of the Diocese of Germany.
“The voting will be held on March 15 at 15:00 [3 p.m. local time]. Thirty clergymen are eligible to vote. There I will announce the removal of my candidacy from the locum tenens election so that the votes are not divided,” Mashalian said.
“Let people vote in favor of [Arch. Garegin] Bekchyan instead of me in the election. Let’s think about the people. Let them save our own dignity. Archbishop Garegin Bekchyan is the best candidate for the locum tenens,” he said.
The election of a Patriarchal locum tenens will be held on March 15 in Istanbul’s Armenian Patriarchate. The results of the election will be released on the same day.
Currently, Mashalian, Bekchyan and Ateshian are the three candidates nominated for the Wednesday vote. Mashalian’s decision seeks to marginalize Ateshian in favor of ushering in new leadership to the Patriarchate to replace the ailing Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan who stepped down from the post last year.
The Locum Tenens will be responsible for organizing the elections of a Patriarch, which must take place within the next six months.
Mashalian made headlines last month when he abruptly announced his resignation as head of the Istanbul Patriarchate’s Religious Council, citing grievances with Ateshian and alleging that the Vicar General was interfering in the Patriarchal election process.
Several days after his resignation announcement, Mashalian and Ateshian, in an apparent reconciliation, called a secret meeting to determine the timeline of the Patriarchal election, angering some of the lay and religious actors in the process. This move prompted His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians to summon the two to Etchmiadzin to discuss the elections.
Following what was described as often tense negotiations at Etchmiadzin, it was announced that the elections of a Locum Tenens would take place on March 15, after which Ateshian will step down as Vicar General.