Armenian Apostolic Church Diocese of Gougark Bishop Sebouh Chuljyan will be the 85th patriarch of Armenians in Turkey if he wins the elections expected to take place in May.
According to an 1861 Ottoman regulation that is applicable even today, a bishop can be the patriarch of Armenians in Turkey if his father was born in Turkey.
Speaking to the Hurriyet Daily News during a visit to Istanbul, Chuljyan delivered important messages not only to the Turkish and Armenian communities, but also to the Western world.
Speaking at the historical Armenian church of “Surp Kevork” (St. Gregory) at Kocamustafapasa in Istanbul, Chuljyan said if he wins, then the patriarchy would be “kept away from politics.”
“We will not repeat the previous mistakes. Let politicians deal with politics. I will put effort into enhancing the dialogue between the Turkish and Armenian peoples,” he said. “We need to look deep in each other’s eyes and talk about grievances.”
Chuljyan also said the recent warming of bilateral relations is a historic milestone. He said steps must be taken immediately to re-establish official relations. “This chance to open the path of dialogue between the two peoples should not be missed. Time works against us,” he told the Daily News.
The bishop also criticized the Western world’s mediation in the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process. He also said that Germany played a major role in the Armenian Genocide. “Germany has not accepted its responsibility in the events of 1915 until today. It has always preferred to keep silent,” he said, adding that the innocent Armenian population in Anatolia went through great agonies in the past because of the “egocentric stance of the West.”
“The Western world has manipulated us for its benefits in Anatolia,” he said. “I would like to think that those who try to act as mediators between the Turkish and Armenian peoples are trying to get rid of the burden of their consciences. However, they have their interests in mind once again, in the form of the Caucasus.”
Chuljyan said he believes Turkey and Armenia should start building dialogue immediately, without mediators. “There is no one who knows us better than us. Let us overcome our grievances together and start a dialogue,” he said.
Throughout the interview, Chuljyan kept his critical stance toward the Western world, addressing the West: “Do not add any more salt to our wounds, do not pit the two peoples against themselves for your interests.”
Chuljyan was born in Turkey, in the eastern province of Malatya, before migrating to Armenia at the age of 10 with his family. The bishop speaks Turkish fluently. If he is elected patriarch, he will apply for Turkish citizenship, provided the Turkish Republic approves. He said he would keep his Armenian citizenship and become a dual citizen.
Chuljyan said he visits Anatolia every chance he gets. “We Armenians are the children of these lands and are bonded here by heart,” he said. “Do not misunderstand me. We respect the unity of Turkey. We love these lands as much as you do because we [too] are a part of it.”
On the matter of Armenian cultural artifacts within Turkish borders, Chuljyan said: “We can repair historical structures together, we can bring our experts together for that. The remains may be a part of the Armenian culture but they are Turkey’s legacy. All we want [from Turkey] is to not deny their ownership.”
When reminded of the possibility of reopening for prayer the historical church of Surp Hac on Akdamar Island in Van province in eastern Turkey, Chuljyan said: “I believe that the Turkish people have respect for all beliefs. I believe they will understand the importance of Surp Hac for Armenians.”
Mesrop II, the current patriarch, has fallen ill and was diagnosed with dementia. Chuljyan said Mesrop II has already earned his place in history books and commented on his sudden illness, which came in the aftermath of the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink: “He received many threats and they damaged his health in an irrevocable way.”
When asked what he would do if he faced such threats, Chuljyan said: “Intelligent people full of the love of God do not seek solution in threats and conspiracies. Strong people who have faith in themselves overcome problems through dialogue.”