After Over a Decade Istanbul Has a New Patriarch
Bishop Sahag Mashalian was elected the 85th Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul in an election He will be proclaimed Patriarch Sahag II, choosing to retain his clerical name.
Mashalian was elected by lay and religious delegates, who were chosen by the patriarchate’s synod and the local Armenian community of Istanbul respectively. The election process raught with interference from official Ankara, which created divisions and discord within the Turkish-Armenian community.
During an election process on Sunday, delegates endorsing Mashalian had received more votes, and the Bishop was expected to win in the election, defeating the other candidate on the ballot the long-time Vicar-General of the Patriarchate Archbishop Aram Ateshian.
The seat of the Patriarchate has been effectively vacant since previous patriarch, Archbishop Mesron Mutafyan, who was elected in 1998, was debilitated in 2008 due to acute dementia and was unable to perform his duties. Ateshian, the vicar-general, led the Patriarchate and was seen as divisive figure due to his close allegiance to official Ankara.
Following Mutafyan’s death in March, the most recent effort to elect a Patriarch got underway, with Ankara’s heavy-handed interference that involved changes to the rules governing the Patriarchal elections. Ankara mandated that candidates for the post must have carried out clerical duties at the Istanbul Patriarchate, considerably curtailing the list of eligible candidates.
The outcry from the community led to tensions within the Patriarchate, whose leaders opted to hold elections adhering to the restrictions imposed by Ankara.
Following Sunday’s election of lay delegates, Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament representing the People Democratic Party (HDP), decried Ankara’s meddling in the election and announced that he would not recognize the elected church leader as the legitimate Patriarch of Istanbul, warning that the new rules imposed by Ankara would have lasting and negative effects on the future of the Istanbul Patriarachate.
Shortly after being elected 85th Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, Bishop Mashalian addressed the Armenian community of Istanbul at the St. Mary’s Armenian Church near the patriarchate headquarters, noting that he work to bring new programs and initiatives aimed at strengthening the Turkish-Armenian community.
“We need something new, both in spiritually and practically. Our establishments need to be reformed, and my election must be the first step. We have an example of leadership before us: Jesus Christ, who washed the feet of his disciples, showed how to be a good shepherd. Today, you did not elect a patriarch, you elected the first servant of God and nation,” Mashalian said.
The Bishop said he will make his first pontifical address as 85th Patriarch after the inauguration and enthronement. “But now I have to ask you to pray for me”.
“The fact that we elected a patriarch in peace happened thanks to the prayers of thousands of people”, he said. The Bishop thanked the clergy, the delegates and Ateshian for their role in making the election happen.