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The Election of the Patriarch of Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul: the Possible Candidates and the Turkish Factor

Armenians of Istanbul are still waiting for the election of the Patriarch of Constantinople Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church. On October 26 the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople announced about its decision of declaring the Patriarchal seat of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul as "vacant" and launching the process of electing a new Patriarch.

Since 2008 Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan is in coma and actually since then he has not been acting as Patriarch. The Turkish government, which controls the selection of the leaders of religious communities, however, does not allow the election of a new patriarch. As a result, Archbishop Aram Ateshyan leads the Patriarchate, which causes dissatisfaction of the Armenian community, as he is selected not by the community but by the state.

Armenian community of Istanbul has repeatedly called on the Turkish authorities to hold elections of patriarch, but has not received permission. Turkish authorities claim that the possibility to hold new elections can be only after the patriarch's death. In February 2015 during the meeting with representatives of the national minorities Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said that it was possible to hold elections of Patriarch, if there were report on the health status of the Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafian.

It should be noted, that the decision to dismiss Mutafyan was taken, taking into account the report of the forensic medical commission of 2015, as well as according to church canons, the patriarch absence of seven years is sufficient for the dissolution of the covenant. Therefore, the absence of eight years of the Patriarch confirms the dissolution of the "patriarchal covenant."

Now in case of approval of the decision to dismiss Patriarch Mutafyan by the Turkish government, election of a new patriarch will be held, during which the Armenian community of Istanbul will choose its spiritual leader.

Speaking about possible candidates for the Patriarch of Constantinople, it should be noted, that since there is no official permission, it is still too early to talk about candidates. However circulating names include Ateshyan and Mashalyan, Garegin Archbishop Bekchyan, leader of Germany’s diocese and leader of Gugark Diocese, Bishop Sepuh Chuljyan. Khajak Archbishop Parsamyan and Vigen Archbishop Aykazyan are also among possible candidates. Now it is difficult to say who is the most likely candidate for Patriarch, but definitely Deputy Patriarch Aram Archbishop Ateshyan will hardly succeed, as the Armenian community treats him solely as a puppet of the Turkish authorities.

It should be noted, that earlier in the expectation of elections permission Ateshyan, Bekchyan and Chuljyan had already had meetings with the community and at that time Chuljyan was considered the most likely candidate.

The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople recognizes the primacy of the Catholicos of All Armenians, in the spiritual and administrative headquarters of the Armenian Church. However, according to Turkish laws the permit of the election of the Patriarch of Istanbul is given by the governor of Istanbul, who in his turn gets it from the Interior Ministry.

It should be noted that the similar situation when Turkish authorities have forbidden to choose the Armenian Patriarch in Turkey happened twice: the first when Kemalists came to power and started Kemalist nationalism and the second in the 1940s - the rise of nationalism and pan-Turkism. 



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