Turkish Court Appoints Istanbul Patriarch’s Mother As His Custodian

Istanbul Patriarch Arch. Mesrop Mutafyan
Istanbul Patriarch Arch. Mesrop Mutafyan

Istanbul Patriarch Arch. Mesrop Mutafyan

ISTANBUL—A Turkish court’s decision to appoint the mother of ailing Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II as his custodian, has revived the long-standing debate over his potential successor, Daily Sabah reports.

While the Patriarchate in Turkey, headed by acting patriarch Aram Ateşyan, insists on keeping Mutafyan as its leader, some prominent members of the Armenian community have repeatedly called for the election of a new patriarch.

Incumbent Patriarch Mesrob II has been in a vegetative state since 2008, after being diagnosed with dementia. Several plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit for appointment of a custodian for the patriarch in his absence, while Tatyos Bebek, a prominent figure in the Armenian community who was one of the co-plaintiffs, has sought a court order to that extent so that a new patriarch can be elected when the court officially recognizes the patriarch cannot fulfill his duties anymore. An Istanbul court on Wednesday appointed the patriarch’s 78-year-old mother, Mari Mutafyan, as his custodian. She will be eligible for representation of her son by the court order.

Ateşyan, who had reportedly pledged that an election would be held in 2014, though the council of bishops failed to reach a consensus on an election, was seeking a rejection of the lawsuit by the court. He still has the option of appeal to the court’s ruling.

The patriarch acts both as a religious leader and a leader of Turkey’s ethnic Armenian community concentrated in Istanbul, as the patriarchate also runs several non-profit organizations.

Mesrob II, 59, is the 84th patriarch of Turkey’s Armenian Orthodox community who succeeded Karekin II in 1998.

Bedros Şirinoğlu, president of the Armenian community’s Yedikule Surp Pırgiç Hospital Foundation and a proponent of the election of a new patriarch, told Agos daily that the appointment of a custodian is a legal testament to the end of Patriarch Mesrob II’s rule. Pointing to a divide in the community amid those supporting the election and those opposing it, Şirinoğlu said a continued divide would harm the community and electing a new patriarch instead of an “acting” one would help the community “to recover.”

Turkish law bans the election of a new patriarch while his predecessor is alive. A patriarchal election is required to be held by the synod, and the synod has to apply to the Interior Ministry after approving the election. The government ruled out an election of a new patriarch, but a group of Armenians filed a lawsuit for the removal of the regulations blocking the election. The legal process is still underway.

The Armenian patriarchate was established in Istanbul after the city’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire, and oversees Armenian churches throughout the country.

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