BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
“His Eminence Aram’s [Ateshian] resignation would solve everything,” Says Patriachate Religious Council Chairman.
ISTANBUL—The refusal by the Patriarchate’s Vicar General Archbishop Aram Ateshian to step down following Wednesday’s election of a Locum Tenens and his apparent collusion with the Istanbul Governor’s office, which deemed the process illegal, have escalated tensions within the Patriarchate.
Immediately after the Patriarchate’s Clerical Assembly elected Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian as Locum Tenens—Patriarchal alternate—Ateshian produced a letter signed by Istanbul’s deputy governor charging that the election process for a new patriarch, which began in October of last year, was “legally impossible.” Soon after the vote Thursday, the governor’s office release its letter to the press.
The decision for Ateshian to step down after the alternate’s election was agreed to last month at Etchmiadzin, where His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, had summoned Ateshian and the Patriarchate’s Religious Council chair Bishop Sahak Mashalian, who had resigned earlier as a protest to Ateshian’s interference in the electoral process.
In an interview with Agos, published on Thursday, Mashalian said that the notice from the governor’s office had rendered the Patriarchate dysfunctional. He added that a meeting should be held at the governor’s office immediately, a sentiment echoed by the newly-elected Locum Tenens, Archbishop Bekdjian.
Mashalian also raised the possibility of collusion between Ateshian and the governor’s office, saying that the fact that the notice was revealed after the election raises unanswered questions.
“There are two possibilities,” Mashalian told Agos. “Either it [the governor’s notice] came earlier and it wasn’t going to be revealed if Ateshian were elected; or it was designed as a notice that would be revealed if Ateshian lost. We don’t know. However, the problem is that this notice caused a storm in our church once again.”
Mashalian said that the situation should be handled in a calm manner to prevent clashes with the state and to restore “our freedom to worship.”
However, the events of the last 24 hours have created a situation whereby the Patriarchate does not have a religious leader, according to Mashalian.
“His Eminence Karekin is our elected deghabah [Armenian word for Locum Tenens]. And according to the same law, His Eminence Aram is no longer the vicar. Now, after this improper and untimely interference, we have a vicar who is not a vicar and a deghabah who is not a deghabah,” stressed Mashalian.
“His Eminence Aram’s resignation would solve everything,” added Mashalian who cited the meeting in Etchmiadzin last month, when all sides agreed to a smooth transition toward the election of a Patriarch in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, more revelations have come to light about Thursday’s tense meeting and the election.
According to Agos, after the votes were counted and it became clear that Bekdjian had won, Ateshian made the announcement and stormed out of the room, only to return a few minutes later with the governor’s notice in hand.
After the revelation of the notice, Mashalian, Ateshian and Bekdjian reportedly retreated to a nearby office, from where shouts were heard.
Sources who overheard the heated exchange between the top clerics at the Istanbul Patriarchate told Agod that Mashalia urged Ateshian to accept the results of the election and go to the governor’s office to explain the decision of the Clerical Assembly.
“They [the state] are trampling on our religious life. This is interference. This election happened. We have to go to the governor’s office and tell that Bekdjian is our deghabah. You are the one who should do it,” Mashalian reportedly told Ateshian, to which the latter responded “I am holding my seat until the state gives permission.”