Turkish Government Media Impede Patriarch Elections in Istanbul

ISTANBUL–The election of a new religious leader for the Istanbul Patriachate has been marred by controversy–as the Turkish government and media have begun a campaign to impede the elections at the center of which is Locum Tenens Archbishop Mesrob Mutafayan and an article published in Asbarez in April–1988.

Since the death of Archbishop Karekin Kazandjian–the Patriarch of Istanbul–a committee to organize the election of the 84th Istanbul Patriarch–comprised of various leaders in the Armenian community–began work to schedule elections–per the by-laws of the church–and nominated Mutafayan and 70-year-old Archbishop Shahan Svadjian as candidates for the post.

Since then–letters from the Istanbul governors office and reports in Turkish newspapers and television stations have begun attacking the patriarchate and the Locum Tenens.

Mutafayan–however–warned that despite the obstacles–the Istanbul Patriarchate will not remain without an elected leader–and per the church laws–a patriarch will be elected.

On May 5–the chairman of the election committee Pilo Atan dispatched a letter to the Turkish interior ministry–in order to clarify that since the 1961 and 1990 patriarchal elections had taken place based on a Sept. 18–1961 law–the current elections would follow suit as the rules of the Armenian church corresponded with Turkish civil codes.

The letter to the interior ministry also addressed a letter from the Istanbul governor–dated April 28–1998–which called on the election committee to halt all election activities until further notice from the governor’s council.

Atan speculated that various elemen’s within and close to the governor’s council were attempting to nix the elections by introducing new codes and criteria for the Armenian church. The election has been placed on hold until further notice.

Meanwhile an article published in Asbarez in April 1988 became a focal point of a television report which accused Mutafayan of politicizing the church.

The Turkish TGRT channel quoting Mutafayan from the Asbarez article–in which he allegedly discussed the Armenian "Genocide" and criticized newspapers which characterized Armeno-Turkish relations as normal.

The television station was vague in its attribution–and Mutafayan responded by stressing that the allegation by the television station were not statemen’s made by him–but rather commen’s made by the Asbarez editors.

In response to the television report and other articles which appeared in Turkey’s Turkiyeh newspaper–Mutafayan dispatched a letter to the Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz and other high ranking government officials discussing the harmful campaign begun by the media against the Istanbul Patriarchate and the Armenian community–adding that such reports also hindered the Turkish government.

In a libel-defamation suit filed at the Istanbul’s first court–presiding judge Ilias Ata ruled in favor of Mutafayan–saying that the Turkish newspaper defamed the archbishop and ordered the newspaper to publish a response letter drafted by Mutafayan.

In a subsequent interview with the Milliyet newspaper–Mutafayan discussed the processes by which a patriarch is elected and pointed the finger at the mass media and the government for creating obstacles in the election process.

Mutafayan also denied reports that the governor’s council was in the process of approving a law–whereby the elected patriarch would be subject to approval by the Istanbul ruling body.

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