Turkish State ‘Appoints’ Armenian Church Leader

ISTANBUL (Compass)–According the Turkish paper Compass–the Turkish Interior Ministry unilaterally appointed an interim leader for the Armenian Church in Turkey on Monday. This was an apparent attempt to invalidate the church’s elected choice of Acting Patriarch.

The Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of Turkey was informed yesterday that the government had appointed Archbishop Shahan Sivaciyan as the official representative of the Armenian Patriarchate–effective Monday.

In a swift overnight response–the patriarchate’s Religious Council issued a unanimous declaration today–rejecting the government’s interference in internal affairs. Printed in Istanbul’s two Armenian-language dailies and distributed to Armenian churches worldwide–the declaration reiterated the church’s insistence on adhering to its "holy canons and traditions" in the selection of a spiritual leader.

"Until the election of the 84th Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul," the declaration stated–"Turkish citizens who are members of the Armenian Church will remain under the spiritual jurisdiction of the elected Acting Patriarch–Mesrob Mutafyan."

The Turkish state has refused to allow its 65,000 Armenian Christians to elect a new patriarch since the death of Patriarch Karekin II on March 10. In the meantime–pressure has mounted from a deputy in the Istanbul Governor’s Office to install Sivaciyan–72–as the official Patriarchal Representative until elections are permitted.

As the church’s interim choice for Acting Patriarch–Mutafyan–42–has been head of the Patriarchal Synod for the past eight years. He and Sivaciyan (who retired 12 years ago) are the only qualified candidates for the post under church canons and Turkish law.

According to both the "Jamanak" and "Marmara" newspapers–Sivaciyan went to the Istanbul Patriarchate yesterday morning. In a brief meeting with the Acting Patriarch Mutafyan–the elder archbishop presented himself as the Patriarchal Representative of Turkish Armenia’s "appointed by the state."

Sivaciyan provided a photocopy of an August 17 directive from Istanbul Deputy Governor Osman Demir–investing him with official government recognition. The notice was based on Interior Ministry Order No. 185811–issued last Thursday.

In curt terms–the directive rejected the decision of the church’s General Clerical Assembly on August 3–when Mutafyan was elected Acting Patriarch. Demir claimed that the assembly had convened under the provisions of an 1863 constitution ratified by the Ottoman Sultanate–but later annulled by both the Turkish Constitution and the Lausanne Treaty.

The arbitrary government appointment of Sivaciyan was opposed today by a Foreign Ministry source. In remarks quoted in today’s "Cumhuriyet" newspaper–the Foreign Ministry source stated that there were established regulations for the church’s patriarchal elections that should be followed. He went on to criticize local officials for trying to introduce an obscure–unratified set of new rules which violate both Turkish and international legal codes. "The Turkish state will be subjected to new and fierce criticisms over human rights" for this move–the source concluded.

According to the Armenian Patriarchate’s legal consultants–the latest Interior Ministry order violates the government’s strictly secular codes by interfering in the internal affairs of a religious institution like the Armenian Patriarchate. The constitution and laws also guarantee every Turkish citizen the right to file applications or complaints to the highest levels of government authority–they said.

Until these unprecedented pressures from the Turkish government are resolved–several Armenia’s admitted to Compass–it "seems impossible" for the church to conduct free and democratic elections for a new patriarch.

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