Cleric Seeks to Preserve ‘Political Clout’ of Armenian Patriarchate

ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–Archbishop Aram Atesyan, spiritual leader of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey, stands opposed to an initiatives to ‘secularize’ the community, telling the Hurriyet Daily News that the Armenian community is inherently religious.

Elections planned next month for the Armenian Patriarchate are facing serious problems. It will be up to the Interior Ministry to decide whether a patriarch or a co-patriarch will be elected.

Atesyan is one of the strongest candidates for the patriarchate. If elected, he would be the 85th patriarch of Turkey’s Armenians. However, as long as Mesrop II is alive, he would have to work as the co-patriarch.

Patriarch Mesrop II fell ill after the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink on Jan. 19, 2007; some members of the community believe his illness is “suspicious.” The patriarchate announced that he has frontotemporal dementia, a syndrome caused by degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain. His duties were transferred to the Spiritual Committee directed by Atesyan, who has been at that post for two years now.

“Thanks to this post, I could understand better the pressure that Mesrop II was subject to,” Atesyan told Hurriyet in an interview Saturday. “It has been a very important experience for me. He was under severe pressure from both the congregation and the Diaspora. Various threats he received were a factor in his illness.”

Atesyan’s strongest rival is Bishop Sebouh Chuljyan of the Armenian Apostolic Church Diocese of Gougark. Speaking to Hurriyet in a previous interview, Chuljyan defended the so-called “secularization” of the Armenian community, as opposed to Atesyan, adding that if he was elected, he would try to keep the patriarchate “out of politics.”

The reason the election process has become complicated is that there await two applications at the Istanbul Governor’s office, sources said. The first one is for the election of a co-patriarch by the patriarchate, while the second is from the “Mutesebbis Heyet” (the “Undertaking Committee”), a civil organization comprised of the chairmen of the community’s foundation.

The committee announced that Mesrop II could not fulfill his duties due to his sickness, therefore the election should be for a patriarch in order to prevent possible legal complications in the future. Whereas Atesyan says elections could only be for a co-patriarch according to rules of the clergy, adding that as long as Mesrop II is alive, he will be the sole owner of the title.

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