Turkish Armenians Sue Turkey Over Delayed Patriarch Election

ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–The Turkish Armenian community has filed two lawsuits against the Turkish government, including one to get permission to go ahead with a long-delayed election to select their own new patriarch, the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review reported.

“A committee composed of civilian representatives from the community filed two lawsuits,” the community’s attorney Sebuh Aslangil told the Hürriyet. “The first one is to make the government allow an election for a patriarch to take place, and the second is for canceling the substitute patriarch’s post.”

Aslangil told Hurriyet that such a post does not exist in the rules of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Civilian representatives of the community, who have formed an initiative to lobby for their rights to select their own patriarch, meanwhile held a meeting Wednesday in Istanbul. The initiative previously organized a petition campaign that gathered 6,000 signatures from Armenians in Istanbul demanding that the election be allowed to take place.

Previous patriarch Mesrop II stepped down due to dementia. After his resignation, the Armenian community applied to the Interior Ministry. Two applications were submitted: the first was made by the patriarchate’s spiritual committee to elect a co-patriarch and the second was made by the civilian committee to elect a new patriarch.

Speaking to Hurriyet, initiative spokesman Garo Paylan said the fact that there were two applications posed a problem, but that this should “not get the Interior Ministry off the hook for what they have done.”

He said the ministry invented the post of “substitute patriarch” in order to see the person they wanted installed in the patriarch’s place. “The Turkish state needs to give the Armenian community what they are entitled to and should not impede the election process,” Paylan said. “It is our most deserved right to be able to elect our patriarch. In no time in history has the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul been persecuted to this extent.”

In November, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a secret meeting with Archbishop Aram Atesyan and a few prominent businessmen from the Armenian community. The participants made no statement about what was discussed at the meeting.

In subsequent months, Atesyan was assigned as substitute patriarch through the intervention of the Interior Ministry.

According to Paylan, some prominent people from the community had an “interesting” meeting with Interior Minister Besir Atalay last week. “Atalay told us he was given information by Atesyan concerning the election procedure,” the spokesman said. “We do not know what is happening behind closed doors, but we know there is a post that has been left unfilled for three years and that is the post of the community’s spiritual leader.”

Paylan said the election must take place as soon as possible and that it does not matter whether it selects a co-patriarch or a new patriarch.

“Atesyan imitates the Turkish government’s official discourse wherever he goes and says we have no problems with the Turkish state,” he said. “We want someone who is not afraid to speak his mind and who could represent our community in a way that is true to reality.”

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