ISTANBUL (Reuters)–The Armenian community of Turkey elected Arch. Mesrob Mutafyan as the 84th Patriarch of the Istanbul Patriarchate during elections Wednesday–in a race tainted by allegations of official interference.
American-educated Mutafyan–dressed in flowing robes and gold cape–received well-wishers after his landslide victory as the 84th patriarch in a ceremony at a 150-year-old church in Istanbul’s historic Armenian quarter.
The 60,000-strong community’s determination was tested in the election run-up when the Istanbul governor’s office tried to appoint one candidate against the popular will after the death of patriarch Karekin II in March.
Turkish press reports said the attempt to appoint the aging Arch. Shahan Sevadjian as acting patriarch over the dynamic and forthright Mesrob Mutafyan was politically motivated.
The governor’s office also raised the voting age to 21 from 18–the national barrier.
The tension stimulated interest in the election–which achieved the highest-ever turnout at the first round of voting on Sunday. Dominantly Moslem Turkey’s Armenian population dates back to the Ottoman Empire. The Patriarchate itself was founded in 1461. Mutafyan received 74 of 89 votes in Wednesday’s election–from which his opponent Sevadjian had earlier withdrawn.
A key issue confronting the incoming Mutafyan will be the community’s dwindling numbers – it is unable even to staff Istanbul’s 33 Armenian churches for lack of priests.
"This year for the first time we had a pitifully low number of 28 spiritu�l delegatgs at the council," Mutafyan told Reuters in an interview later.
"Our top priority will be to train priests and nuns–and this is a challenging task," he added.
Before Turkey’s independence in 1923–Armenia’s were estimated to account for a quarter of Istanbul’s population and most of the Ottoman Empire’s artisan activity. Many of the mosques dominating Istanbul’s fabled skyline were designed by architects of Armenian origin.
Mutafyan will be inaugurated at an official ceremony later this month.