BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
ISTANBUL—After months of foot dragging, Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the self-proclaimed Vicar General at the Istanbul Patriarchate, on Wednesday stepped down from his post, a mandate placed on him in March when a new Locum Tenens was elected.
Ateshian’s refusal to resign after the the Clerical Assembly of the Patriarchate elected Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian as Locum Tenens in March, coupled with his apparent collusion with the Istanbul Governor’s office, which deemed the entire process of the Patriarchal elections illegal has created undue tensions within the Patriarchate as well as the Istanbul Armenian community.
Ateshian’s resignation now paves the way for the election of a Patriarch. The process, which will be led by Bekdjian was being delayed due to Ateshian’s refusal.
After the announcement was made by the Patriarchate on Wednesday, Ateshian reportedly invited Bekdjian to Istanbul to assume his duties as Locum Tenens, saying “In order to take this step, we had to wait for the right place and moment. It’s already the appropriate moment.”
“This [Ateshian’s resignation] means that the patriarchal election process will begin with this resignation. The longer Archbishop Ateshyan remained in office, the electoral process was impeded. The elected locum tenens should have led this process, while the latter needed Archbishop Ateshyan to resign in order to exercise his powers,” Bagrat Estukian, editor of the Istanbul-based Agos newspaper told Armenpress on Wednesday.
Bekdjian’s election was supported last week by the Supreme Religious Council of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin during a conclave convened in Moscow.
Rev. Fr. Vahram Melikyan, a spokesperson for the Etchmiadzin Catholicosate told Armenpress on Wednesday that with the Ateshian’s resignation the Patriarchal election process can now resume, noting that His Holiness Karekin II has been personally monitoring the situation to ensure that the Istanbul community is not adversely affected by the proverbial palace intrigue at the Patriarchate.
In fact, Catholicos Karekin II summoned Ateshian and the head of the Patriarchate’s Religious Council Bishop Sahak Mashalian to Etchmiadzin after the latter resigned his position in protest of Ateshian’s interference in the Patriarchal election process. At the meeting in Etchmiadzin in February, it was decided that Ateshian would resign immediately after the election of Locum Tenens, which took place in March.
Immediately following Bekdjian’s election, Ateshian reportedly stormed out of the room only to return minutes later with a letter from the Istanbul Governor’s office, which deemed Bekdjian’s election and the entire process of the Patriarchal election illegal.