ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–The Armenian community in Istanbul and its patriarchate are embroiled in controversy over the patriarchate’s reported involvement in choosing a Turkish-born Armenian to work in the government’s EU Secretariat office, reported the Turkish Hurriyet Daily.
Many in the community believe the Patriarchate should only be concerned with religious matters and not politics.
In recent months, there have been press reports that the EU General Secretariat plans to hire a civil servant of Armenian origin. The secretariat, affiliated to the office of State Minister Egemen Bagis, was to hire an expert consultant with screenings to be held by the Turkish Armenian patriarchate.
An announcement was then run on Lraper, the patriarchate’s official website, indicating that Archbishop Aram Atesyan had approved the matter. After the story appeared in the media, the secretariat immediately released a statement denying that the patriarchate was holding the screenings.
Patriarchate officials subsequently removed the announcement from the Web site despite receiving hundreds of applications. They also refused to make comments until Tuesday.
The primary reason behind the patriarchy’s desire to step in and conduct the screenings was to measure the candidates’ fluency in Armenian because no Turkish university has an Armenian language and literature department and instructors assigned to grammar and literature classes at Armenian schools are often limited to what they have learned from their families.
A news story by Sefa Kaplan was published on the front page of daily Hurriyet on Tuesday with the title “The first Armenian to work for the government outside a university,” putting the story on the agenda again.
According to Kaplan’s story, Leo Suren Halepli, who was born in Istanbul in 1981, passed the secretariat’s exam and is scheduled to be the first Turkish citizen of Armenian origin to become a civil servant outside an academic setting, provided he passes the security investigation by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
“The screenings were started by the patriarchy two months ago, but we were excluded,” said Janet Donel from the Patriarchate.
Donel gave a vague reply to a question from the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review regarding whether the selected candidate had fit the criteria of the patriarchate. “We did not choose the mentioned candidate. That is all we can say.”
Pakrad Oztukyan, editor for the daily Agos and one of the community’s leading members, criticized the patriarchy’s stance. “It is not like a priest would be hired for the patriarchate and that they would get involved. It was absurd when it was announced that the patriarchate would handle the screenings two months ago because we are not an ecclesiastic community.”
Oztukyan also released background information on the events: “Bagis had visited the patriarchy and the topic came up during the conversation; that is all. Then patriarchy officials invented stories about it.”
Arsen Asik, a retired scholar from Bogazici University also agreed with Oztukyan. “The patriarchate should involve itself in matters of religion and its flock. It should avoid politics.”
Asik also criticized the stance of the Turkish media. “The story emphasizes that the candidate is to be investigated by MIT. In turn, it appears the media are trying to provoke a reaction against the candidate coming from a minority group. The matter is being presented to the public as if it is a state secret.”
Ara Kocunyan, owner of the daily Zhamanag Armenian newspaper of Istanbul, also made similar criticisms against the press.
“There were attempts to pull the patriarchy into the center of a polemic discussion.” However, unlike Oztukyan and Asik, Kocunyan defended the patriarchate, saying, “Of course the patriarchate would choose the names from its community.
Kocunyan also said Halepli was one of the most likely to be selected.
Many people of Armenian origin were appointed to civil service positions in the Ottoman Empire prior to the Armenian Genocide. Armenians were also appointed to civil servant positions in the Republic of Turkey before 1968, after which the process was halted due to various reasons related to domestic politics.
A new process began when Vasken Barın was selected as deputy mayor of Şişli in the mid-1990s. Barın has been serving the public alongside Mayor Mustafa Sarıgül for more than 10 years.
Emphasizing the positive aspects of the developments, he said, “It is extremely positive that a young man from our community is to be assigned to such a position, but Halepli would not be the first Armenian in government service as is being said in the press.
“There were many deputies in Parliament during the Republican era, there are inspectors at the Education Ministry and there is me. If they are speaking in terms of the EU, then yes, Halepli is a first.”