BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
ISTANBUL—The Clerical Assembly of the Istanbul Patriarchate elected Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian, the Primate of the Diocese of Germany as the Locum Tenens—Patriarchal alternate—with the Istanbul governor’s office interfering in the process by calling the vote illegal, reported Agos.
The conclave convened at 3 p.m. local time and elected and elected Bekdjian as Locum Tenens, after which Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the Vicar General of the Patriarchate who was a candidate for the post and was due to step down after the elections shared with the press a notice from the Istanbul Governor’s office, which called the entire process “legally impossible.”
“Given the reports in the media, it is understood that the procedure of patriarchal election is intended to be started virtually by electing a locum tenens on March 15,” read the statement signed by Istanbul’s Deputy Governor Aziz Mercan.
“Considering the unfavorable developments that took place during the meeting on February 16 at the patriarchate, it is determined that starting the election process is legally impossible given the facts that this process might cause disturbance and divisions in the society, that there is already an incumbent vicar and that your society knows the basic proceedings and practices concerning the patriarchal election,” added the governor’s statement, which clearly suggests that the Istanbul governor’s office favors Ateshian and is pushing for his election as Patriarch.
The February 16 meeting mentioned by the governor’s office is referring to a meeting held by lay and religious members of the Istanbul Patriarchate several day after the chairman of the Religious Council, Bishop Shahak Mashalian announced his resignation from the post citing Ateshian’s interference with the election process.
Immediately following the meeting, His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, summoned Mashalian and Ateshian to Etchmiadzin, where, after two days of talks described as tense, it was agreed that a Locum Tenens election would be held on March 15, after which Ateshian was to step down as Vicar General. On Tuesday, Mashalian withdrew his candidacy for Locum Tenens and urged his supporters to vote for Bekdjian.
In a response to the governor’s notice, Bekdjian announced that a delegation, which will include Ateshian and Mashalian will meet with the Istsanbul Governor’s office to elaborate on the situation.
“During this planned meeting, our side will explain the logic of election of the Locum Tenens,” said Bekdjian, who also added that he would not be attending the meeting.
The Locum Tenens will be responsible for administering the election of the Patriarch, a position vacated by Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan due to illness.
A member of the Patriarchate’s Finance Committee and a prominent Armenian lawyer Sebu Aslangi called the Istanbul Governor’s notice “completely unlawful,” adding that the “administration doesn’t have such an authority.”
Aslangi argued that the governor’s office had ample time prior to Wednesday’s vote to react to the Patriarchal election process, which he said started on October 16 when the Clerical Assembly made the decision to move forward with the Patriarchal election. He also said that the governor’s office could have voiced its concerns following the February 16 meeting, which was referenced in the governor’s notice.
“Given that no complaint has been made to the administration, it is impossible to talk about such a disturbance… This notice is arbitrary. The election conforms to the proceedings and traditions. Starting the election is quite lawful,” said Aslangi.
He also added that Vicar General, based on the Church’s laws, does not have the authority to plan election, not does he have authority to stop them.
Ateshian has been divisive figure within the Istanbul Patriarchate. His close relationship to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often interfered with the community’s progress.
Most recently, Ateshian sent a letter to Erdogan slamming the German Parliament’s June 2 adoption of an Armenian Genocide resolution, saying that the Bundestag’s decision “about the events happened during the tragic times of World War I caused regret in our nation.”
“[I]t is unacceptable that a parliament, which was formed by the votes of German citizens and has the duty of establishing laws for the peace, prosperity, and security of their nation, expressed its opinion, though it has no right to do so. It is unacceptable that this parliament legalized its decision on behalf of the entire German nation and considers itself a judge,” Ateshian wrote in his letter, which made no reference to the Armenian Genocide as such.