Armenians in Turkey on Sunday voted for lay delegates who will be empowered to elect the 85th Istanbul Patriarch on Wednesday. This election has been marred by meddling from Ankara, which imposed new rules governing the election process, namely adding a provision that mandates that a candidate must have served in the Istanbul Patriarchate as a cleric.
During Sunday’s delegate elections, the Patriarchate’s Locum Tenens Bishop Sahah Mashalian won more delegates that the former Vicar-General Archbishop Aram Ateshian. Mashalian’s slate received 9,008 votes to Ateshian’s 3,529.
The community voted in churches in Istanbul, central Kayseri province and southeastern Diyarbakır, Mardin and Hatay provinces.
Going into Wednesday’s vote, Mashalian will have 89 lay delegates while Ateshian will have 12. There are 17 religious delegates that had been selected during an earlier election.
Sunday’s delegate elections signal that the next Patriarch will be Mashalian.
Ankara’s intervention and strong arming of the electorate has created a furor in the Turkish Armenian community, with many voicing disappointment with lay and religious leaders of the Patriarchate for giving in to the pressures and adhering to the new rules. Ankara’s insistence that the next Patriarch must have served with the Patriarchate will have a lasting effect in the future of the Armenian community.
Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament representing the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) has been a strong opponent of Ankara’s intervention and a critic of Patriarchate’s leadership’s adherence to the new rules.
He took to Twitter to express his dissatisfaction with the process and to announce that he would not be participating in the election, nor will he recognize the person elected on Wednesday as the legitimate Istanbul Patriarch.
“I’m not going to participate in the patriarchal elections. I’m also not going to recognize the elected patriarch as my patriarch. The names of officials who turned our honor into a plaything and the names of clergymen and presidents of funds and foundations that collaborated with those officials, will go down in the dark pages of history,” Paylan said in his Twitter post.