Turkish Armenians worried about government meddling in spirituality

The second round of the elections will be held on Dec. 11 when the elected delegates will choose the next patriarch. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Turkish Armenians worried about government meddling in spirituality

  • The country’s Armenian community has about 70,000 members

ANKARA: Ahead of the election of the 85th patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey on Dec. 11, the Turkish Ministry of Interior set the condition that candidates must be based in Turkey, sparking criticisms by many, seeing it as an interference in the spiritual functioning of the patriarchate.

The legal condition decreased the number of candidates from 12 to just two who meet the requirement. The election will therefore be between two Istanbul-based Armenian clergymen, Aram Atesyan and Sahak Mashalyan.

Historically the legitimate condition of eligibility applied in previous patriarchal elections was being born into an Armenian family from Turkey.

The country’s Armenian community has about 70,000 members. About 1,000 voters out of 15,000 eligible voters boycotted the first round of elections, held between Dec. 7-8, calling into question the legitimacy of the process.

The second round of the elections will be held on Dec. 11 when the elected delegates will choose the next patriarch. Mashalyan is considered the favorite.

“This restriction may lead to the end of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate, because we may find no candidate in the next elections,” Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said. Paylan considered the attempt an intervention into the Armenian community’s own religious freedoms.

“It is totally unjust. Religion requires conscience and justice,” he said. During previous patriarch elections in Turkey, many Armenian clerics from around the world could have attended.

Sebuh Çulciyan, who was a close friend of assassinated Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and now lives in Armenia, was also a candidate for the election. But, due to the new regulations, he couldn’t run.

Former Patriarch Mesrop Mutafyan, who was allegedly elected in 2008 against the wishes of the Turkish government and became weakened under much pressure, had been suffering from dementia, pushing the government to replace him with Ateshian in 2010 as General Vicar of the Armenian Patriarch of Turkey.

Armenian Apostolic Church tradition requires that a patriarch must either die or resign from his position before his successor is elected.

Ateshian has been criticized by many people in the Armenian community as being too open to Turkish government propaganda.

In 2017, Karekin Bekchiyan, another Armenian cleric, was elected governor of the patriarchate. While the Ministry of Interior did not respond to a petition for the elections coming from the Armenian community that were sent in August 2017, the local authorities of Istanbul, where the patriarchate is based, denounced the legal proceedings regarding the election of Bekchiyan and declared his decisions invalid.

Rober Koptas, an Armenian publisher in Istanbul, told Arab News that the feeling of victimhood among the Armenian community in Turkey was causing alienation from the church.

The inability to elect a patriarch for almost a decade, and the dependency on political will, had, he said, seriously harmed Turkey’s Armenian community.

Turkey’s historical relations with Armenia have been generally hostile, while the US House of Representatives recently took a landmark decision to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, angering decision-makers in Ankara.


International summit urges UN to take tougher action against Iran

Updated 19 September 2020

International summit urges UN to take tougher action against Iran

  • More than 100,000 people from Europe, the US and Iran took part in the online Transatlantic Summit to Support a Free Iran
  • Among them were Republican and Democratic US politicians who set aside domestic differences to join the condemnation of the Iranian regime

CHICAGO: An international summit of activists and political leaders on Friday called on the UN to get tough on Iran’s “murderous, terrorist” government by implementing stronger sanctions against the regime in Tehran.

More than 100,000 people from Europe, the US and Iran took part in the online Transatlantic Summit to Support a Free Iran, which was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

Among them were Republican and Democratic US politicians who set aside domestic differences to join the condemnation of the Iranian regime and demand an end to its campaign of repression.

Several speakers highlighted a “new wave of executions” in Iran stemming from mass protests that began in 2018 and surged again in November 2019 after the Iranian regime increased the price of gasoline.

There was an international outcry this week after it was announced on Sept. 12 that Navid Afkari, an Iranian national wrestling champion, had been executed. He was arrested during the 2018 protests and accused of killing a security guard, a charge he denied.

“His only crime was to rise up and fight to overthrow a regime that has devastated Iran and drenched it in blood while plundering the nation,” said Maryam Rajavi, the newly elected president of NCRI, during her opening remarks at the summit.

“The people of Iran had been protesting for weeks against the death sentence handed down to him by (Iranian Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei’s judiciary. The people of Iran, human-rights advocates, freedom lovers and athletes launched an unprecedented worldwide campaign to stop the inhuman verdict.

“Today, Navid Afkari lives on in the hearts and struggle of thousands of resistance units in Iran, (which) will continue to resist and rise up for freedom and justice.”

The Iranian leadership has a long history of executing activists who oppose its rule. In 1988, more than 30,000 protesters were rounded up and put to death. Rajavi said that Iran’s leaders should face justice for those killings and the murders that followed in the following three decades.

“The experience of the past 40 years of the clerical regime’s rule in Iran has shown that it has continued its rule by committing 120,000 executions on political grounds, including the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, 90 percent of whom belonged to the PMOI,” she added.

“The regime has been condemned 66 times so far by the UN General Assembly, as well as in the Human Rights Commission and Council for its gross human rights violations.”

Iran has spent more than $30 billion to protect the regime of dictator Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria, Rajavi said, ordering Iranian militants and their allies deployed there to target and kill American soldiers and advisers.

With American politics increasingly divided in the run-up to the presidential election on Nov. 3, there was a rare display of harmony between Republicans and Democrats.

The long list of speakers included Republicans such as Trump adviser and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former house speaker Newt Gingrich, and senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. On the Democratic side, senators Bob Menendez, Jeanne Shaheen and Kirsten Gillibrand, and former senator Joe Lieberman all called for tougher and more restrictive sanctions on Iran.

“Iran is a regime of terror,” Giuliani said during his live video address. “Every year brings a new year of violations of human rights, deprivation and terrorism.”

Although most speakers looked to the future, urging the UN to strengthen its sanctions against Iran, Giuliani took the opportunity to criticize former President Barack Obama for trying to “appease” Tehran in 2015 by agreeing to give the Iranians $1 billion at the time of the negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to give up its research into nuclear weapons.

British MP David Jones said that the (JCPOA) and the failure to crack down on the Iranian regime had “encouraged them to pursue terrorism against its critics,” including members of the US Senate and Giuliani, who has been an outspoken critic of the regime for many years.

Other speakers including former general James Jones, who served during the Obama administration. He denounced the regime in Tehran as one that engages in “scandalous, outrageous and unspeakable cruelty to their own people.”

On Aug. 14, the UN Security Council rejected a US-led draft resolution calling for an extension of a UN arms embargo on Iran, which is due to expire in October. Trump is expected to announce this week that the US will impose its own embargo against Iran, and urge other nations to follow suit.

Rajavi criticized the UN for failing to act after the attacks on protesters last fall, or to condemn the execution of Afkari.