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.


Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans: US envoy

Updated 23 January 2020

Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans: US envoy

  • Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against US forces in the region
  • Ghaani promised to “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive US forces out of the region

DUBAI: The US special representative for Iran said the successor to Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike, would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path of killing Americans, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against US forces in the region. US President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 3 drone strike in Iraq after a build up of tension over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran responded to the killing of Soleimani, who was charged with expanding Tehran’s influence across the Middle East, by launching missile strikes on US targets in Iraq, although no US soldiers were killed.

After Soleimani’s death, Tehran swiftly appointed Esmail Ghaani as the new head of the Quds Force, an elite unit in the Revolutionary Guards that handles actions abroad. The new commander pledged to pursue Soleimani’s course.

“If (Esmail) Ghaani follows the same path of killing Americans then he will meet the same fate,” Brian Hook told the Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said in the interview in Davos that US President Donald Trump had long made it clear “that any attack on Americans or American interests would be met with a decisive response.”

“This isn’t a new threat. The president has always said that he will always respond decisively to protect American interests,” Hook said. “I think the Iranian regime understands now that they cannot attack America and get away with it.”

After his appointment, Ghaani promised to “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive US forces out of the region, which has long been Iran’s stated policy.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have steadily increased since Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and imposed tough news sanctions that have hammered the Iranian economy.

This month’s military flare-up began in December when rockets fired at US bases in Iraq killed a US contractor. Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters. After the militia surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad for two days, Trump ordered the drone strike on Soleimani.