Turkish State Imposes New Armenian Patriarch

The Turkish Interior Ministry unilaterally appointed an interim leader for the Armenian Church in Turkey on Monday, in an apparent attempt to invalidate the church's elected choice of Acting Patriarch. 

The Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of Turkey was informed indirectly yesterday that the government had appointed Archbishop Shahan Sivaciyan as the official representative of the Armenian Patriarchate, effective Monday 17th August. 

In a swift overnight response, the patriarchate's Religious Council issued a unanimous declaration today, rejecting the government's interference in its internal affairs. Printed in Istanbul's two Armenian-language dailies and distributed to Armenian churches worldwide, the declaration reiterated the church's insistence on adhering to its "holy canons and traditions" in the selection of a spiritual leader. 

"Until the election of the 84th Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul," the declaration stated, "Turkish citizens who are members of the Armenian Church will remain under the spiritual jurisdiction of the elected Acting Patriarch, Mesrob Mutafyan." 

The Turkish state has refused to allow its 65,000 Armenian Christians to elect a new patriarch since the death of Patriarch Karekin II in March. In the meantime, pressure has mounted from a deputy in the Istanbul Governor's Office to install Sivaciyan, 72, as the official Patriarchal Representative until elections are permitted. 

As the church's interim choice for Acting Patriarch, Mutafyan, 42, has been head of the Patriarchal Synod for the past eight years. He and Sivaciyan (who retired 12 years ago) are the only qualified candidates for the post under church canons and Turkish law. 

According to both the "Jamanak" and "Marmara" newspapers, Sivaciyan went to the Istanbul Patriarchate yesterday morning. In a brief meeting with Acting Patriarch Mutafyan, the elder archbishop presented himself as the Patriarchal Representative of Turkish Armenians "appointed by the state." 

Sivaciyan provided a photocopy of a directive, dated Monday 17th August, from Istanbul Deputy Governor Osman Demir, investing him with official government recognition. 

In curt terms, the directive rejected the decision of the church's General Clerical Assembly on Monday 3rd August, when Mutafyan was elected Acting Patriarch. Demir claimed that the assembly had convened under the provisions of an 1863 constitution ratified by the Ottoman Sultanate, but later annulled by both the Turkish Constitution and the Lausanne Treaty. 

The church was also ordered to stop "direct contact" with any government ministries in Ankara. All its communications, Demir said, were to be routed through the district security police office in Eminonu, the Istanbul township where the Armenian Patriarchate is located. 

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rev. Krikor Damatyan received a telephone summons yesterday afternoon from Minority Police Chief Orhan Akar, allegedly to meet this morning with the Security Police Chief of Istanbul. 

Afterwards, Damatyan said, he received "numerous" anonymous telephone calls until the early morning hours, threatening him about "what might happen" at security police headquarters the next day. Damatyan said his callers spoke "both with and without Armenian accents." 

In fact, the chancellor was received only by Akar, who handed him back a recent letter sent under his signature. Damatyan was told that the government would only act upon letters from the Patriarchate that were signed by Sivaciyan. 

The arbitrary government appointment of Sivaciyan was opposed today by a Foreign Ministry source. In remarks quoted in today's Cumhuriyet newspaper, the Foreign Ministry source stated that there were established regulations for the church's patriarchal elections that should be followed. He went on to criticize local officials for trying to introduce an obscure, unratified set of new rules which violate both Turkish
and international legal codes. "The Turkish state will be subjected to new and fierce criticisms over human rights" for this move, the source concluded. 

According to the Armenian Patriarchate's legal consultants, the latest Interior Ministry order violates the government's strictly secular codes by interfering in the internal affairs of a religious institution like the Armenian Patriarchate. The constitution and laws also guarantee every Turkish citizen the right to file applications or complaints to the highest levels of government authority, they said.

"If this is true, this is the first time in the history of the [Turkish] republic that we have faced this kind of administrative problem from the governor's office," sources in the Armenian community told Hurriyet newspaper yesterday. "We are waiting for our Interior Ministry to inform us of the election permission as soon as possible. We cannot find any meaning in departing from an established practice in use since the fourth century," the sources said. 

Until these unprecedented pressures from the Turkish government are resolved, several Armenians admitted to Compass, it "seems impossible" for the church to conduct free and democratic elections for a new patriarch. 

Thursday 20 August 1998


Source: Compass Direct

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