ISTANBUL (A.W.)—The Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate’s Religious Council formally reinstated Archbishop Ateshian as the Vicar General—acting Patriarch—on Feb. 9, angering many in the Istanbul Armenian community.
The Religious Council’s decision came after the Governor of Istanbul officially rejected Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian’s March 2017 election as the Armenian Patriarchal Locum Tenens (Patriarchal alternate) in a letter sent to the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople on Feb. 5.
The Istanbul Governor’s office also notified the Patriarchate that the only criteria for a patriarchal election are the death of the sitting patriarch, his resignation, or the vacancy of the position for other reasons.
Patriarch Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan, who suffers from dementia and has been incapacitated for years, continues to be the recognized by the Turkish state as the leader of the Patriarchate, as the Governor’s office stated illness does not meet the state’s criteria for electing a new patriarch. The Feb. 5 letter noted that the office cannot accept any appeal or letter sent by Archbishop Bekdjian, despite the fact that he was elected by the religious council of the Patriarchate.
The Patriarchal Religious Council met Friday and reinstated Ateshian to his post, which he had been forced out of after Archbishop Bekdjain’s election as Locum Tenens. Bekdjian did not attend the meeting.
Many in Istanbul’s Armenian community who see this decision as a heavy-handed move by the Turkish government are angered and concerned that their rights to elect their own religious leader have been taken from them.
In protest of the latest controversy, an Armenian lawyer named Besse Kabak sang aloud the prayer “Der Voghormia” out of turn during Sunday Mass being conducted by Archbishop Ateshian on Feb. 11. According to reports, she was removed from the church upon instructions from Ateshian, arrested by Turkish authorities, and taken to a police station. She was released after being held in detention for about an hour.
In an op-ed that appeared in the Armenian Weekly on Feb. 12, Raffi Bedrosyan called for community members to protest the decision to reinstate Ateshian. “After what happened this past week at the Patriarchate, one would expect the community to organize and take some protest actions against the unilateral takeover by Ateshian,” wrote Bedrosyan. “A possible protest could be boycotting the religious services conducted by the Archbishop and instead attending church services at other local Armenian Churches.”