As you already know, the Armenian Patriarch of Bolis (Constantinople, Istanbul), Mesrob Mutafyan died about a week ago at the age of 62.
While this is sad, in other ways it is also good news. He had been incapacitated since 2008 because of very early onset Alzheimer’s. This has caused no end of problems for our compatriots in Turkey.
Because nothing like this has occurred since 1461 when the patriarchate was established, there was no mechanism in place to remove him from office and a workaround was nixed by the Turkish government. Five and a half centuries… not a bad run! But something like this was inevitable and should now be addressed for the future.
The person acting in his place, Aram Ateshian, has proven himself to be a tool of the Turkish government to a degree that is probably unprecedented, a far cry from what Armenians living under the Turkish yoke need, and to a reasonable degree got, from Mutafyan and his predecessor Shnorhk Kaloustian. Ateshian torpedoed an attempt to elect a new patriarch last year through the intervention of the Turkish authorities because he was far from assured to be the chosen one.
Sometime soon an election for a new patriarch will be scheduled. This presents an opportunity to choose someone who has the interests of the Armenian communities of Turkey at heart, rather than being on a power trip. Anyone who fits the latter description will always be far more susceptible to the machinations of Ankara in a situation where it is already very challenging to safeguard Armenians from Ankara’s “tender,” anti-Armenian, assimilative mercies.
There must be a mechanism in place to replace a future patriarch whose health deteriorates to the point where he cannot perform his duties.
I do not know the rules of the various church meetings that will be held and what is permitted on the agendas of such meetings. But the other important issue to be addressed is the one Mutafyan’s condition confronted us with. There must be a mechanism in place to replace a future patriarch whose health deteriorates to the point where he cannot perform his duties.
At the same time, great caution must be exercised because a health-based replacement procedure could be manipulated and abused. Safeguards must be built in so that some faction in the community that comes to dislike a patriarch cannot abuse “health” as a convenient, but unfounded, tool to discard a sitting patriarch.
This is also an opportunity to maximize the independence of the patriarchate from Ankara’s intrusions. A self-confident approach by our community, leading to the election of a patriarch who enjoys broad support will give him much greater ability to stand up to inappropriate involvement by Turkish authorities.
Armenian member of Turkish parliament Garo Paylan has advocated that Ankara keep its nose clear of the Armenian community’s business. In Defense of Christians, an advocacy group, has also issued a call for Ankara not to intrude.
Let’s all join in the effort to enable ALL Armenians in Turkey, perhaps even the Islamicized ones, to have a clean patriarchal election and enactment of church rules to address future instances of patriarchal incapacity.