Senate’s Adoption of Genocide Resolution Upsets Newly-Elected Patriarch of Turkey

Patriarch Sahak II, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople (Photo: Facebook)

I responded last month to the interview given by the newly-elected Patriarch of Turkey, Bishop Sahak II Mashalyan, to a Turkish newspaper in which he had criticized the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution by the U.S. Senate.

Since then, the Armenian world was disturbed that the Patriarch has continued giving interviews to the Turkish media, making pro-Turkish and anti-Armenian comments. As I have written before, it is understandable that the remnants of the Armenian community in Istanbul are hostages in the brutal hands of the Turkish regime. Consequently, we should express some understanding for their questionable pronouncements. Nevertheless, not every statement is made under duress. Some of their negative statements are made of their own free will, without any pressure from the Turkish government. Sometimes, certain Armenians in Turkey make anti-Armenian statements either to protect their own business arrangements with Turkish officials or to preserve their seats by endearing themselves to the Turkish authorities. Therefore, one should not automatically jump to the conclusion that we should refrain from criticizing their pro-Turkish statements just because they live in Turkey. It all depends on the circumstances of the statement and the extent to which an Istanbul Armenian attacks Armenians and their political demands.

After giving interviews to two Turkish newspapers—Milliyet and Sabah—Patriarch Mashalyan continued to be the center of attention of the Turkish media. He told the Aksham newspaper on January 2, 2020, that Diaspora Armenians and Istanbul Armenians have no connection with each other and that the Diaspora has remained 100 years behind.

Patriarch Mashalyan added: “All minorities in Turkey agree that we live in our most comfortable period under the reign of President Erdogan.” The Patriarch seems to have forgotten that for the last 12 years the Armenian community was not allowed to elect a replacement Patriarch after the comatose state of the previous Patriarch. Erdogan’s government was also the one that banned the participation of several Turkish Armenian clergymen in the patriarchal election simply because they were serving in parishes outside of Turkey. Patriarch Mashalyan most probably would not have been chosen if the other candidates were allowed to participate in the election.

“Ever since the period of the Ottoman Empire, the problems of minorities have been exploited to interfere in the internal affairs of Turkey. We do not want this issue to be the reason why Turkey suffers losses in international politics. We are the citizens of this country. Any word against this country hurts us too,” the Patriarch told Aksham newspaper.

Furthermore, the Patriarch of Turkey stated that “the Armenian Diaspora has no connection with us. 1915 and its subsequent memories have been transmitted through generations. They have seen that this issue at least preserves their unity and creates a negative collective consciousness. A collective consciousness has been created based on a tragedy. They do not wish to lose it. But we remained on these lands after those events. We chose to live together with the other elements. The Diaspora has remained 100 years behind…. There is a difference between the way we understand Islam and the way the Diaspora understands it. In reality, the people are much softer. They remember on April 24, and forget it until the next April 24.

Continuing his anti-Armenian crusade, Patriarch Sahak II told the Turkish NTV on January 2, 2020 that the decision of the U.S. Senate approving the Armenian Genocide Resolution “hurt me.” The Patriarch also stated: “We are not the Diaspora. We have always been here and stayed in this country. After the bitter events of 1915, we chose to stay here. We lived for 105 years differently from the Diaspora Armenians. They existed with the 1915 trauma with bitter memories which they passed from generation to generation. We survived that trauma. We did not forget it, but we survived it. The magic of living together has taken place.”

Patriarch Sahak II has had a controversial past with various odd incidents. But I prefer not to dwell on those issues right now. It is not pleasant to attack a high- ranking Armenian clergyman. I just want to quote briefly from the Patriarch’s 2017 writing: “I gave the church my life, my youth and my masculinity. I do not have a family. For six years, I lived in a 20 meter square room in the Patriarchate.”

The statements made by Patriarch Sahak II to the Turkish media, at the very beginning of his term in office, even prior to his ordination, are not a good sign. Many Armenians, both inside and outside Turkey, were complaining that his rival, Archbishop Aram Ateshyan, was too subservient to the Turkish authorities. While that kind of behavior is somewhat understandable, given the oppressive nature of the Turkish authorities, the newly-elected Patriarch has far exceeded his rival’s submissive conduct.

Patriarch Sahak II’s self-demeaning words to the Turkish media are simply the repetition of the Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide and rejection of the recent recognition by the US Senate. Furthermore, by aligning himself with the Turkish government, the Patriarch is distancing himself and the Turkish Armenian community from the Diaspora just as Turkish officials have banned Turkish Armenian clergymen serving in the Diaspora from participating in the patriarchal election.

Patriarch Sahak II is living in the honeymoon stage of his new position. However, as we have seen in the past, the Turkish government can at any moment tighten the screws on the local Armenian community. When that happens, it is the Armenian Diaspora that will come to the rescue of the Turkish Armenian community, ignoring the Patriarch’s unwelcome words against the Diaspora!

Furthermore, I am mindful that the Patriarch will use Diaspora’s critical statements to score points with the Turkish authorities.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

3 Comments

  1. What a disgrace. When living in a hostile neighborhood it is understandable that sometimes one must use conciliatory rhetoric to appease the oppressor for the sake and the good of the community. But to stoop down to this level is truly humiliating and pathetic. I question the integrity and the origin of some of these Armenian clergy making such self-hating and enemy-appeasing statements.

    Furthermore, someone should remind the archbishop that the reason why they have remained on those lands, as he put it, is because when the preplanned and state-sponsored mass extermination and genocide of the indigenous Armenian populations was put into motion in the spring of 1915, the city of Istanbul, occupied Constantinople more accurately, was the political capital of the Ottoman Empire full of foreign embassies and ambassadors and it was because of this fact alone that the Armenian community there was spared and managed to survive. That is the reason why over two hundred and fifty Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were snatched from their homes by the Turkish gendarmes in the secrecy of the night, to avoid visibility, and later eliminated in order to leave Armenian communities leaderless to help expedite their extermination, WHILE hundreds of thousands of fellow Armenians in the remote eastern provinces, occupied Western Armenia, were dragged out of their homes in plain view under criminal Turkish guards and taken out of towns and murdered. The archbishop should understand that his Armenian community is not an island that survives or can survive on its own but that it is because of the Armenians outside terrorist Turkey that they do and can do so. It is the Diaspora Armenians, whom he attempts to distance himself from, that is actively watching and working for the well-being of his Armenian community!

  2. I didn’t think was possible to beyond the duplicitous
    Ateshian commentary, but Patriarch Sahak II is off
    to a controversial start that challenges Ateshian’s
    legacy.
    With this kind of leadership, our community in Turkey
    will continue to be divided and manipulated …..exactly
    what the racist Turks want. His comments on the diaspora
    are laughable when referring to their “staying on the
    land”. Western Armenia is the land not Istanbul. You
    don’t get credit for presiding over a community huddled in and around Istanbul open to government control.
    If he is concerned about the land, how about
    having the courage to speak about hidden Armenians
    and the return of our churches in western Armenia to
    the Patriarchate.

  3. Why does this man bother to make these statements. You are in a country that denies a murder of an entire Christian population. Yes and I am sure some of your own ancestors were killed as well. There is nothing to say no comment to the Turkish press. In that country no Armenian should be commenting on any issue. Secondly about your ridiculous comment “those of us who remained in this country”. Are you serious?????????? Your wonderful Turkish government murdered its Christian subjects. Most of my family was killed during that time. As a matter of fact the priests were the first to be murdered. Some of them were nailed just like Christ on the very church doors that they served. Next the men were taken and murdered and if they were serving in the Ottoman Army they were lined up and shot. The women and children were rounded up either murdered or exiled to the desert of Der Zor. Some were burned alive in caves. Should we live our lives in hate? No. But we should say never again to stop future crimes against humanity from occurring.

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