Crisis in the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul: Head of Clerical Assembly resigns

Chairman of the Religious Council of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul Bishop Sahak Mashalian has announced his resignation in a statement released on Monday, stating that General Vicar Aram Ateshian is to blame for his decision, reported Istanbul-based Agos newspaper.

Mashalian stated in his resignation letter that his decision came after the Clerical Assembly meeting on February 13, where he stated that Archbhishop Ateshian had “unfavorable attitudes.” Mashalian also announced that he will step down from his candidacy for the patriarchal seat, and has plans to leave Istanbul.

The Religious Council voted Archbishop Aram Ateshyan to lead the Patriarchate after Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan II withdrew from his duties due to his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mashalian in his letter presented the proper procedure of holding elections for the patriarch, indicating Ateshian’s attempts to sabotage the process.

He informed that the religious council had set up a commission comprised of 4 clerics, which was to submit an application to the authorities about holding new elections. But Ateshian did not allow the letter to be submitted to the governor of Istanbul as a result of which the submission process has been suspended.

Mashalian noted that the elections should be held following the constitutional referendum in Turkey, referring to the Armenian community leader Bedros Sirinoglu and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan January 27 meeting, adding that it should have accelerated the election process. Ateshian, however, used this information as another pretext to avoid elections.

“Ignoring his promise given to the community, he told the media without consulting with anyone that no application will be submitted for holding elections. The Religious Council of the Patriarchy, and I, the chairman of the Council, got to know about it from media,” the bishop stated.

During the February 13 meeting, Mashalian stated that the application of the commission should be immediately submitted to the governorate and released to the community. “His Eminence Aram managed to manipulate this issue with his capricious and threatening attitudes; he even threatened us with leaving the meeting,” he wrote in the letter, adding that his proposal was rejected.

“It’s evident there can be no Patriarchal elections as long as Aram Ateshian holds the position of the General Vicar of the  Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. Today already everyone shares the opinion that the existing situation, when the post is vacant, while the chaos goes deeper, worsens due to Aram Ateshian,” said Mashalian, adding that the Patriarchal post has never been vacant for eight years in the Armenian Church’s history. “Manipulating for 8 years by using his powers, abusing his position has criminal nature and he deserves punishment according to Church laws,” the Bishop said, announcing that he steps down from the post of chairman of the Religious Council.

“Clerics, leaders and people, leave me alone. This is a speech of defeat. But I am not the only defeated, you are all defeated. Once again only one person remains victorious,” Mashalian concluded in his letter.

Mashalian’s letter can be read below:

It is a duty for me to inform all of my people on the following problems in the light of recent developments concerning the patriarchal election.

General Assembly of the Church decided to elect a new patriarch since our patriarch was superannuated and started the process. This process should have proceeded per tradition: a değabah (locum tenens) should have been elected, an Enterprising Committee should have been formed and governor’s office should have been informed with a letter in order to start the legal process. This simple process, which should have taken only a few weeks, has failed once again due to Vicar of Patriarch Archbishop Aram Ateşyan’s resistance and reluctance, and no legal application has been made so far.

His Eminence Aram displayed the following unfavorable attitudes:

  1. Right after the seat was declared vacant, a Değabah should have been elected. However, His Eminence Aram prevented this election with all kinds of threats and caprices. Considering some sensitive issues, the Clerical Assembly had to tolerate vicarship of His Eminence Aram. However, His Eminence Aram continued to have his own way in accordance with his old habits, instead of acting like a real değabah. This revealed the vital importance of the değabah in order to have a decent election process.
  2. General Assembly formed a commission consisting of four clerics to write the letter of application to the state. This commission reviewed the previous applications and wrote a letter that includes main elements. This letter was supposed to be an informing letter. It should have included the existence of the Enterprising Committee and stated that their names will be given to the governor’s office later. His Eminence Aram vigorously insisted that the Enterprising Committee shouldn’t be mentioned and permission of the state should be asked. A letter was written after some compromises and we started to wait for an appointment from the governor’s office.
  3. Meanwhile, Chair of Surp Pırgiç Hospital Foundation Bedros Şirinoğlu came together with President Erdoğan and announced that the problem of election will be solved right after the referendum. This development should have accelerated the process. However, His Eminence Aram used this good news as another excuse for evading the election. On January 6 Dzınunt feast, he even broke the promise that he made to our people and announced that he won’t apply for holding an election without talking to anybody in advance. The Clerical Assembly, and I as the head of that assembly, learned about it from the press.

Today, on February 13, Clerical Assembly came together and His Eminence Aram managed to manipulate this issue with his capricious and threatening attitudes; he even threatened us with leaving the meeting. Majority of the Clerical Assembly refused the proposal of His Eminence Sahak, which was the following:

The news that we received from the president informally should have accelerated the process. For instance, we could form a new Enterprising Committee on Wednesday, give the letter of application to the governor’s office on Thursday and disclose the letter to our people. In this way, we could wait for an election that will be held after the referendum with inner peace. This was the prudent and honorable action that the people should have expecting from the Clerical Assembly. This suggestion of mine is refused.

However, the problem went beyond the issue of waiting for the referendum and His Eminence Aram made the Clerical Assembly decide to ask for STATE’S PERMISSON after the referendum. This means that the Enterprising Committee will be formed after the permission. In a friendly manner, I tried to explain him with legal terms that a secular state would never give such permission and this would mean that the election will be held when two Sundays come together. However, His Eminence Aram, who seems to be scared of Enterprising Committee more than he is scared of the devil, has got he wants. In sum, there WON’T be an election after the referendum!!! I don’t know how many times more this issue will be brought to this confused people, but I cannot stand it anymore.

It is obvious that this election won’t be held as long as His Eminence Aram is the vicar. Everyone agrees on the fact that His Eminence Aram makes the situation worse in a time when the patriarchal seat is vacant and the chaos is getting intense. In this regard, it is impossible to consider His Eminence Aram’s attitudes and actions as unintended simple mistakes.

  1. He hadn’t realized the decision of the General Assembly immediately; on the contrary, he used his authority as the vicar for postponing the election by leaving the process hanging in midair.
  2. He ignored the consultation of the Clerical Assembly, which is a higher authority than him, he hadn’t informed the assembly on the developments and decided not to hold an election on his own. Thus, His Eminence Aram committed a serious disciplinary action against the General and Clerical assemblies.
  3. In the 1717-years-old history of the Armenian Church, the seat of the patriarch or catholicos has never been vacant for 9 years. The manipulations that he has been doing for 9 years by using his authority and his abuse of his seat and authority for the sake of his personal interests constitute crime and require penal sanctioning upon the ecclesiastics law.

For me, it is impossible to be together with clerics who are nothing but a bunch of cowards and His Eminence Aram, whose scandalous actions are rewarded instead being punished.

  1. I resign from my duty as the head of Clerical Assembly.
  2. I resign from my duty as the vice president of Hovagim 1461 Foundation, which stinks so much that I cannot take it anymore.
  3. I don’t want to serve for imprudent foundation executives who hand over all the authority to a single person and for a people who are indifferent to the problems of the church and their society. I am leaving this city.
  4. Let me answer the most intriguing question: I am not a candidate for the patriarchal seat. I want to use my productivity and the rest of my life for more meaningful services. There are more than enough people who would die for that seat anyway.

Clerics, executives and people; you left me alone. This is a cry of defeat. However, I am not the only one who is defeated; you are defeated as well. After all, a single person won once again.

God help you all.

Sahak Bishop Maşalyan

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