Archbishop Ateşian Serving the Wrong Master


By Edmond Y. Azadian

On June 2, the German Bundestag passed the Armenian Genocide resolution, which was long in the making. The passage of the bill was very dramatic, given the tense relations between Germany and Turkey. The German parliament not only came to recognize a historic truth, but also acknowledged Germany’s role in perpetrating the Genocide.

Additionally, it sent a powerful message to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he cannot bully Europe with impunity.

Thus, one of the major forces in Europe acknowledged the truth about the Armenian Genocide, paving the way for others to follow.

Given the political intensity of the moment, the Bundestag vote received extensive coverage around the world. It received a lot of ink in the New York Times editorial columns and in many major news sources, which seldom give proper attention to the murder of one and a half million Armenians.

Understandably, Armenians around the world were jubilant as official Turkey was gnashing its teeth. Since Erdogan’s options are limited, Turkey’s response has been measured thus far. Instead of escalating the confrontation with a powerful country like Germany, Erdogan has turned his rancor toward the Armenian citizens who work in Turkey to support their families back home. He has been threatening to deport them, like before him threatened another Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller. Those migrant workers have been living in Turkey as political pawns.

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As Armenians were celebrating the German vote and political courage with the rest of the civilized world, one dissenting and jarring voice was heard from Istanbul, that of Archbishop Aram Atesian, who has hijacked the patriarchal throne through chicanery and who has been acting as his “master’s voice” in the Armenian community.

Atesian is not the patriarch. He is the vicar general, since the elected patriarch, Archbishop Mutafian, is incapacitated as a result of an incurable disease.

Ateşian has manipulated the Council of Clergy, whose members depend on him for their living, and has appointed himself vicar general, a position which is serving the political agenda of the Turkish state, while providing handsome dividends to Ateşian. Any scoundrel in that position would sell his soul and his community to extend his tenure in that illegal office.

Thus Ateşian sent a letter to President Erdogan stating that “the decision that the Bundestag took about the events happening during the tragic times of World War I caused regret in our nation [or community]. As the Turkish Armenian community, we submit our regret to your dignified office as an expression of our heartfelt and sincere feelings.”

Never mind that the Armenian community in Turkey was elated by the German vote, Ateşian continues in his ill-begotten missive: “As we stated on a number of occasions, using this tragedy that traumatized the Armenian nation in international politics causes sorrow and pain. This resolution and similar resolutions hit us hard. Unfortunately, the historical pain of the Armenian nation is considered a tool for accusing and punishing the Turkish state and nation.”

Only a slave-minded person would stoop so low as to write this humiliating letter, when even courageous Turks abroad have stood up to applaud the Bundestag resolution.

Eleven members of the German parliament who are of Turkish descent voted for the resolution, which had been spearheaded by Green Party leader Cem Ozdemir, putting their lives in harm’s way for their beliefs.

Incidentally, when the residents of Turkey are well and truly free and have access to real history, as opposed to the self-aggrandizing ersatz stories manufactured by the states, they will stand for recognition of the truth as these eleven emancipated Turks have demonstrated. That was exactly what Hrant Dink was betting on: Turkey’s democratization to promote the recognition of the Genocide. But with Erdogan leading his nation back to the dark ages, that possibility seems further than it has for a long time.

There was an instant uproar against Atesian’s letter in the Turkish- Armenian community as well as around the world. There were even voices raised in Armenia’s parliament. Prosperous Armenia Party leader Naira Zohrabyan stated: “This is state and national treason by a high-ranking priest with no precedent in the history of Armenia.” And then she called to urge the Catholicos of All Armenians in Echmiadzin to defrock Atesian.

But it takes more courage to raise a voice against such statements in Turkey itself. One voice was loud — that of Agos weekly. In a column, they responded to Atesian’s letter. Included in the comment was: “The Armenian Genocide, as a crime against humanity, is a concern for all humanity. … Indeed, the oppression that led you to write this letter causes sorrow and pain. Also, the sub- and supra-identities of the Armenian community in Turkey are not harmed by this resolution, but by your words. … “God bestow upon you common sense, intelligence and comprehension.”

At the conclusion of the Agos statement, it said, “We also pray to God to give you a dignified attitude, which you obviously lack, since you said that ‘you pray to God to make the state dignitaries who work for the good of the people, succeed in their services at a time when tens of people are being killed every day in a civil war.”

Indeed, the reference is to the slaughter that the Erdogan government has been carrying out in Kurdish regions, for which the Armenian cleric is wishing him “success.”

To add insult to injury, opposition leader Devlet Bahceli has pitched in the conversation. The head of the National Movement Party (MHP), which was founded by Ataturk, stated during a discussion among a group of parliamentarians: “The deportation decision in 1915 was absolutely correct. It should be done again if the circumstances were the same.”

Before Bahceli, a former defense minister, had asked in Brussels: “Would we have the same territory of present-day Turkey had we not deported Greeks and Armenians?”

Official Turkey remains unrepentant as well as bent on committing genocide again, should the opportunity arise. Europe has been and should be vigilant to keep the leadership of the country out of Europe, as the leaders continue to consider genocide a viable option in dealing with problems. Today’s war against the Kurdish people illustrates that mindset.

When Turkish leaders do not hide their hostile intentions toward a minority, they need people like Ateşian to perform their dirty work in the Armenian community. He has been placed on the patriarchal throne to damage the Armenian community interests, while enhancing his own bank account.

Through an international outcry, the Aghtamar Church in Van was restored as a museum and once a year, was the site of an Armenian liturgy. No longer. The churches in Diyarbakir and other area that were opened, enticing hidden Armenians to return to their roots, have been either taken back again or remain unused. Atesian refuses to send clergy to those churches to baptize children and to marry couples. He has ignored appeals from those who want to reclaim their Armenian heritage and has forced them to join the Assyrian churches. He has disbanded the committee at the patriarchate tasked with the pursuit of confiscated community properties. Quite the contrary, he announced not too long ago that the patriarchate cannot manage any more properties if the government were to release them. That is just what Erdogan wants to hear.

Recently, there was an uproar in the Istanbul Armenian community, when it was learned that Ateşian has acquired a luxurious home worth $550,000 in the Sişli section of the city. He has found that very normal “compared to the size of the estates of other clergy.”

There is also a valuable community property in Baikoz, whose ownership and status is known only to Atesian. The community has been asking questions about it, to no avail.

When Armenian families return to Turkey to claim their inherited properties, Atesian charges a commission to complete the paperwork at the patriarchate and he finds that also to be par for the course as well.

Ever since Patriarch Mutafian was incapacitated, the community has been appealing to the government to allow the election of either a co-adjutor patriarch or a new patriarch. Ateşian, very cognizant of his unpopularity, has been blocking all such moves. And for the Turkish government, it is quite handy to have a docile agent in place as long as possible.

A few high-ranking members of clergy in Armenia have been asked to comment on Atesian’s letter to Erdgoan and they have been very lenient, by stating that he is wearing a “burning straightjacket” and that he may have been forced to commit such treachery.

This is the time for all high-ranking members of the clergy to rise and make their voices heard. Additionally, Ateşian should not be accorded any courtesy entitled to a patriarch when he visits other Armenian communities, because he is not patriarch and has hijacked that position to serve the Turkish state at the expense of his people. Silence in view of this man’s catastrophic actions can be viewed only as complicity.

The voice of Turkish Armenians is understandably muted, although courageous voice like those of Agos express the genuine sentiments of the community.

If there is no unanimity in condemning such reckless statements, he will continue abusing the patriarchal throne, to the pleasure of Erdogan and his ilk, on whose behalf, he serves himself and harms his constituency.


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