There was a time when the nine-year-old crisis at the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul was close to a resolution. But new developments have given a different spin to the problem, sinking the community back into a vicious situation. Nothing gives more comfort to the Turkish authorities than to see the Armenian community busy with internecine problems to the point of exhaustion. And they have been manipulating the Patriarch’s election process just to create a such a perfect storm.
As the crisis enters its tenth year, we find the seat of the Patriarchate turned into a game of musical chairs, with two potential candidates dancing around it as the local Armenian press in turn dances around them. At this point, the initial stages of controversy are behind us, when different and contradictory proposals were presented to the government, one requesting the election of a new patriarch, and the other the election of a coadjutor Patriarch, to lead alongside the incapacitated incumbent holder of the seat, Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan.
The new cycle of crisis was triggered by Archbishop Aram Ateshian, who continues to cling to the title of Vicar General, contrary to his pledge to give up that position upon the election of a locum tenens.
He was a candidate for the latter position, opposing Archbishop Karekin Bekjian. When the Conference of Clergy overwhelmingly voted to elect the latter candidate, Ateshian pulled out a letter from his pocket, signed by the deputy governor of Istanbul, which said that the election process was not authorized by the government, and therefore the election results were null and void.
Ateshian had colluded with the authorities to launch the theatrical brakes.
After a lull, when Archbishop Bekjian began to act in his capacity as locum tenens, Archbishop Ateshian unleashed yet another crisis. Indeed, he took a trip to Armenia and gave a press conference in Yerevan on December 21, issuing an ultimatum to Archbishop Bekjian to resign. He also stated confidently that the Turkish authorities still continue to recognize him as the legitimate vicar general representing the Armenian Patriarchate.