ANKARA (Jamanak, Nor Marmara, Agos)– Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu hosted Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and V. Rev. Fr. Shahe Ananyan as representatives of Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II on February 4. Archbishop Aram Atesian, Vicar General (Acting Patriarch) of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, accompanied the Armenian delegation.
Former Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Barsamian has been Pontifical Legate of the Armenian Church in Western Europe and Representative of the Armenian Church to the Holy See (Vatican) since September 2018, while Fr. Ananyan is Director of Ecumenical Relations of the Church of Armenia (Mother See of Echmiadzin). The two arrived in Istanbul from Rome on February 2 and visited the Armenian Patriarchate. Archbishop Barsamian participated in the divine liturgy at St. Stepanos Church in Yesilköy on February 3. Born in Turkey, Barsamian has over his years as Primate kept in contact with various representatives of the Turkish government.
The three clerics went to Ankara together on February 3. The meeting agenda is said to have been focused on the issue of the Armenian patriarchal election in Turkey. In October 2016, Patriarch Mesrop Mutafyan was declared incapacitated due to health reasons and unable to serve as patriarch. Archbishop Aram Atesyan was chosen as locum tenens in 2010, while Archbishop Karekin Bekchyan of Germany was elected as locum tenens in March 2017. However, the Istanbul governor’s office did not recognize the latter’s election and so Bekchyan left his position in early 2018 without being able to ensure a new patriarchal election.
For the first time in the eleven years that the seat of the patriarch has for practical purposes remained empty, direct contact has been established between the Turkish government and the See of Echmiadzin. However, until the present, Echmiadzin followed all relevant developments closely in Turkey and they have been on the agenda of its Supreme Spiritual Council. The only other occasion during the existence of the Republic of Turkey that direct contacts concerning a patriarchal election took place was in 1950.
The February 4 meeting lasted 40 minutes. On their return to Istanbul afterwards the same day, the three clerics came directly from the airport to visit Rober Haddedjian, editor of the Istanbul newspaper Nor Marmara. Haddedjian writes that Catholicos Karekin’s concern over the ultimate fate of the Patriarchate of Istanbul led Archbishop Barsamian to contact Ankara for an appointment. The three clerics reported that they were received warmly by the foreign minister. They told him that not only the Armenian community of Turkey but the Church of Armenia and the Armenian people await the filling of the patriarchal chair. Cavusoglu replied that the issue has been transferred to Turkey’s Interior Ministry. However, Cavusoglu promised that he personally would contact the Interior Ministry on this matter. Archbishop Barsamian declared to Haddedjian that he was convinced that the Turkish state also wanted a speedy election and that there was no serious obstacle to this.
The news of the Ankara meeting spread quickly. On the evening of February 4, the three clerics were hosted at a dinner by Onnig Nalbandghazaroglu at which Armenian community leaders were present, and the next morning the three visited Surp Prgich, the Armenian National Hospital, and met with the chairman of its board of trustees, Bedros Shirinoglu. Discussions were held with the latter on the patriarchal situation in the light of the meeting in Ankara.