Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan

Turkey’s Armenian Church Leader Patriarch Mutafyan Dies

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ISTANBUL (Armenpress, AP) —  Patriarch Mesrob II, the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Christians in Turkey, died on March 8. He was 62.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said Mesrob Mutafyan, the 84th Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, died Friday at Istanbul’s Armenian Surp Pirgic hospital where he was being cared for. He had been incapacitated since 2008 because of early onset of dementia.

Mesrob was elected Patriarch in 1998, replacing the late Karekin II. He withdrew from his duties in 2008 and Archbishop Aram Atesyan was appointed as the acting patriarch for the Armenian community which numbers an estimated 70,000.

Mutafyan graduated from the American High School in Kornwestheim near Stuttgart in Germany. From 1974 to 1979, he studied philosophy and sociology in Memphis, Tenn.

On May 13, 1979, he was ordained to priesthood and was commissioned pastor of Kınalıada, one of the Prince Islands in the Sea of Marmara in Istanbul. Between 1979 and 1981, he continued his theological studies in Jerusalem.

On September 21, 1986, Mesrob Mutafyan was elevated to the rank of a Bishop in Echmiadzin, Armenia. From 1982 to 1990, he coordinated the ecumenical relationships of the Patriarchate. He attended the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome, Italy in 1988-1989.

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In 1993, he was elevated to the rank of archbishop to serve the diocese of Prince Islands. From 1997, Mutafyan acted as the vicar general of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey.

Following the death of the then Armenian Patriarch of Turkey Karekin II Kazanjian, Mesrob Mutafyan was elected on March 16, 1998 to serve as the temporary leader of the Church.

Mesrob Mutafyan was elected the 84th Armenian Patriarch of Turkey on October 14, 1998.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials called Atesyan to offer their condolences.

Garo Paylan, a member of the Armenian community and a legislator in Turkey’s parliament said on Twitter: “Patriarch Mutafyan will remain in our minds as a memorable spiritual leader.”

Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan with then Pope Benedict

Mesrob was born Minas Mutafyan in Istanbul in 1956. He was ordained in 1979 following studies in Germany and the United States.

Preparations for the election of a new patriarch for Turkey were expected to begin after a 40-day mourning period.

Last year, the Turkish government intervened to halt elections at the patriarchate, on the grounds “that the necessary conditions for the electoral process had not been met” and that Mesrob was still alive.

Despite the Turkish-Armenian community’s demand for new elections, the Turkish government has always rejected the holding of an election, citing a 1863 National Constitution article that prohibits new elections if an incumbent patriarch is alive.

In 2015, Mesrob Mutafyan was retired by the synod because of his illness.

In this October 21, 2005 file photo, Patriarch Mesrob II, the spiritual leader of Turkey’s Armenian Orthodox community, holds his dog in Istanbul (Associated Press)

The synod sent a request to the Istanbul Governorate asking permission to hold new elections. In 2017, a new church assembly was convened to begin the process of organizing elections. Archbishop Karekin Bekchyan was elected locum tenens – or patriarchal vicar.

After many months of work, however, the Turkish government declared they do not recognize the church assembly’s decisions. The government said it doesn’t recognize Bekchyan as patriarchal vicar and that new elections cannot be held because Mutafyan is still alive.

Eventually Bekchyan left Turkey, and Atesyan continued serving as vicar. However, a large part of the local Armenian community was unhappy with Atesyan’s tenure.

After Mutafyan’s death, it is expected that the Patriarchate will begin the process of holding an election of the 85th Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople.

The funeral ceremony will be held on Sunday, March 17 at Kumkapi Mother Church at 10 a.m. Patriarch Mutafyan’s body will be buried in Sisli Armenian Cemetery. A commission was established to organize the ceremony. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials called Atesyan to offer their condolences.

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