Patriarch Archbishop Sahak Masalyan

New Istanbul Patriarch Masalyan Courts Controversy with Comments on Senate Resolution


ISTANBUL (AP, Ahval) — Turkey’s Armenian community on December 11 voted in Bishop Sahak Masalyan (alternatively written as Mashalyan or Mashalian) as its new patriarch, in an election that critics say was overshadowed by Turkish government intervention.

Delegates elected Masalyan, 57, as the 85th patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Christians in Turkey, the church announced at the end of an election process that began on December 7. He succeeds Patriarch Mesrob II, who died in March at 62.

Masalyan’s rival, Archbishop Aram Atesyan, had been serving as acting patriarch since 2008, when Mesrob became incapacitated and withdrew from his duties.

Atesyan and Masalyan were among only three candidates who were able to stand for the position after Turkey ruled that Armenian clergy currently serving abroad would not be eligible. The third candidate dropped out of the race in protest, while some community members boycotted the election process, according to Turkish media reports.

The patriarch is considered the head of the Armenians in Turkey, which numbers an estimated 70,000, and serves as a go-between the government and the community. Turkish officials often rely on the patriarch’s cooperation for their efforts to counter moves around the world to recognize the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed around World War I, and many scholars see it as the 20th century’s first genocide. Turkey disputes the description, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of a civil war. Turkey has repeatedly called for a joint committee of historians to investigate the slayings.

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Garo Paylan, a legislator in Turkey’s parliament, was among community members who boycotted the election process.

“I will not consider the chosen one as my Patriarch,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that those who interfered in the election process would go down in the “dark pages” of history.

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.

Masalyan stirred up controversy mere days after his election. In response to the US Senate resolution recognizing the Amrenain Genocide, Masalyan called it an immoral move, as it aimed to corner Turkey over the Armenian issue.

“Such things should not be taken seriously,” Masalyan said in an interview with Turkish daily Sabah. “There is nothing that pertains to us directly that we should get involved with,” he said in relation to the resolution approved by the U.S. Senate on December 12.

“As Armenians, we are saddened to see the suffering that took place on these lands 100 years ago be used by parliaments of foreign countries as a tool for strategic, economic, political pressure,” the 85th Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul said. “We see it as an inappropriate situation against our ancestors.”

Masalyan said he had hoped the people in Turkey could resolve the issue themselves and Turkey and Armenia could improve their relations.

“When the two sides cannot talk, third parties, fourth parties, those overseas claim a right to speak,” he said. “All of these are issues we should handle. But since this is postponed, it is used as leverage to pressure Turkey,” he said.

“I do not find this to be very moral,” the patriarch said.

Masalyan won the election after receiving 102 votes out of 119 against his rival Aram Ateşyan, who served as acting patriarch during the absence of Mesrob II.

The elections came after a long period of uncertainty and mourning following the death of Mesrob II, the revered head of the patriarchate of Turkey’s Armenians who passed away on March 8 after an 11-year fight against dementia.

Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafyan died at age 62 in the Surp Pirgic Armenian Hospital in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district on March 8 where he was receiving treatment.

Born in Istanbul’s Bayrampaşa district in 1962, Masalyan graduated from Istanbul University’s philosophy department and decided to become a priest in 1982. After becoming a high priest (vertaped) in 1984, he was then promoted to deacon (sargavak) in 1986 by then-Patriarch Şnork Kalutsyan.

After receiving a master’s degree in spirituality in 1999 from Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Dublin, Masalyan returned to Turkey and began serving as a preacher and spiritual counselor in Istanbul.


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