OPINION contributor

Patriarch Mesrop II, left alone between life and death

HDN | 12/3/2010 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

Mesrop II, behind the closed doors of the patriarchate, tries to stay alive with the tremendous help of his old mother. He is surviving but standing on a thin line separating life from death.

Has the Armenian community in Istanbul descended into chaos by itself or has it been pushed into it while trying to select a patriarch? Where is the ballot box? In fact, there are many answers to these questions. But nobody is paying attention to the health of Patriarch Mesrop II Mutafyan, which is worsening gradually, because everyone is talking all at once.

Mesrop II, behind the closed doors of the Patriarchate, tries to stay alive with the tremendous help of his old mother. He is surviving but standing on a thin line separating life from death.

As he faces death the community he leads is looking for a ballot box outside. Spiritual leaders inside the premise make more chaos rather than control the situation. The Armenian community, therefore, is approaching a solution on one hand, but is falling apart on the other, as everyone wants to see his/her own candidate in the seat. The selfishness of the spiritual leaders and the community is now being taken to court. In the history of the patriarchate, the state of Turkey, for the first time ever, has had the urge to interfere closely in the election process.

[HH] Suspicious disease, painful process

How did the Armenian community get into this cycle? Clues can be found, actually, on Jan. 19, 2007 or a little before. The country was going through a painful political turmoil. Exercising his spiritual leadership, Mesrop II was also making a statement to reflect the problems of the Armenian community. He started to be threatened so much that he even decided to resign due to the pressures, but was not allowed to according to the rules of the church. Mesrop II was thus left to his fate. The patriarch’s duty was valued above his life. Amid such painful experiences, the Hrant Dink murder hit a blow to the community. Although Mesrop II had a conflict with Dink just before his death, the patriarch was deeply saddened by the incident. As everyone was talking about the killing of Dink, Mesrop II fell ill. Nobody wanted to believe this, because he was a young, healthy man. But the rumors didn’t seem to end. The patriarchate had to make an announcement and state that Mesrop II had frontal tempora dementia and that the disease was incurable. His illness was found suspicious by some. The Spiritual Council worried about the elections and the Executive Committee didn’t back Mesrop II. Nobody talked, everybody preferred to remain silent. A passionate, assertive, intellectual man suddenly goes senile; or rather fights with death … No one questioned this. Without a doubt, Turkish Armenians’ Patriarchate and the Armenian community in Istanbul went through a painful process. Perhaps this history will give the real answers to today’s questions in the future.

[HH] As Mesrop II was elected

Let’s have a glimpse back at how Mesrop II was elected. Following the death of the 83rd patriarch, Karekin II, the Armenian community faced a new election. Mesrop Mutafyan, as an archbishop, was the strongest candidate. Mutafyan was very active both in the community and in the patriarchate during Karekin’s tenure, so his candidacy was not a surprise. However, the Armenian community in Istanbul, which prefers to have a conservative and introverted lifestyle, opposed Mutafyan because of his relative youth. They wanted a candidate more mature in life. But the real reason was that everyone wanted to see his or her own candidate in the seat. As a matter of fact, the difference between the situations today and yesterday was that Karekin was dead. The community had not discussed such issues publicly in the past, but rather solved them internally. Times have changed, however. I was on duty during the 1998 elections, which ended with the victory of Mesrop II. We worked hard around the clock, counted votes and checked the lists. In the elections of October 1998, Mesrop Mutafyan became the 84th patriarch of the Armenian community in Turkey. The process was criticized, with claims that there had been fraud. However, Mesrop II stood strong and gave a different portrait. While acting as the spiritual leader of the community, Mesrop II played a critical role in carrying the community’s problems to the agenda of the country. Yes, he was a spiritual leader and had to remain so, but it was such a process the community was going under that he found himself at the center of politics. Mesrop II was worn out. In short, what is left from an idealist 56-year-old man is a community that still cannot find its way out to the ballot box and an ill man who is fighting for his life.



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