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Turkish Armenians sue Turkey over belated patriarch election

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 12/1/2010 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

The Turkish Armenian community has filed two lawsuits against the state, including one seeking a long-delayed election to select a new patriarch.

The Turkish Armenian community has filed two lawsuits against the Turkish government, including one to get permission to go ahead with a long-delayed election to select their own new patriarch.

“A committee composed of lay representatives from the community filed two lawsuits,” the community’s attorney Sebuh Aslangil told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “The first one is to make the government allow an election for a patriarch to take place, and the second is for canceling the substitute patriarch’s post.”

Aslangil told the Daily News that such a post does not exist in the rules of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Lay representatives of the community, who have formed an initiative to lobby for their rights to select their own patriarch, meanwhile held a meeting Wednesday in Istanbul. The initiative previously organized a petition campaign that gathered 6,000 signatures from Armenians in Istanbul demanding that the election be allowed to take place.

Patriarch Mesrop II has been unable to fulfill his duties due to dementia. Because of this, the Armenian community applied to the Interior Ministry; the first was made by the patriarchate’s clerical committee to elect a co-patriarch and the second was made by the lay committee to elect a new patriarch.

Speaking to the Daily News, initiative spokesman Garo Paylan said the fact that there were two applications posed a problem, but that this should “not get the Interior Ministry off the hook for what they have done.”

He said the ministry invented the post of “substitute patriarch” in order to see the person they wanted installed in the patriarch’s place. “The Turkish state needs to give the Armenian community what they are entitled to and should not impede the election process,” Paylan said. “It is our most deserved right to be able to elect our patriarch. In no time in history has the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul been persecuted to this extent.”

[HH] Secret meeting at the palace

In November, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a secret meeting with Archbishop Aram Ateşyan and a few prominent businessmen from the Armenian community. The participants made no statement about what was discussed at the meeting.

In subsequent months, Ateşyan was assigned as substitute patriarch through the intervention of the Interior Ministry.

According to Paylan, some prominent people from the community had an interesting meeting with Interior Minister Beşir Atalay last week. “Atalay told us he was given information by Ateşyan concerning the election procedure,” the spokesman said. “We do not know what is happening behind closed doors, but we know there is a post that has been left unfilled for three years and that is the post of the community’s spiritual leader.”

Paylan said the election must take place as soon as possible and that it does not matter whether it selects a co-patriarch or a new patriarch.

“Ateşyan imitates the Turkish government’s official discourse wherever he goes and says we have no problems with the Turkish state,” he said. “We want someone who is not afraid to speak his mind and who could represent our community in a way that is true to reality.”

CLARIFICATION: This article was amended on Dec. 2, 2010 to better clarify the distinction between the spiritual (clerical) committee and the civilian (lay) committee.



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