Armenian population of Turkey dwindling rapidly: Patriarch
Savaş Özbey – ISTANBUL
The Armenian population in Turkey, which makes up the largest Christian community in the country, “resembles an iceberg melting in the sea” with its some 60,000 members, the newly elected Armenian Orthodox Patriarch of Istanbul has said.
“Our biggest problem is the demography. Our population has been decreasing rapidly. We lose 26 of our adult individuals per 12 newborns. It’s alarming,” said Sahak Maşalyan, or Mashalian, the 85th Patriarch of Turkey’s Armenians, in an interview with daily Hürriyet.
He was enthroned as Sahak II in a ceremony held at the Surp Asdvadzadzin Patriarchate Church in Istanbul on Jan. 11.
“We are like an iceberg in a sea of 82 million people. And we are melting. We are also facing emigration. Now, we make up the largest non-Muslim minority in Turkey with a population of between 50,000 and 60,000,” he added, recalling that the number of Greek Christians, another minority protected under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, has dropped below 2,000 in Istanbul.
The international treaty signed between countries including Turkey, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Greece ensures the rights of the Christian minority communities in Turkey, however, the necessary internal legislations and regulations have not been made, according to Sahak II.
“Even the Armenian Patriarchate has not been defined. It makes many things extremely difficult, including resorting to the law or obtaining property. Even this building housing us doesn’t belong to the patriarchate, it is the property of the church on the opposite side of the street. We have 38 churches and 42 foundations. But those 38 churches are like 38 different duchies,” he said.
Almost a third of Turkey’s population was Christian a hundred years ago, the Armenian patriarch recalled, pointing to Christianophobia and the recent murder of three missionaries in the eastern Malatya province.
On the other hand, Sahak II hailed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to extend a message of condolences to the descendants of Armenians killed during World War I.
“We wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren,” said Erdoğan in 2014, then a prime minister, ahead of April 24 commemorations marking the killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide, a claim Turkey strongly rejects.
“The incidents of World War I are our shared pain. To evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility,” the statement also said.
The day of April 24 should bring a new vision for the future instead of recalling the past, said Sahak II.
“All we want is the understanding of the losses and sufferings of the Armenian people,” he added.
Born in 1962 in Istanbul with the Turkish name Şahin Maşalı, he was ordained a priest in 1992, receiving the name Sahak.
On Dec. 11, Sahak II won the election held among Armenian Gregorian churches across the country after receiving 102 votes out of 119 against his rival Aram Ateşyan, who had served as acting patriarch during the absence of Mesrob II, the previous patriarch who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease from 2008 until his demise on March 8, 2019.