Enthralled By Illusions, Yerevan Hopes For Own Candidate For Constantinople’s Armenian Patriarchate

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 13 March 2019
Enthralled By Illusions, Yerevan Hopes For Own Candidate For Constantinople’s Armenian Patriarchate

Turkey’s Armenian community is facing a strategic choice in the religious sphere with the death of Patriarch of Constantinople of the Armenian Church Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan.

Turkish President Erdogan, his spokesman Kalin, former Prime Minister and former parliamentary speaker and riling AKP Istanbul mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim expressed condolences.

Such keen attention to the personality of the archbishop is more than understandable. First, official Ankara has always treated the leaders of local confessional minorities with the utmost respect. Second, Mesrob Mutafyan was not only an influential spiritual leader, but also a wise politician who, throughout his patriarchate, managed to build very constructive relations with the government of Turkey.

As rules indicate, forty days after the death of the archbishop, a new patriarch will be elected to replace Mesrob Mutafyan. And now when the archbishop has not been buried, political intrigues come under way around those who could succeed the man who managed to get full understanding of the Turkish government and remain aloof from politics more or less. More precisely, the talk is not about elections as they, but about the attempts of Yerevan to push own candidate to this post.

The existence in Turkey of the Armenian community, with own schools, churches, charity hospitals, newspapers and so and perfectly integrated into Turkish society, is diametrically opposite the so-called “Armenian genocide” widely used by Armenians in their dirty fight against Turkey for over 100 years.

Attempts to fan provocative romp around Turkish Armenians have been and are being made constantly. MP Garo Paylan, with his regular provocative statements in the media and in the Turkish parliament, is a vivid example. In the fall of 2017, a certain Sevan Nishanyan was in the focus of attention of the Armenian media.

In Turkey, he urged to immediately recognize the “Armenian genocide of 1915” and published books in the “alternative history” genre. In 2014, he received 17 years in prison, after long admonitions by human rights defenders and three years in jail, he was transferred to a milder regime and then he escaped and from abroad published “tweets” denouncing and blaming Turkey for everything possible and impossible.

In essence, he called for the destruction of the Turkish statehood. But at the same time, they understood both in Turkey and abroad that the talk is about individual provocateurs, who, unfortunately, can always be found. One can imagine how tempting it would be to literally consecrate this provocative fuss in the name of the spiritual hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople of the Armenian Church and figuratively, but Archbishop Mutafyan did not get involved in such dirty games. And he did not allow the Armenian community in Turkey to get involved in similar schemes of other hierarchs.

And now when Mutafyan is dead and the political “get-together” both in Turkey and in Armenia is interested in - who will be his successor? More precisely, will Yerevan succeed in running own candidate for this post? After this, let us be realists, the complicity of patriarchy in political provocations will be mere formality. It hardly makes sense to remind that the Armenian Church in Armenia has always been extremely politicized, and much more often than spiritual shepherds were supposed to be involved in very dubious affairs, starting from the banal speculation of imported consumer goods back in the Soviet years and ending with the patronage of Armenian terror.

True, Echmiadzin is not the only "spiritual center". There is also a Great Cilician House, created in the seventies in the Lebanese Antilias as an alternative to the Soviet Echmiadzin. But today in Yerevan they are actively bringing the positions closer, the Armenian prime minister has recently received Echmiadzin Catholicos Garegin II and Aram I of Cilicia simultaneously and there is hardly a big rivalry between them. Moreover, there are plenty of customers for this fuss, and not only in Yerevan, but also in Moscow, whose outpost was and remains Armenia.

In fact, the talk about warming of the relations between Moscow and Ankara has already had time to get calluses on their ears, but Russian “strategic plans”, where Turkey is assigned the role of a target, and not an ally, are hardly removed to the far corners of the safes. The capture of the Crimea, the most convenient base for the Black Sea Fleet in case of a strike from the sea on the Bosphorus, Russia's desire to strengthen its position in Syria in general and the recent “anonymous” bombing of Idlib in particular are substantial “information for thought”, as well as abound with circumstantial evidence. Erdogan, of course, leads his fine game in full accordance with the advice “to keep friends close and enemies even closer”, and continues to “reassure” Moscow, at least as long as the Syrian border area has not been “cleaned up”, but the “general” trends here remain the same.

Against this background, the election of the patriarch of Constantinople does not even have a theoretical chance of remaining a purely “internal church” issue.

Strictly speaking, a fierce struggle for the future patriarchal throne has been flared up even when Mutafyan was alive. Now when the patriarch, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease for several years, is dead efforts have been stepped to determine his successor. Strictly speaking, his successor was named - Archbishop Aram Ateshian, who has recently led the work of the patriarchate.

But, as expected, they categorically opposed him in Yerevan. Ateshian was immediately declared "Erdogan's man". At first, they tried to name Garegin Bekchyan, the head of the diocese of the Armenian Church in Germany, to occupy the post. But in the end he was forced to leave Turkey, saying that he does not want the "politicization" of the process. Now Echmiadzin has a new favorite - Archbishop Sepuh Chuljian, head of the Gugark diocese of the Armenian Church.

Experts, however, advise not to forget: the final say will remain with the Armenian community of Turkey, who hardly wants to get involved in dubious and very dangerous games. Not to mention the fact that there is such a reality as the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs, and Yerevan’s church intrigues will hardly be able act against it. But for the provocations and dangerous murmurous fuss, the forces available are quite enough. And even more so, no one has canceled attempts to compensate for the weakness of positions by radicals, especially considering the traditions of terror and political violence amongst Armenians.

It is enough to remember Dashnak terrorists who mercilessly killed Turkish and Azerbaijani public and political figures worldwide in the early XX century. It is another matter that Turkish law enforcement agencies do not eat their bread for nothing, and such scenarios in modern Turkey are unlikely to pass even if their external customers really want it.