Turkey Meddles in Armenian Patriarch Election – Again

Turkey Restricts Candidates Eligible for Spiritual Leadership Position

09/27/19 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on September 23, 2019, Turkey’s Ministry of Interior issued a directive to the Armenian Patriarchate that candidates for the position must be Turkish. This directive violates the historic electoral practices of the Armenian Church, which is based in Istanbul.

The Armenian Church has sought permission from the Turkish authorities to elect a new patriarch since 2008, when then-Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan fell into a mysterious and severe illness which left him unable to fulfill his spiritual duties. Turkey prevented the election on the basis that the Archbishop was still alive. However, he passed away this past March. Armenian Christians are again requesting that Turkey allow the Church freedom when selecting its own leaders.

Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of Turkey’s Parliament, explained to Bianet, “Apart from Armenians in Turkey, there are many clerics from Sivas, Malatya, Adana, Istanbul and all of these candidates were able to participate in all elections; they had the right to be elected. Now, for the first time in the history of the Republic of Turkey, a directive by the Ministry of Interior brings a new restriction to the election of the Patriarch.”

He continued, “They say, ‘You will choose among Armenians in Turkey.’ We have only three high cleric candidates who meet these requirements. This directive is an attempt to usurp the right of natural candidates to be elected and we never accept it.”

The directive by the Interior Ministry ignores a recent constitutional court ruling which held that the government had violated the rights of religious freedom by interfering in the Armenian Patriarch election.

“The Turkish Interior Ministry’s latest directive imposing severe restrictions on the eligibility of candidates for the upcoming Armenian Apostolic Patriarch elections is yet another worrying attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of religious minorities in Turkey,” said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a member of the Anti-Defamation League’s Task Force on Middle East Minorities.

“The Turkish government, in accordance with the rulings of the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, should respect the right of religious communities to elect leaders in accordance with their traditions as they interpret them,” continued Erdemir.

The directive was issued while Turkey’s President Erdoğan was attending the United Nations General Assembly, where religious freedom was a major platform under discussion. Turkey ranks as a Tier 2 Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Turkey’s persecution of Armenian Christians has been ongoing for generations. The 1915 genocide of Armenian Christians continues through policies that make existence within Turkey intolerable. Turkey’s own courts have upheld the rights of Armenians to select their own spiritual leader. We urge Turkey to comply with their own laws and protect religious freedom.”

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