New Armenian Patriarch Finally Elected

After a Decade of Turkish Interference, Armenian Church Elects New Leader

12/11/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on December 11, 2019, Armenian Christians elected the 85th Armenian Patriarch of Turkey, Bishop Sahak Maşalyan. The election comes after a decade of delays caused by Turkey’s interference in church affairs.

The weeks preceding the election were filled with fresh controversy, as Turkey had inserted new bylaws into the electoral process which restricted candidates eligible for the position. Under the new bylaws, the only eligible candidates for the Patriarch were Turks, although the Armenian Church encompasses a global landscape.

The election of a new church leader has been eagerly anticipated by Armenian Christians ever since the previous Patriarch fell into a coma 11 years ago. Turkey forced Armenian Christians to wait until his death this past March before allowing the Church to proceed with elections. Bishop Maşalyan was elected with 102 delegate votes out of a total of 119.

The Patriarch’s Office noted in a statement, “It was observed that the (electoral) participation did not decrease despite the decrease in population due to various reasons, and the voters exercising their right to protest… We believe that despite numerous technical, legal, structural, and material difficulties, we provided an exemplary working order.” 

“History will write to the black pages of public officials, co-operating spirits and rulers who play with our dignity. I will not count the chosen person as my patriarch,” tweeted an Armenian Member of Turkey’s Parliament, Garo Paylan.

Following the 1915 genocide of Christians, which devastated the population, Turkey has maintained strict oversight of the surviving churches. In the weeks immediately preceding the Armenian Patriarch election, the genocide again became a relevant feature of Turkish news. In one notable example, members of the Istanbul Bar Association published a November article describing the Armenian genocide as Turkey’s “crowning achievement,” and threatening Armenians “with a new deportation which will be the lightest measure against them.”

Turkey is ranked 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, “It is significant that the Armenian Church, at long last, has a recognizable leader as a figurehead. This position inherits many challenges, and we pray for wisdom and discernment for the Church in the coming days. Turkey’s long prevention of this process was a significant barricade to the spiritual rejuvenation of the Church. We urge Turkey to comply with its own laws, protecting religious tolerance and freedom.”

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