A delegation of the City of Pleasant Hill in California, head by mayor Mr David E. Durant, paid a courtesy visit to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul.
His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, received the delegation on 19 May. As the Patriarchate is going through extensive renovation, the audience took place in the parish council chamber of the Holy Mother-of-God Patriarchal Church in Kumkapi.
The City of Pleasant Hill has been declared a sister city with Merzifon (Marzwan) in Turkey. The delegation was on a goodwill trip to this country and intended to contact local leaders. Mayor Durant and Mr John Blake of the Pleasant Hill’s Sister City Organization explained to His Beatitude about their mission to Turkey, adding that certain circles had opposed their intention to adopt a sister city in Turkey.
The Patriarch replied that he would rather refrain from commenting on the internal politics of another country. He explained that the Patriarchate’s main jurisdiction is Turkey and apart from the universal mission of preaching the Gospel and the preservation of Armenian spiritual heritage, the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul tries to serve as a catalyst in support of the betterment of mutual understanding, reconciliation and peace between the Armenian and Turkish peoples. The Patriarch said that he and his staff would naturally support any endeavour that would serve this purpose.
The members of the delegation said they had been told by Armenians in California that Christian churches could not be repaired or renovated in Turkey due to the non-friendly approach of the Turkish Government towards the Christian minorities. The Patriarch replied that such information is a little outdated. He said, indeed, such was the case some 20 years ago, during the tenure of Patriarch Shnork, when it was very difficult to receive permission to repair church property. “But it is altogether different now,”
the Patriarch continued, “We have no problem repairing, renovating or even reconstructing our church property.” He pointed out that currently the Patriarchate is in the middle of a big repair and renovation project, following the earthquake that hit the northwest of Turkey.
In reply to another questions, His Beatitude added: “I am not saying we do not have any problems. Of course, we do, like all minorities in almost any country. For example, the 1936 ban against owning new property and the lack of means to prepare a new generation of vocations for the church’s ministry are the most important problems we have. However what I want to point out is that we are working on these problems. We expect that these problems will be solved. But they can only be solved in Turkey, in the Parliament in Ankara, and by the respective ministers of the Turkish government. Some minor problems have already been solved. Turkey is currently going through a process of updating its legal code in order to take its place in the modern western community. There is no doubt that, sooner or later the minorities will receive their benefits from this process. No one solves any problem with a gun in the hand or by constant bickering and shouting. Problems are solved sitting around tables and through dialoguing.”
The Patriarch gave a general overview of the Armenian Church and community in Turkey and the history of the Patriarchal See of Istanbul. Before leaving, the Pleasant Hill delegation visited the ancient building of the Patriarchate and its complex, which is currently undergoing massive repair and renovation.