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When certain traditional values are trampled and hierarchical order is under assault, it is symptomatic that the fabric of a given society has a breakdown. Unfortunately, a young clergyman on the historical throne of the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul has signaled this deterioration, which threatens to infect the Diaspora with the help and collusion of some cohorts.

For a long time the Diaspora Armenians had been watching the activities of Archbishop Mutafian with deep concern, because those activities were, at best, characterized with eccentricity. Yet as long as he had confined his activities to his flock, no one would dare to criticize the young clergyman, especially in view of the intellectual elite still active in the community and a leadership cherishing traditional values and watching unorthodox tendencies to be checked.

Diaspora is particularly cognizant of the conditions that Turkish authorities have created to suffocate and disrupt Armenian community life in Turkey.

For that reason we always considered that meddling in the affairs of Istanbul Armenian community life from abroad would hamper an already difficult mission of the leadership in that community.

All these considerations intended to help that leadership to perform its function in daunting circumstances.

Archbishop Mutafian disregarded all those sensitive relations and all of a sudden decided to export his eccentricities to other communities with unchecked imperial ambitions. As if the Armenian Church did not have enough problems with the division initiated by Antelias, Archbishop Mutafian came out with his own brand of division, trying to undermine the authority of his Holiness Catholicos Karekin II, supreme spiritual leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Without getting into details, it suffices to mention his solidarity with the former Primate of Moscow who had rebelled against the Catholicos. Fortunately the former Primate, Ghazaros Gureghian, was defrocked and the legal challenge was resolved in favor of Holy Etchmiadzin.

That eliminated one of Archbishop Mutafian’s allies in the church. But he would not rest nor respect the hierarchy of the Armenian Church. He seized another opportunity to vent his revolt against Etchmiadzin, when the Catholicos awarded an Istanbul Armenian couple with a medal for their contribution to the Church. Archbishop Mutafian disgracefully returned Vehapar’s encyclical requesting a “correction”; that irrational gesture had two main intentions: a) to demonstrate his disrespect to the spiritual head of the church, b) to request that a specific clause be added to the encyclical indicating that the benefactors were being awarded only for their contributions to Armenia. That, of course, intended to raise a red flag for Turkish authorities that Armenians in Istanbul were earning the money in Turkey and investing it in Armenia, knowing full well the interpretation of this transaction in Turkish conspiratorial mind.

Certainly, the same disrespectful mentality had prompted Archbishop Mutafian to sue the AGBU, knowing full well that the AGBU leadership is very supportive of Mother See at Etchmiadzin.

It is Archbishop Mutafian’s last worry to see an Armenian school (i.e. Melkonian) closed down in the Diaspora, when he has been complaining about his own turf, the Turkish-Armenian community, for having too many schools.

The “Opinion Piece” of the ADL, which also appeared on the editorial page of the Mirror-Spectator, intended to criticize the archbishop for suing a century-old venerable organization, and not necessarily discuss the closure of Melkonian Educational Institution.

It looks like our criticism has also irritated some of the archbishop’s cohorts. It would have been a shame to keep silent in front of a disgraceful act. Archbishop Mutafian has issued a rebuttal on March 5, 2005, under the signature of Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate.

The official opinion of any organization reflects the collective thinking of its leadership. Here again, in the rebuttal, Archbishop Mutafian singles out the name of one of the ADL chairmen to point out to the Turkish authorities who their true enemy is.

Although his Beatitude claims that he does not wish to dignify our criticism with an answer, he answers anyway, by contradicting himself and characterizes the ADL ideology as “bankrupt”. The ADL ideology is based on the belief in the democratic system, on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the liberation of historic Armenian homeland. These ideals can only be considered “bankrupt” for people living under the fearful Turkish military rule.

The good Archbishop has found an ardent defender in Ms. Arpi Totoyan of Paris, who has even pre-empted him by signing an article in the daily Haratch, issue of March 4. This young writer, who cherishes tutoring manners to everybody in the Armenian life – sometimes overtopping her bounds – needs to learn one important thing: to understand correctly the texts that she reads.

Indeed, she claims to have found a mistake in our statement that Sourp Khach Seminary does not exist. And she insists that Sourp Khach exists as a high school educating many generations for a half a century. For all practical purposes, it does not exist, because it was founded to educate clergy, but the Turkish authorities banned its mission, allowing it to exist as a secondary school. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand the true issue in this case.

In her fiery defense, Ms. Totoyan states that Archbishop Mesrob does not need any defense (but she does anyway) and deviating from the main issue, states that similar opinion pieces cannot absolve the AGBU from closing the Melkonian, while our point was to take issue with his Beatitude for suing an Armenian organization and not necessarily debate the closure of Melkonian, which was already debated ad nauseam in our press.

Should this lawsuit continue, a fair verdict would be rendered, because the US courts don’t operate like Turkish courts. Yet whatever the verdict, there will be no winners in this case. We will all be embarrassed as Armenians, especially in this year when we plan to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Genocide.

We may not rule out the possibility that the main motive behind this lawsuit was to dampen the impact of the commemoration. The onus of this deplorable campaign rests on Archbishop Mutafian and his cohorts for this uncalled for provocation.

The outcome will only please the Turks, who may already be watching with great amusement.

Office of the ADL Central Press Committee

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