The quadrennial election for the office of Diocesan Primate-held on May 2, 2014 in New York City, as part of the 112th Assembly of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America-was one for the history books, for two reasons. First, the presiding Primate, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, was elected to an unprecedented 7th term of office, making him the longest-serving Diocesan Primate on record.
Second, it took five ballots to arrive at that result.
The delegates of the 112th assembly, representing clergy and lay leaders from every parish of the Eastern Diocese, were obliged to cast their votes five separate times, to break a deadlock between the two leading candidates: Archbishop Barsamian and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian.
Archbishop Aykazian is the Ecumenical Director of the Eastern Diocese, and a former president of the National Council of Church of Christ in the U.S.A.
A third candidate in the election, the Very Rev. Fr. Sooren Chinchinian, was eliminated after the first ballot.
The Diocesan Bylaws stipulate that every four years, the Diocesan Council must submit a slate of three candidates for an election to fill the office of Primate. The Bylaws further direct that if no single candidate for the office receives a majority of the vote, the low vote getter is dropped from consideration, and a run-off is held between the remaining two candidates.
However, there is no provision in the Bylaws for breaking a continuing deadlock between two candidates. As a result, the Assembly delegates had to cast votes in a series of run-offs in the hope that enough votes would be changed to shift the balance one way or the other.
It was a far cry from the experience of recent elections, which have been conclusive on the first ballot. And the run-offs had repercussions for the rest of the Assembly. Plans for the Friday afternoon session-calling for delegates to break up into smaller discussion groups-had to be scrapped by the Assembly chairman, Raffi Balian, until a decisive result could be reached in the election.
Fewer than 200 people cast ballots to determine the Primate of the Eastern Diocese. At this year’s Diocesan Assembly, 157 delegates were registered, representing parish pastors and retired clergy, parish council chairs, and delegates elected by each local parish in proportion to its membership. A simple majority of 79 votes (half the number of registered delegates, plus one) was needed by either candidate to win the election. For each ballot, the delegates made their selection in secret on a paper ballot form; then each had the ballot collected as his or her name was read out from the dais by Nubar Kupelian, a long-serving and distinguished staff member of the Diocesan Center.
In keeping with his longstanding custom, Archbishop Barsamian departed from the Assembly just prior to the initial balloting and did not take part in the voting, although he was eligible to cast a ballot.
After four inconclusive votes on Friday afternoon, a fifth ballot returned with a majority for the incumbent, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian. The news was announced in the sanctuary of St. Vartan Cathedral, where the delegates had reconvened after departing Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, which had to be prepared for the annual awards banquet scheduled for later that evening.
Shortly after the announcement of a winner, the clergy of the Diocese escorted Archbishop Barsamian into the sanctuary with the traditional welcoming hymn. The Primate thanked the delegates for the privilege to continue his service to the Eastern Diocese and its people.
Archbishop Aykazian also gave some brief, gracious remarks by way of concession.
With his re-election this year, Archbishop Barsamian has become the longest serving Primate in the history of the Eastern Diocese. When his current term expires in 2018, Archbishop Barsamian will have served as leader of the Eastern Diocese for 28 years—surpassing the previous record for continuous service in that role held by the late Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, who won six elections and served as Primate for 24 years (from 1966 to 1990), before departing the Diocese to become the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem.