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|Some Armenians in Turkey, unhappy with what they see as government meddling in the election of a new Armenian patriarch, view the community’s newly elected religious leader as someone serving the interests of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Eurasianet said.
Bishop Sahak Maşalyan was elected with an overwhelming majority as the new Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul in December, after the Turkish government effectively eliminated 10 of the 12 possible candidates by introducing a new rule that blocked the candidacy of those born abroad.
“Many Armenians saw the residency requirement as a cynical ploy by Ankara to install its favoured candidate,” Eurasianet said.
“The patriarch is a puppet of Tayyip Erdoğan,” the news site quoted a 53-year-old Armenian beautician as saying.
“The state didn’t want candidates that could speak freely about the 1915 events. It wanted someone who would adopt its discourse,” said Murad Mıhçı, the head of Nor Zartonk, an Armenian rights group.
But the editor-in-chief of Jamanak, Turkey’s only daily still printed in the Armenian language, disagreed. The lack of a unified position amongst Armenians on how to conduct the elections led to the authorities meddling in their affairs, said Ara Koçunyan.
He told Eurasianet that a patriarch close to the government was best positioned to benefit the community, and called objections to the election demagoguery.
Successive Turkish governments have intervened in the elections of non-Muslim minority religious officials in a variety of ways since 1923, the foundation of the Turkish republic.
When the last patriarch, Mesrob Mutafyan, became unable to carry out his duties 12 years ago due to dementia, the government prevented the Armenian community electing a new religious leader on the grounds that Mutafyan was still alive.
The Spiritual Council of the Armenian Apostolic Church elected an interim leader in 2017, but the Turkish government declared the election void saying that the result might cause disturbance and divisions in society.