The Armenian community of Istanbul does not recognise the new patriarch and considers him a supporter of the Turkish authorities
Recently elected the Armenian Patriarch of the diocese of Constantinople (Istanbul), Bishop Sahak Mashalyan has been in office since just December 11, but has already caused quite a local stir by criticising the decision of the US Senate to recognise the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey, made just one day after Mashalyan’s appointment.
However, the 85th Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul faced opposition even before his statement: members of the local Armenian community do not recognise Mashalyan’s tenure of office, and claim he is close to the Turkish authorities.
What caused the public backlash?
In an interview with Turkey’s Sabah, Patriarch Sahak Mashalyan said “we don’t want the problem [of the genocide] to be discussed by the parliaments of different countries, but by the people living on this land. We want to improve relations between Armenia and Turkey. There is no talk about this yet, but there are third countries overseas talking about this issue.”
Mashalyan also said that “the suffering of the Armenians 100 years ago” has become an instrument of political and economic pressure of other countries on Turkey, and that attempts to put pressure on Turkey using the Armenian question are ‘immoral’ and ‘incite…hate speech in Turkey.’
The bishop also said that he supports the creation of a joint commission of historians to study the issue.
Turkish authorities have proposed the idea before, but the Armenian side says that the issue of the genocide is not up for discussion as it is an undeniable fact.
Armenian pundits react
Turcologist Hayk Gabrielyan on his Facebook page commented on Mashalyan’s statements and urged the public “not to be too harsh on the patriarch, based on several factors.”
“Do not forget at what time and in which country Mashalyan has to work. The Patriarch was elected only recently, his position is not strong enough. Let’s look at the situation more realistically. Whoever thinks he should stand up and say: ‘Well done, [senators] of the USA! I welcome this’, they are very mistaken!
“Let’s look at the other side of the coin: he said not only that third parties should not use our tragedy to advance their interests (whether we like it or not, third forces will do it), but also the fact that he indirectly called on Armenia and Turkey to dialogue with each other. And he himself can become a bridge for this.”
Reaction of Armenian diaspora in Turkey
The Armenian community of Turkey has long perceived Mashalyan as a figure associated with the country’s authorities, and believe the recent elections were held in a non-competitive atmosphere and are thus illegitimate.
“This is the biggest violation. Part of the Armenian community is unhappy with the election conditions and the candidates: the low turnout speaks to this. About a quarter of the community representatives (about 14,000) participated in the elections, and that says a lot,” said Bagrat Estukyan, editor of the Agos newspaper published in Istanbul.
The discontent is due to the fact that the Turkish government has limited the number of people who could run for office and mandated that candidates be citizens of Turkey.
“…Mashalyan became a participant in the game of the Turkish government in terms of restricting the nomination of candidates who are not citizens of the country. …He became an accomplice in the violation of the rights of his spiritual brothers from Armenia,” said Turkologist Ruben Melkonyan.
Melkonyan says Turkey changed the election laws so as to exclude the participation of a candidate from Armenia – Archbishop Sepukh Chuljyan, who enjoys popularity in the region.
As a result, two “local” candidates participated in the elections – Mashalyan and Bishop Aram Ateshyan, both of whom are allegedly close to the Turkish government.
US-Turkey tension soars after Senate genocide recognition
Following the adoption of the resolution on the Armenian Genocide on December 12, Turkish President Recep Erdogan threatened to recognize the genocide of the Native Americans in the United States.
“Our parliament can also recognize the genocide of the Native Americans. How can you keep silent about this when you talk about America? This is a dark page in US history.”
Erdogan said that Donald Trump should not “sacrifice relations between the two countries and use the events of 1915 to pursue his domestic policy.”
In response to the possible US sanctions against Ankara for the purchase of anti-aircraft air defense systems from Russia and a military operation in northern Syria, the Turkish leader threatened to close access to Incirlik airbase to the United States.