Newly-Elected Patriarch of Turkey Lashes Back at Armenian Critics

Columnist Harut Sassounian
Columnist Harut Sassounian

Columnist Harut Sassounian


After giving a series of interviews to the Turkish press since his election on December 11, 2019, the new Armenian Patriarch of Turkey, Sahak II Mashalyan, responded to his Armenian critics on January 15 by issuing an official “Clarification” to Turkish-Armenian newspapers.

It is important to point out that the Patriarch’s critics were not simply those who live outside of Turkey, unjustly accused of being unaware of the repressive treatment of Istanbul Armenians by the Turkish government. In addition to criticisms from Armenians in Armenia and the Diaspora, the Patriarch was attacked by Armenians living in Turkey, as well as the Turkish-Armenian newspaper “Agos.”

The Patriarch’s interview to the Turkish newspaper “Aksham” generated the most controversy, as he not only distanced Istanbul Armenians from Diaspora Armenians, but also belittled the massive tragedy of the Armenian Genocide. His Beatitude complained that a few of the sentences in his interview with Aksham – drawing the most negative interpretations and exceeding the limits of understanding – reached a campaign of tarnishing his name.

The Patriarch made the excuse that, in his 40-minute interview, he “had provided lengthy explanations and details which naturally were not included in the article. The words appearing in the newspaper were filtered from those explanations which were given as answers for a particular question. That style was the choice of the editor. Without considering the questions, when only answers are provided, a change in the meaning takes place, which is placed successively, one after another. In this case, they become unclear expressions and failed statements, which make the transmitted idea meaningless.”

The Patriarch then stated that he had given the following answer to the question about Turkish Armenians: “Armenians of Turkey, unlike Armenians in the Diaspora and Armenia, form a third segment. From the point of view of administration and economy, the Armenian Diaspora has no ties with us; we are self-sufficient.”

When he was asked about the irreconcilable attitude of Diaspora Armenians toward Turkey and the reasons for its negative position, the Patriarch claimed that the given answer does not belong to him, but is a simple sociological correction – familiar to all – expressed as such: “One hundred years ago, the people who left these lands with a great tragedy have transmitted the trauma they lived to future generations and realized that for the Armenian identity and its preservation it is beneficial and necessary to form a consciousness of the Genocide. They continued to live for more than a hundred years in a status quo away from Turkey and Turks. But, we – Armenians who have remained in Turkey –continued to share our lives with Turks in these lands and gained the experience of living together. In that sense, we are distinct Armenians in the Armenian world.”

The Patriarch continued: “In such super sensitive subjects, the priority of the people has been that they listen to what they want, and not what the Patriarchs of Turkish Armenians say and under what conditions. The fate of the Armenian Patriarchs of Turkey is like the captain of a ship that is being crushed between two non-melting icebergs. In that circumstance, it is not always possible to secure harmony and errors appear to occur according to one of the sides. Sahak Patriarch too, like his predecessors, has tried to give answers regarding Armenian issues that are satisfactory to all sides. It is never acceptable to any of the sides to take a rejectionist and disregarding position. Each person must first understand correctly, what in reality has been expressed in the uttered words and then criticize.”

Some in the Diaspora may agree with the Patriarch’s words, emphasizing the dire conditions that he and the Turkish community are in. Any Armenian who is familiar with those repressive conditions can be somewhat sympathetic to the Patriarch’s situation.

Our intent was never to urge the Patriarch to antagonize the authorities in Turkey. After all, he is responsible for the safety of his community. All we ask from the Patriarch is to be cautious in his words, not to alienate his followers in Turkey and to not insult the memory of 1.5 million Armenian martyrs by engaging in outright denialism. Whenever possible, the Patriarch should avoid giving interviews to the Turkish press. He should appoint a press spokesman who is capable of avoiding difficult and sensitive questions, particularly on political issues. If the spokesman makes a mistake, it is less consequential than if the Patriarch himself makes a mistake. Spokesmen can be fired, but the Patriarch’s position is life-long.

Finally, it is unacceptable for the Patriarch to blame the Turkish newspaper for allegedly misinterpreting his words. First of all, we do not know what exactly the Patriarch told the Turkish newspaper and if it was really misinterpreted. For example, in his above “Clarification,” the Patriarch claims that he had used the word “Genocide” in his interview with the Turkish newspaper. This is not credible!

Secondly, the Patriarch is someone who is born and raised in Istanbul. He knows the Turkish media well. He should have known that the Turkish press often distorts the words of those they interview. Therefore, giving an interview to the Turkish press and then complaining that his words were distorted is not sincere. The Patriarch should have known that in advance. Complaining about Turkish media distortions after the interview is published is foolish!

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  1. Hratch Der Stepanian said:

    Has anyone from the diaspora, the elite Armenian “leaders” who are ready to criticize others in a second, made an effort to go and meet, interview to get to know or try to help the Patriarch after his election in any shape or form? Easiest thing is to leave him alone at the mercy of the “Grey Wolves” in Turkey and philosophise while sipping late’ from far away.

    • Serop said:

      If Garo Paylan who is in the Turkish parliament can defend the Armenian rights without stooping as low as the so called patriarch, who seems to bend every which way the Turks want him, then the dear Patriach is indeed a very weak man without the ability to lead Armenians in a dignified way. Now I must go and have my 3rd shot of Armenian coffee.

  2. joe said:

    Just the residue of being in the den where the massive crime of race extermination and its denial and purposeful cover up, is state policy..I believe the Patriarch during the Genocide said the same things to the Armenian community; to not rise up etc, this being just 20 years after the Hamidian massacres…..But i understand he has no choice. The message we should send him back is not to worry, and that we are collectively working hard to avenge and restore justice and the eventual return of our rightful lands with out end. And RID THE INVADERS THEMSELVES.. Nothing less..

    • ardachece barseghian said:

      History at tests, at the birth of the revolutionary movements, when our KOMITAS no longer spoke the Armenian as the quasi totality of the people, feodalises, tyrannizes, exploits, humiliates, rapes, oppresses, murderer stuns genocide, after 6 In the last century, our clerics were waiting on the sides of the Armenian bourgeoisie of Turkey, as a financial principle, for the people to stop plenting the liberation movements of the Kurdish and Turkish yoke. The affairs of these bourgeois with Turkey were more important than the liberation of the people, of the nation, of the inomable sufferings. Our religious, until today, approaches only this same bourgeoisie that ignores, better, exploits the people in extreme misery. The religious have adopted this practice and scandalous lifestyle away their theoloqique precepts, flouted. I have lived in the country for 29 years and I am a tome of this sad and unworthy reality. Let them stay away, away from the REPUBLIC, THANK YOU.

  3. ardachece barseghian said:

    Whether he talks about theology, the restoration of churches, whether he gets pilgrimages, charitable actions, culture, hospital issues, develops an organization related to religious tourism, animates actions, meetings inter-religious … and lets the political field to our Turkish deputies of Armenian origin and their Turkish intellectual friends in Turkey and diaspora, to promote the political expression of fraternity with Turkish society thanks to this exemplary press AGOS. Let him be silent on the issues that deplete him, that threaten him and which does NOT concern him ABSOLUMENT NOT that he gives for any answer concerning genocide and reparations by a bright “Hayr mer vor ierginken es …”

  4. ardachece barseghian said:

    The French say “everyone’s job and the cows will be well guarded”

  5. Anthony kay said:

    What i love about this patriarch is he condems the denial of the white genocide of the Armenians for when they have mixed marriages.