Mesrob II: Diaspora deaf to Turkish Armenians

(Todayszaman) "The 'Armenian genocide resolution' pending in the US Congress disrupts both the relations between Turkish people and Armenians in Turkey and between Turkey and Armenia," said Patriarch Mesrob II (Mutafyan), the spiritual leader of Turkey's Armenian Orthodox community.

"We had big problems in the past. I especially find the approach of the Ittihat Terakki's (the Committee of Union and Progress) collective punishment of Armenians quite wrong. It wasn't the whole Armenian community who took up arms against the government, but I believe the Turkish Republic should not be accused of what happened then. The diaspora would say that it should be accused as long as there is a denial of what happened," Mesrob II said.

Armenians claim up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen died in a genocide campaign by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, but Ankara rejects the charge, saying both Armenians and Turks died in civil strife when the Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia, siding with Russian troops that were invading the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

There is currently a non-binding "Armenian genocide resolution" pending at the US Congress. "We are the ones here living with our Turkish friends everyday. The resolution's passage would have a cooling effect on our relations," Mesrob II said, adding that the diaspora doesn't care about Turkish Armenians' sensitivities and that "it's a political issue for them."

Turkish Armenians are the biggest Christian community in Turkey with approximately 70,000 people living in Anatolia. Mesrob II said that since they lack schools of theology, the number of clerics is only 26 and bringing religious services to the community is tough.

For Monday Talk, Mesrob II told Today's Zaman that the Armenian community hasn't been represented in the Turkish Parliament, even though some of them have been interested in politics. The community's attitude toward the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is generally positive, and the main reason behind this is the "aggressive attitude" of the Republican People's Party (CHP), especially regarding the law of foundations.

As the Turkish-Armenian religious leader, Mesrob II has a different stance from that of some Turkish circles regarding the secularism debates. "I don't think that secularism is under threat in Turkey. Secularism has been so entrenched in the society since the time of Ataturk that I don't think anybody will be able to remove it," he stated.

We've been trying to interview Mesrob II since Today's Zaman was founded on Jan. 16, but due to some unfortunate events -- such as the Jan. 19 assassination of Hrant Dink, editor of the Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, we were unable to until now. The Patriarchate closed its doors to the media then after receiving many threats. Nevertheless, the patriarch started to open up recently and discuss the Turkish-Armenian community's problems more.

For Monday Talk, we had a sincere interview with the patriarch, ranging from politics to his personal life, beliefs and hobbies.

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