By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Archbishop Aram Ateshyan, General Vicar of the Armenian Patriarch of Turkey, sent a highly controversial letter last week to President Recep Erdogan, criticizing the German Parliament’s decision to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
The Acting Patriarch’s letter created a major controversy among Armenians worldwide, including the Armenian community of Turkey. Some called for his resignation; others, including a member of the Armenian Parliament, demanded that he be defrocked!
While successive Turkish governments have attempted to pressure Abp. Ateshyan’s predecessors to serve as propaganda tool for Ankara, no previous Patriarch has written such an offensive letter regarding the Armenian Genocide.
It is not clear whether the Acting Patriarch wrote last week’s letter on his own initiative or it was drafted for him by Turkish officials. Those who personally know Abp. Ateshyan insist that the letter could not have been written by him because he is not too proficient in the Turkish language. Whatever the case, he did sign and disseminate the letter to the media, which was published by several Turkish newspapers.
Regrettably, this is not the first time that the Acting Patriarch has displayed such a boot-licking attitude vis-à-vis the Turkish authorities, intending to secure the support of the government for his hoped for election as Patriarch. During a public meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Istanbul last year, Abp. Ateshyan dared to insult her for criticizing Pres. Erdogan’s violations of human rights!
Describing the Armenian Genocide merely as “events that happened during the tragic times of World War I,” Abp. Ateshyan stated in his letter that the Armenian community of Turkey shared the Turkish nation’s regret for the German Bundestag’s decision. The Acting Patriarch, speaking on behalf of the Armenian community of Turkey, claimed that the German Parliament “has no right” to pronounce judgment “on behalf of the entire German nation.” He further added: “it is also questionable to what extent this decision expresses the feelings of German citizens.” It is nonsensical for Abp. Ateshyan to insist that the Parliament does not speak for the German people, since it adopted the resolution on the Armenian Genocide with a near unanimous vote!
Also, the Acting Patriarch blamed the German Parliament for “sidestepping the negative role of the Third Reich in a few sentences and pointing to the Ottoman Empire as the sole perpetrator.” It is shocking that Abp. Ateshyan is covering up Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide and belittling Germany’s honest admission of complicity!
Those who try to justify the Acting Patriarch’s anti-Armenian statements, by claiming that one has to live in Turkey to fully appreciate the oppressive nature of Erdogan’s regime, should know that many Armenians in Turkey are outraged by Abp. Ateshyan’s letter. They wrote dozens of messages on his Facebook page, expressing their disagreement.
The harshest criticism of the Acting Patriarch came from the editor of Agos, an Armenian newspaper published in Istanbul: “We read your letter … with sorrow, anger and shame…. Your presentation of the systematic annihilation, by state decision, of its own citizens living on its own lands, using the government’s description as ‘events that happened during the tragic times of World War I,’ is an affront to the ancestors, victims, and survivors in the eyes of the society to which you also belong.”
Contrary to the Acting Patriarch’s claim that Armenians are treated as equals with Turks, Agos asserted that “Armenians have been subjected to discrimination, fascism and public threats.” The newspaper also countered Abp. Ateshyan’s statement that the German Parliament’s decision had caused “sorrow and pain,” by affirming: “The pressure that forced you to pen this letter is a source of pain and sorrow for us…. The Armenian community’s identity is harmed by your words, not as you say, by the Bundestag’s decision.”
Agos also told the Acting Patriarch that his letter represented “a specific statement of denialism against your own people. We will shortly see who will ‘enthusiastically welcome’ your words…. We pray that God bestows upon you good sense, sound judgment and thoughtfulness.”
In order not to cause further damage to his people and their sacred cause, I humbly advise Abp. Ateshyan to refrain from any future political and propagandistic statements. Otherwise, he should seriously consider resigning from his post, since Armenians of Turkey will never accept him as their chosen Patriarch, even if Erdogan supports his election!