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The first English Language Armenian Weekly In The United States
Acting Editor Barbara J. Merguerian Assistant Editors Alin K.Gregorian Suzanne E. Moranian
755 Mt. Auburn St., Watertown, MA 02472-1509 Tel:(617) 924-4420   Fax:(617) 924-3860 E-MAIL: ArmenMirr@aol.com


05-27-1999
AZG/MIRROR-SPECTATOR  ON-LINE


1)   Interview with Patriarch Mesrob II of Istanbul and Turkey  (  PART  I )
2) PUBLIC LECTURE
3)    Erebuni Chorus Plans Gala Concert 


1)   Special in this issue:
Interview with Patriarch Mesrob II of Istanbul and Turkey  (  PART  I )

Earlier this year, the newly elected and consecrated Patriarch of Istanbul 
and All Turkey, Archbishop Mesrob Mutafian, paid an unofficial visit to New 
York City. During this time, the Patriarch granted a lengthy interview to M-S 
correspondent Florence Avakian in which he commented on a series of issues 
ranging from the status of the Armenian church today to his own personal 
reasons for becoming a clergyman. 
Describing himself as an optimist and a pragmatist, the 42-year-old Patriarch 
focused in his remarks on the positive aspects of Armenian community life in 
Turkey and did not dwell on the many obstacles and problems. Thus in his 
discussion of the operation of Armenian churches and schools in Turkey today, 
he emphasized the freedom of the churches to hold religious services whenever 
they wish and the freedom of the schools to fashion the curriculum for the 
teaching of Armenian language and culture. He did not dwell on restrictions 
placed by the government over the free use of community property or over the 
conditions under which the schools operate.
In problem areas, one of the most serious of which is the training of future 
clergy, the Patriarch made it clear that he is engaged in good-faith 
negotiations with the government to find a mutually acceptable solution.
The patriarch is obviously determined to work with the authorities in Turkey 
in his efforts to maintain and elevate the religious and cultural status of 
the Armenian community there. We wish him every success in his most difficult 
endeavors, as the Patriarchate this month marks the 538th anniversary of its 
establishment in Istanbul.  [Editor]

The following is the verbatim transcript of the exclusive interview.

By Florence Avakian
Special to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator

Florence Avakian: Your Beatitude, what is the condition of the Armenian 
Church in Turkey today?
Patriarch Mesrob: In terms of the church life, it is one of the most 
vivacious Armenian communities in the world today. There is no other place 
where you would find so much popular pietism and so dynamic a church life in 
any other diasporan center in the world, neither in Armenia, nor in the 
Middle East. For example, during Lent, it's a seven-day occasion, not a 
Sunday-to-Sunday event. The churches are packed, full-house, all the way 
outside to the street gates. There are sermons, services on a daily basis, 
matins in the morning, vespers in the evening, and it's a communal period of 
renewal, with deep spirituality.
Nowhere else in the world do you have that tradition.
Even with the sad events we lived through at the turn of the century, the 
Istanbul Armenian community never broke with the church tradition, whereas 
the former Soviet Republic of Armenia had an abrupt cut with tradition. 
Hundreds of churches were closed, and only later were three or four of them 
left open in Yerevan. Church tradition there was frozen for a very long time. 
This is why we are having difficulty in present-day Armenia. In the free and 
independent state of Armenia today, the church needs decades for 
reevangelization, for recultivation of the spiritual values in the lives of 
the people, and a lot of catechistic work. The fact that the Echmiadzin 
monastery was open and Catholicos Vasken I was there and much loved by the 
people doesn't mean that there was the presence of the church in Armenia to 
the full extent.
And in the diaspora, because many communities were busy first with 
establishing themselves, then opening up churches and finding church 
leadership, there weren't the necessary academic institutions, seminaries, to 
provide these new diasporan dioceses with leadership. And people had to adapt 
their communal lives to these new environments. There was no longer the 
community church that we had in the past in the Middle East or in Armenia. 
They now had to drive for a half hour or an hour to the church, which was in 
the city.
Even today, in Istanbul, you shut the door of your house, cross the street 
and go into a church.
Q: How many Armenian churches are there in Istanbul, and do they all have 
priests? And how many Armenian churches outside of Istanbul?
A: There are 38 functioning churches and chapels being administered by 33 
parish councils. We have 26 married priests and six celibate priests. Outside 
of Istanbul, we have six functioning churches - in Diyarbakir, Kaiseri (in 
the region of Hatay), Antioch, Kirikhan in Antioch, one in Alexandretta 
(Iskenderun) and one in Musa Dagh. Then we have quite a few communities which 
don't have churches but are somewhat organized: Ankara, Sebastia (Sivas), 
Malatia, Mersin and other small communities. They keep a constant 
relationship with the Patriarchate. We send priests to them.
Q: How many Armenians are there in Istanbul, and how many outside of Istanbul 
in all these small communities?
A: In Istanbul the community is between 60,000 and 65,000. Outside of 
Istanbul, we have no way of counting. But in all of Turkey, the total is 
about 80,000 to 82,000.
Q: So in Sebastia, for example, how many Armenians would there be? And do 
they speak Armenian?
A: In Sebastia (Sivas) we have some 40 families right now. They speak 
Armenian using the Sebastia dialect.
Q: Do the Armenians of Istanbul speak Armenian? And are there Armenian 
language papers? Do they print in both Armenian and Turkish?
A: Not all speak Armenian, because some of them have come from the inner 
provinces where they don't have churches or schools. They speak a dialect or 
understand a dialect, but they wouldn't be fully conversant in Armenian. We, 
in Istanbul, have two daily Armenian newspapers: Marmara is about 50 years 
old, and Jamanak, 90 years old, the oldest Armenian newspaper still in 
publication in the world. The circulation is about 2,000 for each. Both print 
only in Armenian. We also have the three-year old Agos, which is a bilingual 
[Turkish and Armenian] weekly with a circulation of nearly 6,000.
Q: Why does Agos have a higher circulation?
A: Because more people read Turkish. There are many people who speak 
Armenian, or some dialect of it, but who can't read it.
Q: Your Beatitude, how many languages do you speak?
A: Fluently, apart from Armenian and Turkish, English is my third, like my 
mother tongue. Then academically, I can translate and use French, Italian and 
Hebrew; however, I am not so proficient in speaking them fluently.
Q: What is the status and condition of the Armenian schools in Turkey?
A: We have 19 Armenian day schools in Istanbul, and this year we have 3,800 
students. Fifteen of them are Armenian Orthodox schools, and four of them 
Armenian Catholic schools. But the Armenian Catholic community is less than 
2,000 people. I would say, 95 percent of the Armenian Catholic school 
students are from our community.
Pressures on the Armenian Church in Turkey
Q: What pressures are there on the Armenian Church in Turkey by the 
government?
A: How would you define pressure?
Q: What restrictions or efforts to curtail either the education, language or 
the freedom of the church are there?
A: We can open any of our churches at any time of the day. We can have any 
services we wish. We can have any type of Armenian or Turkish sermons or 
Bible studies on any subject that we want. There are no restrictions. In 
Turkey, I can openly say, there are no religious restrictions at all. Turks 
are religious people themselves. And we enjoy the same religious liberty as 
Muslims, Jews and Greeks. No ethnic or religious minority today in Turkey can 
say with a clear conscience, that there are any restrictions whatsoever. The 
only difficulty, and it isn't a direct curtailment of religious liberty, is 
how to train new priests. That's the main problem we have because we don't 
have an Armenian seminary in Istanbul.
Q: Are you able to send candidates out of the country to other seminaries, 
then bring them back to Turkey with no problem?
A: Yes, yes, with no problem. I can't say this is a restriction on the 
Armenian community, because it's the same for the Jews, Greeks and even the 
Muslims. The Muslim communities have no seminaries, but the universities have 
theological faculties where they have Islamic theology. There are not enough 
people who would enlist in a department of Christian theology in a country of 
70 million Turkish citizens. And we Christians altogether are less than one 
percent [of the population]. The Greeks are less than 3,000. There are some 
10,000 Syrian Orthodox, some 5,000 Catholics, some 5,000 Protestants. So, if 
you take all other non-Muslim Christian denominations, and put the Armenian 
Church on the other side of the scale, then we are still larger than all of 
them united. The Armenians are the largest non-Muslim community in Turkey, 
the number one church in that respect. None of these communities have enough 
vocations for the priesthood. There is no demand for the universities to open 
a Christian faculty of theology, because Turkey has secular laws and does not 
allow each religious community to open their own uncontrolled religious 
theological seminary. It's a Middle Eastern country, and you can have 
fanaticisms, like Islamic resurgence. If you do not allow Muslim communities 
to have their own private seminaries, then it wouldn't be right for the 
Christian communities to have their own seminaries because this would not be 
an equal opportunity before the law. And this is why we have problems. So 
what we have is informal Lsaran (auditorium) within the Patriarchate where, 
when we get vocations, we give spiritual formation training for two or three 
years. Then we send for shorter liturgical training these candidates who 
complete the formative training to places like Echmiadzin. They complete a 
year or two in these places, then we ordain them. If they have the will and 
capability to study further, then we send them to European schools, where 
they finish their education. It is costly this way.
I have just suggested to the Turkish Higher Institution Council in Ankara 
that maybe they should allow the Patriarchate the privilege of enrolling five 
to ten students a year in the university system for whom we could prepare an 
interdisciplinary program where they could take existing humanities courses 
from different university departments. Then we could teach Christian theology 
and Armenian distinctive doctrines, about two semesters worth, and they could 
receive a university degree for that. Since my election, I have been working 
with the academicians in order to solve this problem. Apart from that, we 
have no restrictions in daily religious life. I have been working as a 
minister of different ranks since 1977. During the last 22 years in Istanbul, 
since being ordained a deacon, I have never experienced any restriction in 
church ministry.
Pressures on Patriarchal Election
Q: You were elected by a very large vote margin. Why was the Turkish 
government so opposed to your election?
A: You cannot find even a single word in any radio, TV or newspaper report 
where the Turkish government opposed my candidacy. Just the opposite. All the 
mainline papers in Turkey defended my candidacy. It was the 
ultra-nationalists, two or three papers and one ultra-nationalist TV channel, 
which claimed that the government did not support my candidacy. The reality 
is that, among the 33 Armenian parish councils, three opposed my election. 
They were in the hands of some Armenian people using the real estate of those 
churches. They did not have a substantial parish community and were 
dwindling, small churches. The people in power in this group knew that a 
dynamic, younger patriarch would challenge what was happening in those 
parishes. They seemed to prefer someone older whom they could manipulate. 
They tried to use their connections with the governor of Istanbul to 
influence the government decision. And the government, instead of opposing my 
candidacy, thinking that the community was divided on this issue which was 
not true, wanted the preelection period to be longer, to be studied. It was 
the Turkish president himself who finally stated publicly that the Turkish 
government has no right to interfere in the democratic way in which the 
Armenian community has always elected their patriarchs, and that the Turkish 
government will ratify whoever is elected. This is what happened, and I was 
given a high state welcome two months later in Ankara by the President, the 
President of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister, the deputy Prime 
Minister and three state ministers in the National Assembly hall. The 50 
Armenian administrators from various districts in the community were all 
honored by the National Assembly.
Q: Has the government restricted the building of renovation of Armenian 
religious monuments?
A: We just renovated the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Kayseri 
(Gesaria), and in 2001 we're going to celebrate the 1,700-year [anniversary 
of the ] founding of the Church.
Q: But we have heard, read and seen pictures of the destruction of the 
Armenian monuments in Turkey. Are things like that taking place?
A: The churches which still belong to the Armenian church communities are in 
good shape. All Armenian churches in Istanbul are in excellent shape. In 
Anatolia, we just reconstructed the whole complex of St. Mary's Armenian 
Church on Musa Dagh. And the only church now which is in terrible shape is in 
Dikranagerd (Diyarbakir), St. Giragos Church.
The problem in Diyarbakir is that the municipality and the governor's office 
are bugging the Patriarchate to go on with the renovation. And it is the 
Armenian community which is not able to renovate. Why? Because after the Gulf 
War, many northern Iraqis migrated to Diyarbakir, and many Armenians didn't 
like the insecurity in the area. They left for Istanbul. So the parish 
belongings and the title deeds of buildings and real estate, the church, the 
monuments there are now in the hands of just 14 simple provincial people who 
don't know what to do with the property. They don't have the money to 
renovate it, and when you have only a community of 14, as opposed to at least 
1,000 or 1,500, the Patriarchate is now wondering whether it is worth 
renovating the place. It is a huge church with five altars, and the roof has 
collapsed. It is as large as St. Vartan Cathedral here. Just the mending of 
the roof will cost at least $200,000.
Q: How about Ani, Akhtamar?
A: According to Ottoman law and the laws of the Turkish Republic (which 
pertain not only to Armenians, but also Greeks, Jews and Muslims), if a 
religious temple does not have a community, it is not owned by that community 
any longer. 
Q: Then who protects it?
A: Well, in theory, the Department of Antiquities. But in reality, nobody. It 
just remains there. If the government cannot repair it, it falls into 
dilapidation.
Q: In the last few interviews I had with Charles Aznavour, who is Armenia's 
Ambassador to UNESCO, it is trying to save these monuments. Shouldn't that be 
the case?
A: Of course it should. As an Armenian person and a Turkish citizen, I demand 
that the Church of Akhtamar, the ruins of Ani, and any Middle Age monument be 
preserved. But Anatolia itself is a cradle of so many civilizations beginning 
in 3000 BC, and it depends on each government, depending on the particular 
political party in charge, which monuments they want to invest in. It is 
natural that the Turkish government will put money into the Seljuk and 
Ottoman Turkish monuments. They don't put the same emphasis on the Roman or 
Greek monuments. They do put money into world famous sites like Haghia 
Sophia, Ephesus, etc. Don't forget that these famous sites are also 
patronized by European governments and academic institutions.
Q: If UNESCO did the restoring of Ani or Akhtamar, it would not be Turkish 
money doing it. Is the Turkish government preventing this?
A: I don't think so, because I have just heard that there was a Turkish 
government resolution to renovate Akhtamar. I think one of the Turkish 
business associations is giving money for it. All I want is that it be done 
by hands who know Armenian art and architecture. I am not happy with some of 
the reconstruction I have witnessed in Ani, where some people have covered 
Armenian writings on the walls. They must be well versed in Armenian cultural 
monuments.
Armenian Intermarriage in Turkey
Q: In the United States, there is much intermarriage. What is the situation 
in Turkey, and what is the percentage of Armenian intermarriage?
A: It's a good question. It's a problem for us, but not for people who are 
not ethnocentric. We Armenians, like the Greeks, Jews, Arabs and others, are 
ethnocentric where we are a minority in a given place. When, on the other 
hand, you talk about the global village, the blue-jeans and coca-cola culture 
all over the globe, growing up in one place, educated in another, and working 
yet in another, you're talking about a very secularized attitude to life. 
Then when you talk about ethnic backgrounds and religious culture, it's like 
a sweet sound, like a nice accessory, similar to the toys hanging from a 
Christmas tree. This disturbs the conservatives in ethnic groups. As a 
religious figure, I'm expected to be conservative.
Q: Are you?
A: I would say I am orthodox in terms of religion and ethnicity, but not 
conservative, because one cannot face the challenges of new periods during 
one's tenure, if you keep yourself in a closed mental box. I do feel the pain 
when I see intermarriages. I see a challenge there for a sound Armenian 
Christian family.
Q: What percentage of the Armenian community in Turkey intermarries? And do 
they change their religion when this happens?
A: It depends, from year to year. Overall, it's about 30 to 40 percent. No, 
they do not change their religion. Turkey is an ultra-secular country. There 
are no religious laws to Islamic resurgence, and its politicization is a 
different matter.
Q: Intermarriage there could be with Greeks, Syrians, etc. What percentage 
intermarries with Turkish Muslims? And how are the children brought up?
A: Ninety percent of the intermarriages would be with Turkish Muslims. How 
the children are brought up depends on the parents. Because of the secular 
state, there is no need to change religions. The Muslim stays Muslim, and the 
Christian remains Christian. Whatever the religion of the father, the 
children are supposed to be adherents of that religion.
Q: It is mostly Armenian men or women who intermarry? And of those who 
intermarry, are they mostly born in Turkey? And are they mostly professional, 
or business people?
A: It's 50-50, men and women. And most are born in Turkey, and from all walks 
of life. Most of them are educated people.
Q: What are the main professions of the Armenians in Turkey?
A: A good portion of the community are artisans - jewelers, silversmiths. We 
have professors in the university, computer engineers, a well-educated 
community.
The Genocide
Q: The question of the Genocide is a passionate issue in the diaspora. What 
is the situation in Turkey? Can you discuss it, write about it, use the word 
"genocide"?

       (End of PART  I)

2) PUBLIC LECTURE

Organized by: The Armenian Mirror-Spectator
    
Wednesday, June  16, 1999, 7:30 P.M.

to be held at:  Armenian Library and Museum of America
       65 Main Street, Watertown, MA

         Gerard J. Libaridian
Historian and Senior Advisor to former 
President Levon Ter Petrossian

                           Presents his new book
  "The Challenge of Statehood, Armenian Political     Thinking Since 
Independence"

Published by Blue Crane Books of Cambridge, MA

               Admission Free
     
If you want a copy of the book, please write to The Armenian Mirror Spectator 
, 755 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, MA 02472, USA  or e-mail at 
armmirr@aol.com or fax to (617) 924-2887.

3)    Erebuni Chorus Plans Gala Concert 

WATERTOWN, Mass. - The Erebuni Armenian Chorus of Greater Boston, an 
independent choral group founded in 1994, has resumed rehearsals for its 1999 
program of performances which will include its fifth anniversary gala concert 
on Sunday, October 24. Rehearsals are in progress on Monday and Thursday 
evenings in the Mirak or Tarvezian Halls at the St. James Armenian Church 
here from 8 to 10 p.m. Interested singers are still welcome to audition on 
those evenings.
Under the direction of Maestro Artur Veranian, a distinguished award-winning 
musician from Armenia, the chorus has offered major concerts which have 
received accolades in the Greater Boston, Merrimack Valley and Worcester, as 
well as in Toronto and Montreal. Since its formation, the group has been 
invited to appear annually at the Massachusetts State House in Boston for the 
April 24 program in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
Maestro Veranian, upon his arrival in the United States, founded the Yerevan 
Women's Choir of Los Angeles. Since 1994 he has been the choirmaster of St. 
James Armenian Church as well as the founder, artistic director and conductor 
of the Erebuni Chorus. He arranges much of the music for the chorus which is 
known for its ability to perform a cappella.
In 1995 Veranian organized the St. James Armenian Church Junior Choir/Chorale 
for youth ranging in age from 5 to 16. In 1998 he founded the Ave Sol Center 
for the Arts also in Watertown, with the support and encouragement of the 
Armenian General Benevolent Union. The center offers beginner and advanced 
courses in various instruments including piano, violin, harp, guitar, kanon 
and voice. It also offers group classes in dance, solfege and creative music 
for children.
The fifth anniversary gala concert promises to be an unforgettable 
celebration with guest artists and instrumentalists performing with the 
chorus. Concert details will be announced soon. A reception will follow the 
concert, which will enable those attending to meet the guest artists and 
chorus members. 
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