Sahak Maşalyan, the new Armenian patriarch of Turkey, has said that the country’s Armenian community has problems while touching upon the decreasing Armenian population numbers.
“In the face of 12 births a year, 26 deaths are occurring. The population of our community is gradually decreasing. From now on, we will work for the legal framework of a higher roof that will make our community more well-organized. We are a valuable minority for this country. We are always said to be important for the state. As the loyal citizens of this country, we’ll continue to contribute to Turkey. But, when we have problems, we cannot say that we don’t have [them],” Maşalyan said during an interview to newspaper Milliyet published on Dec. 14.
Turkey’s Armenian community on Dec. 11 voted in Maşalyan as its new patriarch. Maşalyan won the election against his rival Aram Ateşyan, who had been serving as acting patriarch during the absence of Mesrob II.
The position of the Patriarch was vacant after Mesrob II passed away in March of this year. Mesrob Mutafyan was elected the 84th Armenian Patriarch in 1998. In 2008, the patriarchate announced that Mesrob II was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, Mesrob II withdrew from all his duties and public life, but formally remained the Patriarch.
Maşalyan told Milliyet that the patriarchate wants to create a “human resources unit” to determine the exact number of Armenians in the country. “We held an election [for the Patriarch position] but we do not know how many of our people are alive, how many voters we have. We have determined that there are those who have lost their lives but whose names are still on the voter lists. The population of minorities in Turkey would not exceed 80,000. If adequate care is not shown, we, as a color of this Turkey, will grow poor,” he said.
Maşalyan also touched upon the period since 2008 when Mesrob II became incapacitated and withdrew from his duties. “After the patriarch elections, the 12-year-long deprivation has ended. Every system has its indispensables. We had a patriarch but he was in a coma yet he was officially the patriarch…For 12 years, the community tried to be managed without a patriarch. This was a deprivation,” he said.
“You cannot even manage a shop without a head. The problems accumulated. There are some problems that an acting patriarch cannot solve. We have lost generations in these 12 years. There have been children who grew up without seeing a patriarch. Think of this: For 12 years, instead of the president, the head of the religious affairs directorate [Diyanet] or the interior minister, their deputies are trying to manage [the affairs].”
Maşalyan also said that Turkey has the least number of Christians among the Muslim countries. “Turkey accommodates the least number of Christians in the Islam geography. Losing cultural and linguistic wealth is also impoverishment. Just like we talk about how wrong Islamophobia is, we also need to talk about the Christianity-phobia,” he said.