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03ISTANBUL399 2003-03-26 09:58:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Istanbul
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000399 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/24/2013

Classified By: Consul General David Arnett for reasons 1.5 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: In a March 13 meeting, Istanbul Armenian
Patriarch Mesrob II blamed Catholicos Karekin II and Armenian
President Robert Kocharian for increasing tensions within the
Armenian Church and criticized the Armenian Diaspora for
focusing exclusively on "genocide" recognition and for
ignoring Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. Mesrob admitted
that the Armenian community in Turkey continues to experience
problems regarding their right to own property, but dismissed
it as an issue for international concern. Mesrob is also
hopeful that the new single-party Justice and Development
Party (AKP) government will carry through on some of its
early rhetoric regarding the treatment of minority religious
communities. End Summary.

Armenian Orthodox Church


2. (C) Placing the blame squarely on Etchmiadzin and Yerevan,
Mesrob told poloff that tensions within the Armenian Orthodox
Church are on the rise. Although personal relationships
between the Catholicos and Patriarchs are good, Mesrob
claimed that Catholicos Karekin II's efforts to assert his
authority have caused friction with the others (Note: In
addition to Catholicos Karekin II in Etchmiadzin (Armenia),
there are three other hierarchical Sees in the Church: the
Catholicos of Cilicia (Lebanon), and the Patriarchs of
Jerusalem and Constantinople. End Note). Mesrob lamented
that Karekin's election to the Catholicosate in 1999 had not
been democratic, and, in fact, had been orchestrated by
Armenian President Robert Kocharian. According to Mesrob,
Armenians worldwide are increasingly frustrated with the
Armenian government and their Church. Clearly disappointed
that Kocharian was reelected March 5, Mesrob doubted whether
such an outcome would have been possible without massive
election fraud. Poloff told Mesrob that both the OSCE and
the State Department had publicly criticized the conduct of
the elections and called on the Armenian government to
investigate the irregularities.

Armenians in Turkey


3. (C) As for his own community, Mesrob told poloff that his
best estimates indicate that there are between 50,000 and
60,000 Orthodox Armenians in Turkey (Note: There are a few
thousand Armenian Catholics as well. End Note). The Turkish
government estimated that there are as many as 80,000, but
Mesrob believes this number is exaggerated and may include
many Armenians who have since emigrated. Mesrob reports that
the population is fairly stable; there are even 100 or so new
converts each year. More interesting, Mesrob offered, is the
continuous stream of visitors claiming Armenian descent and
varying levels of adherence to Church traditions who come to
see him from all over Turkey. When he himself travels to
other parts of Turkey, particularly the eastern regions,
Mesrob said that he is besieged by such people. Mesrob
deliberately refrains from encouraging such visits and
exchanges in order to avoid the appearance of proselytization
and to preserve good relations with the Turkish government.
Asked to hazard a guess as to their numbers, Mesrob
speculated that there might be a million or more such people
who accept their Armenian roots. (Comment: Poloff has heard
similar estimates from other sources as well. End Comment).

4. (C) With regard to ongoing government restrictions on the
activities and rights of the local Armenian community, Mesrob
admitted that in spite of recent improvements in legislation,
such problems continue. Shortly before meeting with poloff,
for example, Mesrob had met with local Armenians to decide
whether to take legal and/or political measures in response
to a decision to revoke a property deed for one of the
Armenian high schools. (Note: Although Mesrob did not
mention the school by name, a sympathetic March 23 article in
daily Radikal suggests that he may have been referring to the
Surp Hac Armenian School in Uskudar. End Note). Despite
these difficulties, however, Mesrob was emphatic in
emphasizing that he does not believe that this should be a
subject of international concern. In his view, U.S. and
European pressure on the Turkish government has been
counterproductive. "Would it make sense for Turkey to lobby
the U.S. on behalf of Native Americans?" he asked
rhetorically. Mesrob acknowledged that each religious
minority deals with these issues differently. The Greeks, he
said, favor a more confrontational approach because they feel
that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeos' political stature
gives them more influence. Meanwhile, the Jews rely heavily
on the political and financial support of a few powerful
patrons within their community (including Jak Kamhi (Profilo)
and Isak Alaton (Alarko)).

Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation


5. (C) Mesrob told poloff that the real obstacle to
Turkish-Armenian reconciliation lies with the Armenian
Diaspora. According to him, most older Turks acknowledge
that the so-called "genocide" occurred, but are unable to
discuss it openly. The Diaspora, however, is single-mindedly
focused on recognition of the "genocide" and has no interest
in Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. Mesrob also questioned
Armenian President Kocharian's commitment to reconciliation,
suggesting that he too may be overly influenced by the
Diaspora. Mesrob told poloff that his own position is
particularly delicate. He is seen by many in the Diaspora as
an apologist for Turkey and by many in Turkey as an agent of
Armenia. As long as he can avoid feeding these
misimpressions, Mesrob assured poloff that he is personally
prepared to do whatever he can to support reconciliation; he
is even ready to travel to Azerbaijan for meetings with the
Chief Mufti, an offer he claimed he recently made to the
General Director for Religious Affairs Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz
(Note: Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz retired on March 17 "under
pressure" from the AK government. End Note).

Turkish Politics


6. (C) Asked whether he expected to see movement on these
issues from the new Justice and Development Party (AKP)
government, Mesrob remarked that they have been saying some
of the right things, but that he has not seen many tangible
results so far. He did note that this single-party
government may be in a stronger position to effect change
than the previous coalition government. Ties between the
Patriarchate and the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and
Motherland Party (ANAP) coalition partners in the 1999-2002
Ecevit government had been good, but the third coalition
partner, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), had refused to
even meet with him. Mesrob dismissed speculation that
Islamic-leaning AKP may "use" the minority religious
communities as an excuse and cover for loosening state
control over religion to advance their "hidden"
socio-religious agenda. Mesrob also doubted whether AKP
would be able to undertake any bold initiatives regarding
either its minority populations or relations with Armenia
until after the Iraq situation is resolved.



7. (C) Much of what Mesrob said about the differences between
the minority religious communities tracks closely with what
we have observed. Of the three major communities, the Greeks
(numbering only a few thousand) have been the quickest (and
often only) ones to ask for our help in addressing property
and religious training issues. The Jewish community
(numbering about 22,000) explicitly prefers a
non-confrontational style, which they claim has enabled them
to meet the needs of their community. Perhaps because they
are faced with such sensitive and unresolved issues (i.e.,
"genocide" and Turkish-Armenian reconciliation) and because
they are caught between Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora, on
the one hand, and the Turkish government and a nationalist
Turkish population, on the other hand, the Armenian community
here has been careful to deal with their local problems
themselves without appealing for international assistance.
At the same time, the three communities have cordial
relations and have cooperated on a number of issues. Most
recently, all three community leaders openly supported
Turkey's EU aspirations. Mesrob claims that they had planned
to make a joint trip to European capitals before Copenhagen,
but in the end he made the trip alone (Note: His initiative
was widely reported and well-received in the Turkish media.
End Note).