Archbishop Sahak II Mashalian Enigmatic in the Extreme
Posted on January. 24. 2020
Each person is an enigma. You’re a puzzle not only to yourself but also to everyone else, and the great mystery of our time is how we penetrate this puzzle. Theodore Zeldin
By Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian
About 105 years ago, the Ottoman Turks slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians while still living in their own ancestral lands. The result amounted to a rape of an ancient nation of millennia. Some of the survivors were scattered all around the world and formed large diasporas on all six continents. Despite all the deprivation, dispossession, and distress of the displaced Armenians, the newly-elected Archbishop (Abp.) Sahak II Mashalian of Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople distanced himself from the Armenians outside the present-day Turkey during several interviews given to the Turkish media. He had even spoken negatively about them and had criticized the US Senate’s landmark recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Ingratiatingly, Abp. Sahak II had accepted the Armenian Genocide major denialist, the Republic of Turkey (the successor government of the Ottoman Empire), as the friendliest government to the minorities at the same time denouncing the Armenian Diaspora as being backward people who do not understand Islam, reality, etc. Moreover, he had expressed discontent over the US Senate’s Armenian Genocide resolution. In brief, he had acted bizarrely for being the spiritual and administrative leader of the Armenian community in Turkey. He proved himself enigmatic in the extreme right after being elected with a landslide victory in December of 2019.
One would wonder as to why a newly-elected patriarch of Turkey side with the regime that denies the genocide ever being taken place. Why should a leader speak kindly of Turkey when they threaten to commit another genocide? More importantly, why should a high-ranking clergyman alienate the Diaspora including most likely the people of Armenia and Artsakh? In sum, his behaviors during interviews by the Turkish media have sounded discordant to the ears of his fellow Armenians around the world. You should read an interesting column by Mr. Harut Sassounian in the California Courier (January 9, 2020 issue) for some of Abp. Sahak’s disturbing comments. The same column was also published in Mr. Appo Jabarian’s publication of USA Armenian Life Magazine of December 20-26, 2019 issue.
To crack the mystery, let us explore some plausible reasons other than Archbishop Mashalian has been brainwashed by President Erdogan’s headshrinkers:
Curry Favor. The most obvious reason is that Archbishop Mashalian may want to curry favor from President Erdogan’s government officials by speaking ill of its opposition. The Armenian Diaspora is certainly against Erdogan’s government for doing everything possible to deny the Genocide in international circles. In expressing anti-Armenian Diaspora and pro-Turkish sentiments, this would endear himself in the eyes of the Turkish Government officials who are apprehensive that one day Armenians will succeed in regaining their occupied lands supported by the international pro-Armenian community. Currying for personal favor is a selfish act and it should not be tolerated, but self interest is a compelling reason to side even with the devil.
Power Corrupts. Another possible reason for the Abp. Sahak II’s outlandish behavior is the mysterious workings of power. Now that he has been elected the leader of the Armenian community in Turkey, the power of his office may have corrupted him. Consequently, he may plan to use that power for personal gains. How soon a leader turns corrupt after getting in high office, one may ask? Nobody knows. Perhaps he had the predilection or predisposition to use personalized power to improve his personal gains even at the expense of his fellow Armenians. As Lord Acton once wrote: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. So, it would not be farfetched to suspect that Abp. Sahak II has already been intoxicated by the seduction of power he has recently acquired.
The Melting Pot. The Armenians of Turkey have been under the domination of the Ottoman Empire for 612 years and under the discriminatory régime of the Republic of Turkey for nearly 100 years. Like the Hemshen Armenians of the Hopa district of Artvin Province in northeast Turkey (on the Black Sea coast) had been subjected to cultural change, native remnant Armenians are also slowly going through the melting pot. In fact, Turkification has been the national mission and vision long before Ataturk announced “Turkey is for the Turks”. The Armenians in Turkey had to change their names, speak and write Turkish, and even convert their religion to be able to survive in a forced-assimilation environment. Abp. Sahak II was born and raised in Turkey. Therefore, he has been susceptible to assimilation as the Armenian Diaspora generations are going through all around the world. The fear for survival is a strong stimulus for one to change and adapt to the ways and thinking of the dominant culture.
Mashalian Machiavellism. Abp. Sahak II may have a mission and a vision with his own brand of strategy to accomplish them for the good of his people in that oppressive environment. For example, it has been reported that a great number of Armenian schools in the Istanbul area have been closed for either lack of funds or students. Since Turks are known to be very emotional people, they would be susceptible to praise, Abp. Sahak II may have some schemes in his bag of tricks. Therefore, by praising President Erdogan, he may wield some influence on him to later help him out in his community projects such as reopening schools, churches, and cultural clubs or providing necessary services to the Armenian people in Turkey. So, let us not draw negative conclusions about him yet.
Against a strong opposition from traditional Sunni Turks, Mustafa Kemal attempted to modernize Turkey. Out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, he created a powerful republic and gave the Turks a vast homeland stolen mainly from Western Armenia, Anatolian or Ionian Greece, Pontic Greece, and Assyrian lands. Ataturk was also an enigmatic character who was hated by the people living in the rural areas for tampering with the traditional way of life in Turkey. He was notably criticized for ending the caliphate. There was one or two attempts at his life, but when all the dust settled, he emerged as the heroic “father of the so-called democratic Turkey”. Let us hope and pray, Serpazan Sahak II will emerge as a real hero of the Armenian community of Turkey.
The Stockholm Syndrome. For over forty years ago, the term Stockholm Syndrome was coined to denote an unusual happening at the end of a bank siege in the capital city of Sweden. In 1973, four Swedish employees were taken hostage in the Kreditbanken by a career criminal. When after six days the stand-off ended, it became evident that the four victims had formed a “positive” relationship with their captor (namely, they accepted him and tried to protect him). Today, this concept is used in politics very frequently. For example, President Donald Trump, despite his verbal abuse of women as being “Fat”, “pig”, “dog”, “slob” and “disgusting animal” he has called women over the years, he still got their votes. As you know, politics makes strange bedfellows. It has been reported that those supporters had positive feelings toward Trump.
Another interesting example is during the presidential campaign in 2016, Donald Trump blasted former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham for criticizing his electability and temperament to be president, by saying “I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace, and I think you have one of the worst representatives of any representative in the United States, and I don’t think he should run, …”. On another occasion, Mr. Trump said: “Lindsey Graham a disgrace, nut job, one of the dumbest human beings”. Despite all the insults, hurts, how Lindsey Graham went from Trump skeptic to Trump sidekick, sycophant, and a servant can only be explained by the psychology of the Stockholm Syndrome.
In turn, to explain the effect of the Stockholm Syndrome is to resort to Freudian theory. Briefly, it suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim, and identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. In the event a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat. Research shows that the Stockholm Syndrome as a form of traumatic bonding which occurs when strong emotional ties develop between a bully (e.g., President Erdogan) and his supporters (e.g., Abp. Sahak II) who had been harassed, threatened, insulted or even intimidated by the very individuals who deny the killing of his own people, unarmed men, women and children.
The Canary in the Coalmine. In early 1970, I went to Antioch in the present-day Turkey’s Hatay Province, to claim our family house there. A cousin of mine had wanted me to buy an old traditional silver necklace. I was taken to a silversmith in the town who spoke some English. He did not hide that he was an Armenian. In our conversation, he said something to the effect that we, the Diaspora Armenians, had left their country to save themselves by leaving the rest of their brothers and sisters behind and in oblivion. He thought we had “abandoned” our homeland. Perhaps Abp. Sahak II is the canary in the coalmine: his blunt statements should serve us the warning, as a wake-up call that our remnant Armenians living mainly in Istanbul are begrudging the Diaspora for living and working in democratic countries while they are under the pressure of an oppressive regime. The geneal feeling is that they are the true patriots, and we are the deserters, betrayors of the Homeland.
This type of attitude may also materialize from envy or jalousie. I believe, Abp. Sahak is accusing the Diaspora for abandoning their own country for selfish purposes. In relating his sacrifices, he had once stated: “I gave the church my life, my youth and my masculinity. I do not have a family. For six years, I lived in a 20 meter square room in the Patriarchate.” We should all show him compassion, understanding, and appreciation for his sacrifices in order to lessen his resentment. Incidentally, per capita, we have more educators than any ethnic group in the USA, yet none has conducted a study, to my knowledge, to measure the attitudes of the Armenians living in Turkey to find out how they view themselves and the diaspora Armenians.
Combined Effects. All of the foregoing non-exhaustive factors may have contributed to the strange behaviors of Archbishop Sahak II toward the Armenian Diaspora and the critically important US Senate’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Just because of his office, we should not refrain from criticizing a high-ranking clergyman as long as it would be with understanding and compassion. In fact, it behooves us to ratchet his mouth shut by pointing out his blunders. He happens to be the spiritual leader of the Armenian community in Istanbul. As a spiritual leader he is looked upon as an opinion leader, and inevitably a role model for our present and future generations. We cannot afford to have a negative role model, a damp blanket over the Armenian Cause to go around indoctrinating the remnants of Western Armenia youth against the Diaspora and for the marginalization of the Genocide recognition by the US Senate. He should not be dismissed as another dysfunctional high-ranking clergyman. We ought to hold him responsible for disfranchising the Armenian Diaspora and for minimizing the criticality of the US Senate’s approval of the Armenian Genocide. Since negative remarks are made by someone of high credibility source, his disinformation (fake news) becomes readily institutionalized by the Genocide denialists as truth. As a result, we all suffer from the time and energy spent on defending our rightful position.
Frankly, it goes against one’s grain to see that so many people are working diligently toward the realization of the dream of the Armenian Cause, yet there comes one of our newly-minted spiritual leaders to discount the Diaspora and to throw a wet blanket over the US Senate’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Well, well. Now, we have two world famous enigmatic sphinxes: one is found at Giza in Egypt, and the other is located in Bolis.
Should Archbishop Sahak II continue to disparage the Diaspora and the importance of the recognition of the Genocide, he would be added to the list of delinquent, derelict, dysfunctional, so-called spiritual leaders of the Armenian Orthodox Church. He would be included in the infamous league of the accused high-ranking clergymen for serious wrongdoings, such as Catholicos Karekin II, Abp. Hovnan Derderian, and Abp. Yezras Nersisyan. His unorthodox behavior would most likely inspire many more scathing editorials to warn the Armenian community of an anti-Armenian, a Turkofile persona, a self-indulgent person who spends time avoiding work or other useful activity to advance the Armenian Cause. But, first let us give him a chance to shape up and to act patriotically for the sake of the Genocide survivors and their descendents.