Obituary: Patriarch Karekin Kazanjian

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Patriarch Karekin II was for nearly eight years the spiritual leader of Turkey's much-depleted Armenian community. Now numbering some 60,000, it is the largest Christian minority in the country.

Although the Armenian Patriarchate was founded in the city back in 1461, the Istanbul area is the last remaining place in today's Turkey with an Armenian population. The executions and forced expulsions of the entire Armenian population of Anatolia between 1894 and 1915 saw the deaths of more than one million Armenians. This legacy still hangs heavily over the Patriarchate in the Kumkapi district of Istanbul, from where Karekin led his flock.

As patriarch, he had the difficult task of negotiating with the Turkish authorities over the church's rights while at the same time having to seek protection from them against attacks on the church by Islamic extremists. The government maintains strict restrictions on the church's activities, as it does of all Christian churches. It closed the Holy Cross Armenian seminary in 1971 and refuses to allow the rebuilding of church premises. In 1995 it banned lay delegates from participating in elections for a new Catholicos in Armenia. Last December it ordered the Patriarchate to disband its council of lay advisers. Meanwhile, Islamic extremists have attacked the Patriarchate and a number of churches in the past few years. Such a predicament called for firmness and diplomacy.

Karekin was born Bedros Kazanjian in Istanbul in 1927, and received his elementary education at Armenian schools in the city before being sent to Jerusalem at the age of 13 to prepare for religious ministry at St James's seminary. In 1945 he was ordained deacon and in 1950 a celibate priest. While preparing for ordination he taught in a number of schools.

At the invitation of the then Patriarch, Karekin Khacha-dourian, he returned to Istanbul in December 1951 to help establish a seminary for the Patriarchate. While plans were taking shape he taught at two Armenian secondary schools and served as a teacher and principal at the Patriarchate's clergy school. The Holy Cross Seminary was finally opened in Uskudar in January 1954 and Karekin became dean. From 1957 to 1959 he served as an NCO in the Turkish armed forces before being sent to the United States to become priest of an Armenian parish in Washington DC.

In November 1966 he was consecrated bishop by the head of the worldwide Armenian Church, Catholicos Vazgen, and was appointed Patriarchal Legate to the Far East. Later, he was elected Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Australia and New Zealand. In 1980, he returned to Jerusalem and served as the Grand Sacristan of the Patriarchate, the second in command, also serving as administrator of St James's Seminary. Karekin was elected 83rd Patriarch of Istanbul in September 1990 on the death of Patriarch Shnork Kaloustian.

While much of his ministry was spent in the diaspora away from the restrictive conditions of his homeland, Karekin faced his greatest challenges on returning home as patriarch. But he successfully administered the affairs of the Patriarchate in Istanbul under very difficult circumstances. During his tenure, he was able to develop working relations with the Turkish government and defend, as much as possible, the rights of the Armenian community in Turkey. While not a charismatic figure, he was liked and respected by the local Armenian community.

Bedros Kazanjian (Patriarch Karekin), priest: born Istanbul 18 May 1927; ordained deacon 1945, priest 1950; Primate of Australia and New Zealand 1966-81; Grand Sacristan, Jerusalem 1981-90; 83rd Patriarch of Istanbul 1990-98; died Istanbul 10 March 1998.