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#161 Yervant1


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Posted 07 June 2017 - 10:42 AM

A1 Plus, Armenia
June 6 2017
The Children of Vank: Film about Islamized Armenians (video)
  • 14:19 | June 6,2017 | Social

“The Children of Vank” – a documentary about the Armenian Genocide – will be premiered in Yerevan on June 7. The documentary explores questions of belonging, memory and the long shadow of genocide haunting Islamized Armenians. The film is directed by Nezahat Gündoğan and Kazım Gündoğan who say they tried to approach the issue objectively.

“It is very important to show the Turkish population what happened and why happened. They have to confront the history. The story is presented by people. Everything is presented as it happened. The word ‘Genocide’ is also presented in the film,” said Nezahat Gündoğan.

An hour-long film tells the story about Armenian family that survived the Dersim Massacre in 1938. All members of the family were driven away and lived in different cultures and beliefs. They tell about the brutality and violence exerted against them and their relatives.

The film was shot in Vank village in the territory of Surb Karapet Monastery.


#162 Yervant1


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Posted 01 October 2017 - 07:42 AM

Armenpress News Agency , Armenia
September 29, 2017 Friday

'Armenia means homesickness to me' – Turkish girl's identity quest
leads to the other side of Ararat

YEREVAN, SEPTEMBER 29, ARMENPRESS. The Armenian Genocide committed by
the Ottoman Empire destroyed the lives and destinies of millions of
people. Thousands of Armenians were forced to spread all over the
world, while others were forced to go on with their lives already in
the Republic of Turkey – by hiding their origin and identity. On this
path, they also tried to distance their own generations from the
painful past and its heavy burden, by hiding from them the truth on
their roots, origin and identity.

Some of the representatives of these generations didn’t figure out
that they are the generations of Armenians, rather Turks or Kurds,
those Armenians who were somehow able to stay alive during the years
of the Armenian Genocide. There were people however, who after nearly
a century began digging in their own past to understand where they
come from and discover their true identity.

23 year old Dilara Atesh is one of them, this is her first visit to
Armenia- and our meeting with her took place in the Tsitsernakaberd
Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex in Yerevan. In the first years of
her conscious life the girl from Dersim couldn’t even imagine that she
has Armenian roots.

Many features of her family household life indicated that they differ
from others around, she said.

“In school, where we were being educated under the Sunni-Kemalist
system, I was having problems with identity. I was noticing that the
households of the other students’ families differed from ours. Already
from these years I started asking myself – why are we different?”,
Dilara told ARMENPRESS in the Yerevan Memorial.

She says her first discovery happened in high school. “I was 15-16
years old, I was living in Istanbul with my mother. My relatives came
to visit us from Bursa, including my great grandmother from my
mother’s side Fintoz and my uncles. An ordinary conversation led to
our roots. One of my uncles said that we are actually Armenians, and
that my great-grandmother had told him. This was news for me, and I
began thinking about it. Afterwards I began researching who I am”, she

With a bit surprise she mentions that although there were always many
mosques in their neighborhood, she has always been drawn to churches
since childhood. “There was an old Greek church near our house, one
day I went there. I felt something strange, it was some kind of
another feeling. Since then, I began wearing a cross. Although I’m not
baptized yet, but I am wearing one since those days. I was wearing it
at school also, which caused my schoolmates to call me names, such as
atheist, gavur [Turkish derogatory term meaning faithless]……..When I
told them that I am Armenian they began to defame me”, Dilara said.

It was during these years that Dilara clearly decided to study and
learn Armenian. “I began learning the alphabet with the help of a
friend. For almost one and a half week I tried to learn the letters
for day and night. I succeeded”, Dilara recalls with joy on her face,
mentioning that if you are doing something with love, then you will
definitely succeed.

Today, Dilara is a 2nd year student at the faculty of Armenian
language and literature of the Erciyes University in Kayseri, Turkey.
She had to miss the first classes of the new academic year because of
her visit to Armenia, however she says she has no regrets, mentioning
that she has learnt a lot more here.

After enrolling in the university she began to look into her lecturer
staff, and found out that she has three Azerbaijani lecturers. “There
are many soldiers in the faculty where I study, they are studying
Armenian. Of course, studying the language isn’t their main goal –
there is a law in Turkey whereby graduate soldiers are paid more. Many
of them study simply for the diploma, while others seek to join the
ranks of the national intelligence service”, she said.

Dilara’s interests for Armenia have already managed to get her into
trouble in the university – the rector’s office carried out a special
investigation into her activities and possible association with the
PKK. Nevertheless, this didn’t hold her back from visiting Armenia.

Speaking on her visit, Dilara stressed that the most emotional moment
for her was in Khor Virap – when she say Mount Ararat for the first
time. “When I saw Ararat on the way to Khor Virap I didn’t understand
what happened to me and tears began pouring down my eyes. When I came
out of the church and wanted to take a picture, I began to cry, it was
the first time that I saw Ararat from such a close distance. The
people around me approached me and began calming me down, of course it
lasted for around 1 and a half hours.

You see, my one foot was on the Turkish border, while the other on the
Armenian. I read a book once, Hrachya Kochar’s Karot [trnsl.
Homesickness/Longing]. I had the Turkish translation of that book in
my Dersim home. I was very impressed and moved by Arakel’s character.
He was looking at Ararat from the Soviet Armenia’s border and
reminiscing about his home: at that moment, he was on my mind all the
time”, Dilara says wiping tears from her eyes.

We entered the Armenian Genocide Museum: Dilara immediately approached
the picture of Aurora Mardiganian. She says many people liken her to
Aurora, and she herself sees similarities. She mentions what an
incredible story this girl has, after seeing and surviving so many
things, she settles in the USA and makes a film…..

The conversation reached to the present-day Turkey. “A single complete
state doesn’t exist in Turkey today – there are different peoples,
different ideas, different faiths. And no one likes one another – they
call the Circassians thieves, they call the Greeks liars, and
Armenians – traitors. They themselves create enemies. The system is
like this, they are implementing an assimilation policy”, she said.

She was upset to mention that the time has come to depart from Armenia.

“Initially I told myself – I’ll come here and see for one time, it
will be enough, but now I am thinking about returning here every year.
I hope that I will come here again for a longer time. In addition, I
am thinking about continuing my post-graduate studies here after
graduating the university. I hope my desire will become reality with

I feel calm here, but the fact of leaving saddens me. To some extent I
am from there, although my people are from here. Let’s put it this
way, I will go to the other side of Khor Virap”, Dilara said.

Before leaving the Armenian Genocide Museum she stopped at the
guestbook. After signing it for a long time, she concluded her
thoughts in Armenian – “Armenia means homesickness to me”.

Interview by Araks Kasyan

Photos by Tatev Duryan

#163 Yervant1


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Posted 22 February 2018 - 11:50 AM

Turkish genealogy database fascinates, frightens Turks
Fehim Tastekin February 21, 2018
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The government has made Turkey’s population registers public for the first time, identifying ethnic Armenians and other minorities, and excited Turks immediately crashed the system.
Image by Hugo Goodridge/Al-Monitor

During the days when Turkey still hoped to join the European Union, its people were becoming willing to question their ethnic and religious ancestry. Since then, the country has reverted to a time when people were disgraced and denigrated, with the government’s blessings, as “crypto-Armenians."

Hrant Dink was the editor of the Armenian-language newspaper Agos in 2004 when he wrote that Sabiha Gokcen, the first female military pilot of the Turkish Republic, was of Armenian parentage. Because of this and other articles he penned, Dink found himself the subject of investigation by the Justice Ministry. He was assassinated in 2007 for reasons thought to be related to his strong support for Armenian causes.

Dink's story illustrates why population registers in Turkey were kept secret until recently. The topic has always been a sensitive issue for the state. The confidentiality of data that identifies people's lineage was considered a national security issue.

There were two main reasons for all this secrecy: to conceal that scores of Armenians, Syriacs, Greeks and Jews had converted to Islam, and to avoid any debate about "Turkishness.” Its definition, “anyone who is attached to the Turkish state as a citizen," was enshrined in the constitution as part of the philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic and its first president.

For a long time, the official policy was that Turks formed a cohesive ethnic identity in Turkey. But less than two weeks ago, on Feb. 8, population registers were officially opened to the public via an online genealogy database. The system crashed quickly under the demand. Some people who had always boasted of their "pure" Turkish ancestry were shocked to learn they actually had other ethnic and religious roots.

On the darker side, comments such as “Crypto-Armenians, Greek and Jews in the country will now be exposed” and “Traitors will finally learn their lineage” became commonplace on social media.

Genealogy has always been a popular topic of conversation in Turkish society, but also a tool of social and political division. Families often acknowledged in private that their lineage was Armenian or that a long-dead relative was a convert to Islam, but those conversations were kept secret. Being a convert in Turkey carried a stigma that could not be erased.

Ethnic Armenian columnist Hayko Bagdat told Al-Monitor, “During the 1915 genocide, along with mass conversions, there were also thousands of children in exile. Those who could reach foreign missionaries were spirited abroad. Some were grabbed by roaming gangs during their escape and made into sex slaves and laborers. The society is not yet ready to deal with this reality. Imagine that a man who had served as the director of religious affairs of this country [Lutfi Dogan] was the brother of someone who was the Armenian patriarch [Sinozk Kalustyan].”

He went on, “Kalustyan, who returned to Turkey from Beirut in 1961, was remembered as a saint in the Turkish Armenian Patriarchate and as someone who had served in the most difficult times after 1915. During the genocide, his mother sent the children away and converted to Islam. Later she married [a man called] Dogan, who was of high social standing, and had two girls and a boy. The boy was Lutfi Dogan. When the mother, who was then with the Nationalist Action Party branch in Malatya province, died, his uncle came in priest garb from Beirut to attend the funeral. Nobody could say anything.”

The mindset of society was starkly clear when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once complained, “We are accused of being Jews, Armenians or Greeks.”

There were those who feared that data obtained from population registers could be used to stigmatize the famous and used for political lynching campaigns. After the database went down, they spoke out against its restoration. One of them was Tayfun Atay, a columnist for Turkey’s daily Cumhuriyet.

“I was advised in a friendly manner not to admit that I am a Georgian. That was the lightest form of pressure. What about those who risk learning they are of Armenian ancestry or a convert? Just think: You think you are a red-blooded Turk but turn out to be a pure-blood Armenian. Imagine the societal repercussions,” he wrote Feb. 12.

As the debate raged, the system suddenly came back online Feb. 14.

Many Turks are questioning the timing of making this information available.

“If they had done this a few years ago when we were [becoming more tolerant], conspiracy theories would not have been as strong as today, when the state behaves as though we are in a struggle for existence. This is how Turkey reinvigorates the spirit of the Independence War” to inspire patriotism and pro-government thinking, journalist Serdar Korucu told Al-Monitor.

Those who oppose the system fear that a society already in a morass of racism will sink into it even further. Others, however, say that though reality might be shocking, couldn’t it be useful in eradicating racism?

“Yes, definitely. Everyone in Turkey is curious about their ancestry. That is a fact,” Korucu responded. “Why is facing reality so hard?" He said of the Sabiha Gokcen story, "That turned the country upside down."

Korucu believes data confidentiality is essential to prevent population registers from being misused as instruments of political defamation, but warned, “The state organs already know everything about us."

In 2013, Agos reported that the government was secretly coding minorities in population registers: Greeks were 1, Armenians were 2 and Jews were 3. The covert classification of religious minorities was met with wide outrage.

"What's worse is these facts emerge when it is time for a young man for report to military conscription. In short, there are those who know us better than we do. So why not tell us about it?” Korucu asked.

“Population registers are dangerous. That is why Hrant Dink was murdered," the columnist Bagdat noted. "The director of the Genocide Museum in Yerevan told a delegation from Turkey [about] the three most-discussed issues by those who were able to escape. Armenians first tell us about the Muslims who helped them escape the genocide, then the Armenians who betrayed them and only then do they narrate their catastrophe. If we make public the names of Armenians who were forced to convert to Islam, their grandchildren will be in danger today.” 

He added, “This is how the situation is after 100 years: The Turkish state asked us to accept being Turks. Fine, let me say I am a Turk. Will I be given a public job? No. When I say, ‘No, I am an Armenian,’ I am treated as a terrorist. Nothing has changed. Opening of the population registers means nothing to me. How can we forget Yusuf Halacoglu, the director of the Historical Society of Turkey in 2007, who had bluntly threatened, ‘Don’t make me angry. I have a list of converts I can reveal down to their streets and homes.’ These words, by this man who later became a politician in the Nationalist Action Party, were a threat to Turkish politics.”

Is the information in the now publicly accessible registers complete?

Another ethnic Armenian, journalist Yervant Ozuzun, has doubts. ”We don’t know if anything changed. We know ethnic origins were marked with different codes in the register. We as Armenians were code No. 2. Has this changed? I don’t think so."

Government officials aren't saying one way or the other. 

Fehim Tastekin is a Turkish journalist and a columnist for Turkey Pulse who previously wrote for Radikal and Hurriyet. He has also been the host of the weekly program "SINIRSIZ," on IMC TV. As an analyst, Tastekin specializes in Turkish foreign policy and Caucasus, Middle East and EU affairs. He is the author of “Suriye: Yikil Git, Diren Kal,” “Rojava: Kurtlerin Zamani” and “Karanlık Coktugunde - ISID.” Tastekin is founding editor of the Agency Caucasus. On Twitter: @fehimtastekin

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#164 Yervant1


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Posted 02 March 2018 - 11:06 AM

The Independent, UK
March 1 2018
Erdogan has released the genealogy of thousands of Turks – but what is his motive?

In 2003, the Armenian newspaper Agos, whose editor Hrant Dink was assassinated outside his office in 2007, reported that the Turkish government was secretly coding minorities in registers


by Robert Fisk

Only in Turkey is the identity of a citizen a matter of national security. That’s why the population registry in Ankara was until now a closed book, its details a state secret. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s definition of “Turkishness” was “anyone who is attached to the Turkish state as a citizen”. Turks came from a clear ethnic identity, untainted by racial minorities or doubtful lineage. That’s one reason why the Nazis lavished praise on Ataturk’s republic, their newspapers mourning his death in black-bordered front pages.

After all, as Hitler was to ask in several newspaper interviews – and to his generals before he invaded Poland – who now remembers the Armenians? Ataturk had supposedly inherited an Armenian-free Turkey, just as Hitler intended to present his followers with a Jew-free Europe. The Armenian genocide of 1915 – denied by the Turkish government today – destroyed a million and a half Christian Ottoman citizens in the first industrial holocaust of the 20th century. Almost the entire Armenian community had been liquidated. Or had it?

For the stunned reaction of Turks to the sudden and unexpected opening of population registers on an online genealogy database three weeks ago was so immediate and so vast that the system crashed within hours. Rather a lot of Turks, it turned out, were actually Armenians – or part-Armenians – or even partly Greek or Jewish. And across the mountains of eastern Anatolia – and around the cities of Istanbul, Izmir, Erzurum, Van and Gaziantep and along the haunted death convoy routes to Syria, ancient ghosts climbed out of century-old graves to reassert their Armenian presence in Turkish history. For the registry proved that many of them – through their families – were still alive.

Until now, for at least two decades – at least before Sultan Erdogan’s post-coup autocracy – thousands of Turks spoke freely, albeit in private, about their ancestry. They knew that amid the mass slaughter and rape of the Armenians, many Christian families sought sanctuary in conversion to Islam, while tens of thousands of young Armenian women were given in marriage to Turkish or Kurdish Muslim men. Their children grew up as Muslims and regarded themselves as Turks but often knew that they were half-Armenian. Tens of thousands of Armenian orphans were placed in Muslim schools, forced to speak Turkish and change their names. One of the largest schools was in Beirut, organised for a time by one of Turkey’s leading feminists who wrote of her experience and was later to die in America.

The Armenian diaspora – the 11 million Armenians living outside Turkey or Armenia itself, and who trace their ancestry back to the survivors of the 1915 genocide – were the first to understand the significance of the newly-opened population registers, noting that some information dated back to the early 1800s. Up to four million Turkish citizens were reported to have sought access to their family tree within 48 hours – which is why the system crashed – and in the days since it was re-established, according to retired statistician and Armenian demographer George Aghjayan, eight million Turks have requested their pedigrees. That’s 10 per cent of the entire Turkish population.

The documents can be vague. And they are not complete. There are examples of known Armenian ancestors listed as Muslim without reference to their origin. The names shown for those known to have converted during the 1915 genocide are Muslim names – but the Christian names of their parents are also shown. There will always be discrepancies and unknown details. Many Ottoman registrars did not give accurate details of birthdays: Turkish officials might travel to a village once a month and simply list its newborn under the date of their visit. There are still centenarians alive in Lebanon and Syria, for example, who all possess the same birth date, whatever their origin.

So why has Turkey released these files now? Erdogan is quoted to have once complained that Turks were “accused of being Jews, Armenians or Greeks”. Tayfun Atay, a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, wrote that he was “advised in a friendly matter not to admit that I am a Georgian…What about those who risk learning that they are of Armenian ancestry or a convert? Just think: you think you are a red-blooded Turk but turn out to be a pure-blood Armenian.”

Journalist Serdar Korucu told Al-Monitor that “if they had done this a few years ago when we were [becoming more tolerant], conspiracy theories would not have been as strong as today, when the state believes we are in a struggle for existence. This is how Turkey reinvigorates the spirit of the Independence War” – to inspire patriotism and pro-government thinking.

In 2003, the Armenian newspaper Agos, whose editor Hrant Dink was assassinated outside his office in 2007, reported that the Turkish government was secretly coding minorities in registers: Greeks were one, according to the paper. Armenians were two. Jews were three. Korucu recalled how the director of the Turkish Historical Society threatened minorities in 2007. “Don’t make me angry. I have a list of converts I can reveal down to their streets and homes.” The director later became a politician in the rightist Nationalist Action Party.


#165 Yervant1


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Posted 23 June 2018 - 08:47 AM

The Independent, UK
June 21 2018
In the land of the massacres, the very last Armenians have been finally been found
Avedis Hadjian, author of “Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey”, sometimes appears out of breath, exhausted by his attempts to find his people’s ancestors and descendants
Robert Fisk
Following journalist and writer Avedis Hadjian across the mountains of eastern Turkey, through the snows and winds and those high villages which clasp to the rock of what was western Armenia before the Armenian genocide, is a bit like roaming the lands of Ninevah if Isis had won. Imagine the converted Christians clinging to their land under the clothes of Islam if Isis had not been destroyed, the Yezidi sex slaves sold into marriage but still passing on to their future children and grandchildren the fragments of a past life and an ancient language. For what was discovered by Hadjian in the fastness of Mush and Bitlis and Urfa and Erzerum and Marash was the bottom of the pond of history: the very last Armenians to survive in the land of massacre.
So deep is the pond that the author of this newly published book – “Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey” – sometimes appears out of breath, exhausted by his attempts to find his people’s ancestors and descendants, sometimes bravely failing because they will not talk or because they have just died. Perhaps it is because the light in the depths of the pond is of such cathedral-like gloom that historians have largely ignored Hadjian’s work; scarcely a review of this book has been published in Europe or America. Like the Armenia of the killing fields, it is as if it has never been.
In truth, we in the West have known of these “secret Armenians” for at least a decade, ever since Fethiye Cetin wrote of her Armenian-Turkish grandmother – inevitably the old lady was given a Muslim funeral for she was, as a Turk, a Muslim – and we all remember Hrant Dink, assassinated outside his newspaper office in Istanbul in 2007 because he remembered the Armenian genocide rather too much. But what Hadjian has done is to climb the tired old roads to the ancient villages of an unknown Turkey – to Garin, Van and Cilicia, where the survivors of the survivors, so to speak, of the first genocide of the twentieth century still exist.
They speak a kind of Armenian, those who remember the language of their race, and one of them even writes down the sounds of Arabic in Armenian script – he is quoting the Koran – which he does not understand. There may be up to two million of these souls, their identity as complex as their nationality; for who knows what identity is. Your religion? Your race? Your customs? Geography? A Turkish girl climbing a Christian Armenian holy mountain, Mount Maruta, frightened because her bag has flipped open to reveal an embroidered Armenian cross? Hadjian includes a coloured photograph of the girl in her long skirt, but with her light brown hair uncovered, the ghost of a lost people.
I’m still not quite sure why Hadjian, an Aleppo-born Armenian who has been an Argentinian Armenian since the age of two, traipsed up so many mountainsides. The Palestinians may dream of returning to lost lands, but the comparatively wealthy, cosmopolitan Armenian diaspora – most of the 11 million Armenians who are alive, descendants of those who survived the genocide of one and a half million of their people at the hands of the Turks (and of the Kurds, let us remember) – have no desire to re-settle in the old killing fields. For the places of massacre are well known to those forlorn people who still live there but who sometimes have only the memory of grandparents speaking in “a strange language” to hint at their family history.
In most cases, of course, it was the women who survived. And we know why. They were raped by Turks or Kurds or sold into marriage to Turks or Kurds or Arabs. The men were butchered with knives, roped together and thrown into rivers, tossed into gorges. So there is the mist of ancient dishonour over womanhood, although Hadjian does not speak of this in so many words. He finds a Muslim Imam of Armenian origin whose grandfather was killed in the genocide but whose uncle, a seminarian, converted to Islam. The imam speaks Kurdish, Turkish and Arabic but no Armenian, although he knows his history and claims he was not forcibly converted.
“The descendants of the people who massacred our family are still around,” he tells Hadjian. “We know them. We know the descendants of the people who murdered our grandfather Sahin. We lived among them. I would see them every day. We would see a dishonourable man like the one who killed Sahin every day. And yet, there was nothing we could do.”
Yet although he understood no Armenian, the imam knew the name of Sahin’s killer: Divan Erat.
At Argat, Hadjian visits the Ermeni Deresi, the “Armenians Gorge”, which is what it sounds like: the crevasse in which Armenians had been thrown to their deaths in 1915. There are no bones left. But there are memories of the dead, and Ibrahim, as he walks up the gorge, recalls what his parents said of his great-grandmother Zara, who was five when “she saw bandits decapitate her parents and her seven siblings”. Zara then fled through the mountains – a five-year old child, remember – to the village of Bahro, “seeing huge piles of corpses along the way.” Yet the descendants of the dead are kaleidoscopic. One family Hadjian meets are Armenian by ethnicity, Assyrian Orthodox Christians or Sunni Muslims by religion, Turkish by citizenship. Like the onion, he says, “peeling it to the end leaves you with nothing, for it is the aggregate of layers that makes the whole.”
Hadjian even finds one village, high in the sierras, where the enmity between Armenian-origin villagers and their neighbours continued into the 1960s with occasional shooting battles, even killings, completing a genocide that lasted – for them – half a century.
Hadjian has no final conclusions for his readers in this book, save for the observation that the survivors – including the frightened young Armenian girl on Mount Maruta – are not alone.
I’m not sure what that means. Survival keeps history alive, but I’m not sure it guarantees life in the future.

#166 Yervant1


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Posted 28 June 2018 - 10:53 AM

The Irish Times
June 27 2018
The ‘hidden’ Armenians of Turkey In the land of the fortresses: why they may still feel compelled to conceal their identity
Avedis Hadjian



A dramatisation recalling the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007. Several thousand protesters in Ankara’s Kizilay Square chanted “We are all Hrant Dink” and “Murderer state will account for this”. Photograph: Tumay Berkin/ Basin Foto Ajansi/ LightRocket via Getty Images


Two issues had been dogging me as I began my travels in Turkey in search of “secret Armenians”, those that had concealed their original identity behind Turkish names and an allegiance to Islam, sometimes genuine, but often feigned too. They were descendants of survivors of the 1915 Genocide. Most of them still lived in the historical Armenian regions that had later been conquered by the Ottomans, in Asia Minor (or Anatolia, as is commonly called nowadays). That was Turkey’s interior and, in some places, their reluctance to be exposed as Armenians was warranted.

My first concern was timeliness. As I began to write Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey, I felt that, by the time the book was published, these Armenians would have freely revealed themselves as such, in a newly tolerant society. Courageous voices in Turkey had been challenging official dogma for the last few years. Hrant Dink had been toppling taboos for a decade from the pages of Agos, the Armenian newspaper of Istanbul he was the publisher of until January 19th, 2007, when a nationalist Turk gunned him down outside his office.

But the collective response to his assassination had been stunning. A crowd took to the streets of Istanbul with signs that read, “We are all Armenian, we are all Hrant”. Surely not all of them were Armenian. When a few years later I asked the staff at Agos how it was possible to print all those signs less than 24 hours after the murder – if only to put to rest conspiracy theories that had been swirling until then – they told me that a Turkish printer of progressive views had undertaken the job on his own initiative. And yes: most in the 100,000-strong crowd that took part in Hrant Dink’s funeral procession were non-Armenians. They were Turks, Kurds and people of all ethnicities, religions and walks of life in Turkey.

That was a watershed. It led to a major change of perception especially among Diaspora Armenians, mostly descendants of Genocide survivors, for many of whom the name of Turk or Turkey was unmentionable. The outpouring of sympathy and grief over Dink’s assassination was auspicious for a possible dialogue between Armenians and Turks, at least at the grassroots level.

My second concern was about the very people I wanted to write about. Who would qualify as an Armenian after a century of genocide, mixed ancestry, conversion to Islam, and assimilation? And who was I to judge? At a conference on Islamicised Armenians in Istanbul in 2013, Ishkhan Chiftjian, an academic based in Leipzig, referred to this dilemma with an analogy to another poignant ignominy in the very long aftermath of the 1915 massacres: were the ruins of Armenian churches all over Turkey still Armenian? Could an Armenian church turned into a mosque still be considered Armenian, or a church?

image.jpgThe Armenian Genocide: victims of the Ottoman empire hanging on tripods. Photograph: Culture Club/Getty Images

An unrelated conversation a few months later with Alina Aghajanian, a microbiologist from Los Angeles, offered me a clue. There were, it dawned on me, no pure species or specimens in nature. No rose in the world is true to the archetype of the rose.

That is also true of identity. No man is the man, and no Armenian is the Armenian. Identity is a variable quality. And people may acquire or shed identities over a lifetime.

Indeed, in some regions of Turkey, where Armenians feel safer under the many guises of national, ethnic or religious dissimulation, original and acquired identities may coexist like the layers of an onion. An extended Armenian clan I became acquainted with, originally from the province of Adiyaman in southeast Turkey but scattered all over the country, seemed to encompass all the possible strands of political and religious identity present today in Turkey.

Among them, there were members of the Apostolic Armenian Church. Others, in a town that used to be part of the ancient kingdom of Commagene, were affiliated with the Assyrian Orthodox Church, with cousins who were observant Sunni Muslims. The clan included at least one high-ranking official in the HDP, the Turkish acronym for the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party; there were also sympathisers of the ruling AKP, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, of Islamist and right-wing tendency. One in the family died in combat against the Turkish army fighting for the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a guerrilla group. A relative of his in this endogamous family – with marriage among cousins, a common practice in Anatolia – was said to be a member of Hizbullah, a far-right, Sunni Islamist armed group in Turkey (not to be confused with the homonymous Shia militant group of Southern Lebanon), even though I was unable to confirm this. Armenian and Turkish, as well as Kurmancî Kurdish and Dimi or Zazaki, are all spoken in this clan.

The genocide was the immediate cause for the multiplicity of religious and political currents in this clan. Yet their province had been the quintessential land of dissimulation since antiquity. In the 1st century BC, king Antiochus of Commagene had added the epithet of philoromaios philhellene (“friend of the Romans” and “friend of the Greeks”) to his title, while he claimed descent from the royal houses of Armenia and Persia for himself.

Arsen (not his real name), a member of this clan, accompanied me to see the grandchild of Ramazan, the Kurdish man that had saved his grandfather, Minas, during the genocide.

What was already a horrific situation in 1915 turned into a harrowing nightmare for Minas: Turkish soldiers forced him to strangle his younger brother, Garabed, who was 10 at the time, while they were wandering by the Euphrates in the days following the massacres in their hometown of Olbi, Adiyaman, the only survivors in their immediate family. Minas threw Garabed’s body in the Euphrates and fled, maddened. He then found the protection of Ramazan in a nearby town, which the onslaught of history has reduced to a village, now almost a hamlet, under the shadow of the unassailable ruins of a Commagenian fortress.

image.jpgPeople hold portraits of Armenian intellectuals, who were detained and deported in 1915, during a rally in Istanbul in April to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the 1915 mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire

But this fortress was fundamentally different from the Turkish military bases to be found all over the country, as I wrote in Secret Nation:

Sometimes those bases are separated by only a short distance. Deep inland, these fortified outposts are not against any external enemy. Unlike the citadels and fortresses from antiquity and the Middle Ages that dot the land, the contemporary ones do not protect it from invaders, but assert the power of the state, by the state and for the state, but not necessarily for the people. These bases are potentially or actually against the people.

Our talk with the grandchild of Ramazan turned to the question of why there was still a sense of latent violence in Turkey. As the conversation progressed it became clear that the Turkish state had the capacity to withstand bloodletting on a massive scale. Moreover, the grandchild of Ramazan suggested, it was the Turkish state’s demonstrated capacity to unleash unsparing violence on its own population – Armenians yesterday, Kurds today – that held the country together. Turkey, he implied, was bound by fear.

Only then I understood why some hidden Armenians I met in villages of historical Armenia – now the scene of Kurds’ protracted guerrilla warfare and Turks’ counterinsurgency – would caution me not to take it all at face value when I expressed my incredulous joy at the freedom to discuss the genocide and history openly in Turkey.

Then I read a historical document that helped me understand the anxiety I noticed among those Armenians in the liberal atmosphere of Turkey in the first half of this decade. In August 1908, Mihrdat Noradoungian, an Armenian intellectual from Constantinople, described a sense of collective perplexity at the freedoms that the Young Turk revolution had brought about only a month earlier:

Though during 15 years a lot of blood has been spilled, there was the fear of greater bloodshed which did not happen. One should know that this [bloodshed] has become a natural law and that natural laws are unavoidable. Whatever did not happen in the beginning could still happen. Whatever the revolution did not do, the counterrevolution will be able to do […]

Perhaps it was too awkward to confess, but it was the abnormal absence of violence what was making the Islamicised and hidden Armenians so uneasy at the time I was travelling undisturbed in Turkey. They felt as Armenians and others did in 1908, as Noradoungian noted in his premonitory article. It could not last then, and it did not. It could not last a century later, and it did not either.

Secret Nation by Avedis Hadjian is published by IB Tauris, at £25


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