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#141 Yervant1


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Posted 02 June 2015 - 10:51 AM


June 1, 2015

Nezahat Eleftos ® chats with her daughter Leyla at her home in
Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern Turkey, April 20,
2015. For nearly four decades, Eleftos tried to guard her grandmother
Zarife's secret that she too had been born a Christian Armenian, not
a Muslim Kurd like all her neighbors. (photo by REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)

Al Monitor - The saga of Armenians who were compelled to live as
Muslims goes back to 1915 massacres. Armenian children were adopted by
Muslim families, women married Muslim men and some families converted
to Islam to save their lives.

These Armenians, who for a century were forced to conceal their
identities, are trying to return to their roots. This activity is more
prevalent among Anatolian Armenians, particularly those from Dersim.

It hasn't caught on among Istanbul Armenians.

Miran Pirgic Gultekin is one of them. Gultekin explained to Al-Monitor
how his family members saved themselves from the 1915 genocide by
adopting Alevi identities. But not long after, they were caught up
in the government's 1937 Dersim massacres to put down the uprising
of Dersim tribes. Some of his family members were killed; others were
exiled. Those who returned after 10 years came back with Muslim names.

Abraham had become Ibrahim. Since no records could be found, they
were issued IDs with the new names they chose .

As they lived in predominantly Alevi Dersim, they, too, were recognized
as Alevis. But the family tried to keep its Christian culture alive
inside the house.

"When I was going to elementary school, I knew I was an Armenian but
I didn't know what it meant, that we have our distinct culture and
religion," Gultekin said. "At Easter time, my mother used to give us
painted eggs but wouldn't tell us this was a Christian ritual. All of
us had Muslim names. My family used to listen to Radio Yerevan. But
some in the village heard about all this and complained. I began to
think of myself as Armenian when I was 18 years old. I had Armenian
friends but nothing to read about my people. I didn't know about 1915.

The murder of journalist Hrant Dink affected me and when I was 48, I
decided to return to my to my origins. I couldn't do it before. There
was pressure and fear. With my 70-year old father-in-law, my son and
another relative we went to be baptized. Then I changed my name from
Selahattin to Miran Pirgic."

There have been many Anatolian Armenians who have resumed their
authentic identities in group baptisms. The last such baptism occurred
May 9 at Surp Istenapos Church of Yesilkoy-Istanbul. A dozen Armenians
from Dersim were first given religious guidance and then baptized.

Miran Manukyan, a reporter for the Armenian newspaper Agos, covered
the event and told Al-Monitor that this was a ceremony different
than the usual rites. Generally, of course, children are baptized,
but this time the baptisms were for adults who had not practiced
their religion until adulthood.

"I asked them one by one and they all gave the same answer: We are
now free," Manukyan said.

One of the participants was 30-year-old Yonca Gultekin of Dersim,
who took the name of Lia. "Because my father was a civil servant,
my parents concealed their Christian religion," she told Al-Monitor.

"When they declared they were from Dersim, they were automatically
accepted to be Alevis. We went to church without letting neighbors
and friends notice. My father was usually teaching in villages. We
tried to hide my father's Christianity, especially from his civil
servant colleagues. We ended that secrecy once we came to Istanbul,
where we went to church comfortably. After I finished university,
I gathered my cousins to discuss the idea of baptism."

They then went to the church and discussed it with a senior cleric.

"We attended six-month religious course and then were baptized,"
she said. "I will now change my identity and write Christian in
the column for religion. My 63-year-old mother will also alter her
identity and inscribe Christian on her ID card."

Islamized Armenians was a taboo subject in Turkey until recently.

People simply didn't want to talk about it. But symposiums organized
by the Hrant Dink Foundation (established in memory of the slain
Armenian journalist) and other civil society organizations and frequent
references to the matter by intellectuals were instrumental in easing
the taboo.

The children of the Islamized Armenians also played a major role in
overcoming the taboo.

Ayse Nevin Yildiz Tahincioglu, an instructor at Hacettepe University,
spoke in a lecture about how a man branded his Armenian wife with
a hot iron, marking her cross signs to ensure that she will remain
a Muslim. Tahincioglu surprised the audience, saying: "These people
who inflicted that brutality on a woman were [in] my family."

Another notable is journalist Ahmet Abakay. In his book "Last Words
of Hoshana," he writes about his mother, who, until she was 82,
had not revealed that she was an Armenian. His mother called him a
day before her death and revealed that she was an Armenian. Abakay's
relatives were furious at him for giving away their secret after the
book was published.

What's apparent is that the Anatolian Armenians are getting organized,
and many more are likely to emerge to recover their authentic

Leading the effort is the Association of Dersim Armenians, which
Gultekin set up.

Armenians of Malatya, Mus, Batman (Sason), Sivas and Hatay have
also formed associations. Adiyaman and Diyarbakir will follow and
help Anatolian Armenians known as Alevis, Kurds, Arabs and Muslim
until now to assume their old identities. These associations are not
only concerned with baptisms. Through their contacts with Armenia
and Armenian NGOs in other provinces of Turkey, they are aiming to
integrate Armenian youths and teach them their culture.


#142 Yervant1


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Posted 03 July 2015 - 09:14 AM


Anna Muradyan

14:35, July 3, 2015

In a weird twist of fate, it was the onset of Alzheimer's that got
Mrs. Ogyut, well past ninety, to recount fragments of her Armenian
childhood; something she never mentioned to her family.

Slipping in and out of consciousness, Mrs. Ogyut repeatedly recounted
one particular image from her lost childhood.

"They were in a tunnel and fleeing from the Kurds and soldiers who
were firing at them. They were killing the parents," Evrim Hikmet,
the granddaughter of Mrs. Ogyut tells Hetq. "The she cries and the
soldiers, hearing her cries, come and take her."

This is the story that Mrs. Ogyut recounted before she died. She
would also wake up and say that she saw her mother's silhouette on
the window.

Mrs. Ogyut was raised by a wealthy Turkish family in Nishan Tash,
the most fashionable neighborhoods of Istanbul.

She never went to school or learnt to read and write. She was
married off to a lowly servant who, according to the granddaughter,
was also illiterate.

Evrim says that her family reckoned grandma was adopted by this family
but thought that they just didn't treat the orphan correctly. Mrs.

Ogyut had three children; one was Evrim's mother.

The issue of my grandma's illiteracy and that she was married to
someone outside the family circle always raised questions for us,"
says Evrim. "I know that my grandmother didn't wish to marry my
grandfather because she never met him before the marriage."

The names of Mrs. Ogyut's parents - Fatimah and Abdullah - in her
passport, also is proof that she was an orphan. Evrim says it's a
known fact that these were the names used during the early years of
the Turkish Republic and Ottoman Empire, when the names of a child's
parents weren't known.

"You can even see this is the case by watching today's Turkish TV
soap operas," Evrim says.

Mrs. Ogyut was one of Armenian orphans of the Genocide who were taken
and given to the care of Turkish families. Another bit of evidence
to back this up is the fact that her mother was born in Erzeroum.

However, Mrs. Ogyut's passport states that she was born in Manisa,
a large town near Izmir. Evrim confesses that the family lacks any
credible information regarding where Mrs. Ogyut was born.

Evrim says that the ramblings of her grandmother were taken as credible
because when she recounted the episode of fleeing the soldiers in the
tunnel, the old woman said they fired at her feet. It turns out that
the woman had a deep scar on one of her heels. She also harbored a
hatred for the Kurds all her life.

"When I was a child and asked her about the wound, she would say
that someone fired a gun at her foot whole playing a game. She never
remembered the details," says Evrim.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Ogyut also talked about the gold and silver
items she once owned but which were seized by her aunt's family.

An interesting aspect of her life is that Mrs. Ogyut traveled to
Japan with a cousin of her adopted family who was an opera singer. She
spent five years in Japan and learnt the language.

Evrim says that they have no dealings with the family that adopted her
grandmother. She adds, however, that her mother told her that when
she was twenty or so the opera singer once visited them and that an
argument broke out between her grandma and the singer.

"After the singer left they never saw each other again. My mom couldn't
understand anything because they were taking Japanese," says Evrim.

Evrim says that her mother wanted to find out more about that wealthy
family but was unable to. The family broke all ties with their adopted
girl after she got married. Evrim says they know that the family still
lives in Istanbul and owns a number of businesses, including hospitals.

Thus ends Evrim's story about her Armenian roots - a story that has
gotten her family to think about their own identity.

"When I told my brother the story he joked saying last year I was
a Turk and this year, an Armenian," Evrim says. "However we never
thought she wasn't a Turk until she fell ill."

Estimates say 63,000 Armenian orphans shared the fate of Mrs. Ogyut.

This is the conclusion of Turkologist Ruben Melkonyan who cites
this number in a 1921 report prepared by the Armenian Patriarchate
of Constantinople. It corresponds to the number that appears in an
August 30, 1921 report presented to the League of Nations, according
to which 90,819 Armenian children and woman were freed from Muslim
households but that an equal number remains in Muslim families.

Evrim says that she isn't looking for information about her
grandmother's past and that it isn't important whether she has
Armenian, Turkish or other roots. What is important is to know about
diversity because being different, in a country like Turkey, is par
for the course.

"All of us have built this country together. And it's normal to have
different roots in a country like this. What's bad is that we have
been forced to neglect that diversity an only know about the Turkish
side," says Evrim.

She says that her family has lived as a Turkish family, which in
Turkey is an advantage. She adds that while not being nationalistic,
her family has, in essence, benefited from this advantage.

"But that advantage has derived from tragic events and we have
enjoyed that advantage without knowing that it's built on the sorrow
of others," she says.

Evrim is a musicologist and teaches music at Istanbul's Mimar Sinan
University. Currently, she's researching the music of Iraqi migrants.

She grew up in the Istanbul neighborhood of BeÅ~_iktaÅ~_, where
calling anyone Armenian was considered a slur, an outcast.

"I now believe it was all a lie. It not only refers to my family but
to any others, and we are all living in that denial," Evrim says. "I
believe that we must first be open about this and discuss it publicly
in order to know our roots and past."


#143 Yervant1


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Posted 16 July 2015 - 08:50 AM


TUNCELI, TURKEY - They dropped their language and religion to survive
after the 1915 genocide, but close to 100 years later, Turkey's
"hidden Armenians" want to take pride in their identity.

Some genocide survivors adopted Islam and blended in with the Kurds
in eastern Turkey's Dersim Mountains to avoid further persecution.

Several generations down the road, the town of Tunceli hosted a
landmark ceremony Wednesday for Genocide Remembrance Day, something
that has only ever happened in Istanbul and the large city of

The massacre and deportation of Ottoman Armenians during World War I,
which Armenians claim left around 1.5 million dead, is described by
many countries as genocide, though the Turkish government continues
to reject the term.

Speaking in front of the ruins of Ergen church -- one of the few
remnants of Christian Armenian heritage in the region -- Miran Pirginc
Gultekin, president of the Dersim Armenian Association, explained it
is still rare to declare oneself openly as Armenian in Turkey.

"We decided that we had to get back to our true nature, that this
way of living was not satisfactory, that it was not fair to live with
another's identity and another's faith," he said.

Despite converting to Alevism, a heterodox sect of Islam, and taking
Turkish names, the ethnic Armenians who stayed on their ancestral land
suffered from continued discrimination and the elders often struggle
to summon their memories.

"My mother told me how her family was deported. She was a baby at the
time and her mother considered drowning her in despair," said Tahire
Aslanpencesi, an octogenarian from the village of Danaburan. "My
mother used to say all the misery that came after would have been
avoided had her mother drowned her.".

After converting to Islam, many of the "crypto-Armenians" said they
still face unfair treatment: Their land has been confiscated, the
men humiliated with "circumcision checks" in the army and some have
been tortured.

Hidir Boztas' grandfather converted to Islam, gave his son a Turkish
name and the clan intermarried with a Kurdish community in Alanyazi.

"We feel Armenian nonetheless and in any case the others always remind
us of where we come from. No matter how many of their daughters we
marry, and how many of ours we give them, they will continue to call
us Armenians," he said.

The Armenian community shared the Kurds' suffering when the regime
cracked down on Kurdish rebellions, from the 1938 revolt to the
insurrection started by the PKK group in 1984.

For a long time, only those who had left the ancestral homestead
dared to make their Armenian roots known.

Human rights campaigners gathered Wednesday in downtown Istanbul
carrying portraits of genocide victims.

They were only a handful, but they argued that the simple fact
that such an event was authorized and groups such as theirs invited
proved that attitudes were changing. "Ten years ago, such an event
was impossible in Turkey," said Benjamin Abtan," a European activist.



#144 Yervant1


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Posted 09 August 2015 - 09:00 AM

Turkish author: majority of people in Anatolia have Armenian grandmothers

August 8, 2015 - 14:28 AMT

PanARMENIAN.Net - Correspondent at Turkish-based Armenian newspaper
Agos, Vercihan ZiflioÄ?lu authored a book about Turkey's hidden
Armenians, titled `Story of Armenians of Purgatory,' Ermenihaber.am
reports, citing demokrathaber.net

The author analyzes the struggle of Armenians who were forced to
conceal their identity and live in a Muslim society for already 100

ZiflioÄ?lu presents the chronology of the most important developments
for Crypto-Armenians, including Hrant Dink's murder on January 19,
2007, the publishing of Fethiye Çetin's book `My grandmother,'
announcements in Agos newspaper by people who were looking for their
families, the restoration and reopening of the Armenian churches of
Van, Kayseri, Diyarbakir and other events.

ZiflioÄ?lu also reminds about the Armenian women, who were abducted at
the beginning of the last century. Emphasizing the fact that mainly
Kurds live in areas previously inhabited by Armenians, the author
writes: `Four out of five people we met in Anatolia had Armenian



#145 Yervant1


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Posted 12 August 2015 - 07:20 AM


By Raffi Bedrosyan on August 11, 2015 in Featured, Headline, News //

Some came by chartered bus from Diyarbakir, Sasun, and Urfa, others
by public transport from Dersim through Tbilisi. A few came by rail
from Artvin in the Hamshen region via Batumi, others drove their own
cars from Hopa. The destination for all? Yerevan, Armenia.

Following the success of the historic first trip of 50 "hidden"
Islamicized Armenians from Diyarbakir, Turkey, to Armenia last August
to re-discover their roots, culture, and language, the project was
repeated again this year in an expanded fashion

The trip, now formally named Project REBIRTH: VERADZNOUNT, was part
of a wide range of activities supporting Islamicized Armenians. This
year, 80 selected Islamicized Armenians were brought from Turkey to
the homeland, to participate in the Ari-Tun event organized by the
Ministry of Diaspora.

After several months of planning, fundraising, organizing, and
negotiating with government officials and hotels in Armenia, the trip
was set for the first week of August.

The participants were met in Yerevan by the organizer of the tour,
who flew in from Toronto, Canada. The timing of the trip was made to
coincide with the Pan-Armenian Games, which brought more than 6,200
Armenian athletes from all over the world to Armenia, including 450
from Turkey, representing the historic Armenian homeland teams from
Van, Bitlis, Mush, Dersim, Diyarbakir, and Musa Ler.

This year, more emphasis was placed on having the younger generation
participate in the trip; as a result, several children of those who
came last year were now part of the group. The age of the participants
ranged from 11 to 87. The Islamicized Armenians come from all
walks of life; they are teachers, lawyers, artists, writers, poets,
high school and university students, business people, housewives,
and retired pensioners. They may have different perspectives about
almost every subject, but they all share one common goal: to search
for and find their Armenian roots. Their life stories and quest for
their roots are as different as themselves.

They are all descendants of the "living victims" of the 1915 Armenian
Genocide--orphaned Armenian boys and girls who were captured,
protected, hidden, or bought by Turks and Kurds, and who became
Islamicized, Turkified and Kurdified.

As the grandchildren of these assimilated orphans, they became aware
of their Armenian roots during different stages of their lives. Some
found out about their Armenian origins at an early age, while others
discovered it in their adulthood, on their parents' or grandparents'

During this trip, they eagerly participated in Armenian-language
classes every morning, followed by expeditions to significant historic
sites during the day, and cultural events in the evenings.

Interestingly, the participants from the Hamshen region already spoke
a dialect of Armenian, and could easily understand or be understood
by Armenians in the street.

The full-house concert and the activities of the group were followed
widely by the Armenian media and TV.

One of the Armenian cultural events the entire group attended was
a concert I gave, performing the works of Komitas, Khatchaturian,
Alan Hovhaness, and Edgar Hovanissian. The full-house concert and the
activities of the group were followed widely by the Armenian media
and TV.

As a result of this trip, the participants will no longer be hidden
Armenians when they return to Turkey, as their real identities have
been revealed at considerable risk to themselves and their families.

They may be discriminated against by their employers, lose their jobs
if working in the public sector, lose their Muslim friends, neighbors,
and even the rest of their families who prefer to remain Muslim Turks
or Kurds. But they are all willing to take the risk.

Throughout the trip, the expectations, short- and long-term goals of
Project Rebirth and the needs of the hidden Armenians were discussed.

As courageous people willing to take the risk of revealing
their Armenian identities, they need support mechanisms related to
Armenian-language instruction, increased interaction and exchanges with
cultural groups to and from Armenia, and technical and professional
help related to restoration projects for abandoned or destroyed
Armenian churches, cemeteries, and other monuments in their cities
and villages.

More importantly, on a personal level, they may need financial, legal,
and social services help for family and employment problems triggered
from revealing their Armenian identities.

The Project Rebirth organizers hope to engender a willingness in these
new Armenians to learn the Armenian language and history, organize
among themselves the planning and implementation of the restoration of
Armenian churches and buildings, arrange regular social and cultural
activities to encourage others to "come out," and more critically,
pass along their desire to return to their Armenian roots to their
children and the next generation.

Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan (L), Raffi Bedrosyan ®

The goals and objectives of Project Rebirth are now well defined, and
a few of the short-term goals have already been achieved. One example
was the agreement negotiated between the organizer and the Ministry of
Diaspora last year to have two university students from Diyarbakir,
who had participated in last years' trip, continue their studies
in Armenia with free tuition. After a year of intensive Armenian
language instruction in Yerevan University, we watched with great
pride and satisfaction as one of these students acted as a guide and
translator to the participants of this year's trip.

The ultimate goal of Project Rebirth is nothing short of creating
an Armenian presence again on historic Armenian lands within Turkey,
in terms of people, culture, and architecture.

Although there is support and appreciation by certain influential
leaders in Armenia, the significance and potential of Project
Rebirth is not yet fully understood by some diasporan leaders and
organizations. It is our hope that with increased understanding
of the new realities related to the hidden Armenians in Turkey,
Armenians within the diaspora and Armenia will be able to undo some
of the damages of the past through Project Rebirth.

The trip was organized and sponsored by Raffi Bedrosyan, with
additional contributions from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation,
AGBU Asbeds, and a few individuals.


#146 Yervant1


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Posted 15 August 2015 - 08:59 AM


August 14, 2015

I had heard a lot about Armenians who became Islamized as a result
of the Genocide, but I had never met any of them. Little did I know
that I would meet one of them someday and in Armenia.

I met Ibrahim during the 6th Pan-Armenian Games. A mutual acquaintance
of ours told me that he was of Armenian descent, and I decided to meet
him. Ibrahim was moved when he found out that I wanted to talk to him,
especially when he found out that I was from Artsakh.

Ibrahim lives in Mush. He is married with three children. As he told
me, he found out that he was Armenian a couple of years ago. "We have
always lived as Kurds. My parents never told me that we were Armenian.

Perhaps they were afraid, or they kept silent for another reason.

But the elder Kurds of Mush know very well the origin and history of
each person in Mush. By chance I found out from them that my parents
are Armenian, and when I asked my parents, they didn't deny it,"
Ibrahim said, adding that he has also found out that his ancestors
left Sasun for Mush. To survive the Genocide, they converted to Islam
and lived as Kurds.

Ibrahim speaks Kurdish and only knows some words in Armenian that he
has learned on his own. He had a translator, who was from Istanbul
and knew Armenian very well.

"My grandfather's name was Sako Sargsyan. I was shocked when I found
out about my origin. I couldn't believe it. I decided to search for
Armenians and learn Armenian," said Ibrahim.

Ibrahim was told that there was a Taron-Mush Armenian Union in Mush and
he joined the Union, which is called for bringing the local Armenians
together, helping them preserve their identity and providing those
lacking knowledge of Armenian and Armenian history with the opportunity
to learn the history and language. Ibrahim learned Armenian for the
first time and now knows a couple of words and sentences in Armenian.

The Taron-Mush Union participated in the Pan-Armenian Games with a
football team, and Ibrahim was a member of the team. "True, the team
didn't win, but I'm happy that I visited Armenia for the first time
ever. I visited the temple in Garni and Geghard Monastery, which left
a great impression on me. It's hard for me to hide my feelings. That's
our history, and it's also my history and the history of people like
me. I didn't know about it, and I just discovered it for myself..."

Ibrahim says there are many Islamized and crypto Armenians in Mush
and that he knows most of them. Most of them have discovered their
Armenian identity just recently because their forefathers hadn't
told them about it. "It's very hard to preserve the Armenian identity
among the Kurds," said Ibrahim.

Ibrahim has two paternal uncles, and his elder uncle is 125 years old.

"When I found out that I was Armenian, I asked my uncle, and he told
me that he had witnessed the Genocide and remembered how the Turks
would kill, rob and destroy everything," said Ibrahim and added:
"Perhaps such Armenians were saved by a miracle, but you can't blame
them. They were forced to live as crypto Armenians."

Ibrahim didn't talk a lot. It appeared that he was nervous because
he wasn't able to communicate in Armenian. He said nothing will ever
separate him from Armenia and that next time he would come with his
wife and children.

Hermine Avagyan



#147 Yervant1


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Posted 15 August 2015 - 09:12 AM


about 1 hour ago 14/08/15

Diyarbakir Armenians baptized at Etchmiadzin in August 2014 (Photo
by Gulisor Akkum/The Armenian Weekly)



Along with the many high points experienced during the historic
Armenia trip of the 80 hidden Armenians from Turkey, there were also
a few low points. The highs included warm welcomes by both Armenian
government officials and common people on the street, emotional
triumphs at Sardarabad, feelings of grief at the Genocide Museum,
new-found friendships, accomplishments like spelling the alphabet
during Armenian language classes, or simply being able to order food
in Armenian at a restaurant. However, I want to point out a few of
the lows our hidden Armenians encountered--all related to baptism.

Among the members of our group, two girls from Dersim and a young man
from Diyarbakir wished to be baptized. Unfortunately, at the end of
the day, their wish did not come true.

In recent days, Armenian media--both in the Diaspora and in
Armenia--ran headline news and opinion pieces on this topic. Various
individuals gave press conferences; people opined on TV; statements
were released by the church, government, Diaspora organizations,
and political parties; while heated debates on social media argued
both for and against the decision to refuse the baptisms.

As the organizer of the group whose three members wished to be
baptized, and as the designated godfather or "gnkahayr" for these
baptisms, I would like to provide a first-hand account of what really
happened, why it happened, and what we should do to avoid such scandals
in the future.

One may recall that during the trip I organized last year for the
50 hidden Armenians from Diyarbakir to Armenia, we witnessed the
baptisms of a man and a woman in Etchmiadzin. The man was a teacher
in a public school in Diyarbakir. This year, he brought his son to
Armenia to extend the process of returning to Armenian roots to the
next generation. The woman baptized last year, on the other hand,
had an even more ominous challenge. Her husband, a devout Moslem
Kurd, had forbidden her from taking such a step. She nevertheless
decided to convert to Christianity to keep her promise to her hidden
Armenian father, who had asked her to become a Christian Armenian at
his deathbed. I am also pleased to report that she and her husband
are still happily married, and are now bravely facing the challenge
of how to raise their child together--whether as an Armenian, a Kurd,
a Christian, or a Moslem.

Therefore, this year when three members of our group approached me
with their wish to be baptized, I thought--perhaps naively--that
again I can go ahead and arrange the baptisms for the day we visit
Etchmiadzin. The two Dersimtsi girls would take the names Anahit
and Nairi, and the Dikranagerdtsi man from Diyarbakir would become
Madteos Paramaz. One of the Dersim girls had a brother who was already
baptized last year. The Dikranagerdsi man was a distant relative of
the family involved in the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Church
in Diyarbakir.

Participants of this year's trip at Dzidzernagapert

Unfortunately, the baptisms could neither happen in Echmiadzin, nor
in the Khor Virab Church the next day, nor in Surp Hovhannes Church in
Yerevan the following day. The explanations given to us were as varied
as the clerics involved. Some said we had to apply in writing months
in advance; then, the applications would be reviewed by a religious
council before permission could be considered. Others said we needed
to bring a letter from the Istanbul Acting Patriarch Archbisop Aram
Atesyan granting permission for the baptisms. One cleric suggested
the candidates must visit Armenia at least three times before being
eligible. An even more preposterous suggestion came from a cleric who
wondered why we don't go to churches in Turkey since those wishing to
be baptized are all from Turkey, instead of causing headaches for him
and his superiors. I didn't bother telling him that although there
are churches in Istanbul, no churches are left in historic Armenia
except the one we reconstructed in Diyarbakir. Overall, these clerics
seemed to be unprepared as to how to deal with the baptism requests
and had to make endless calls to their superiors for a decision,
which either did not come or was ultimately negative. In any case,
they would still lead us on, that by tomorrow, there may be a positive
decision. So, each day--with our hopes high, after buying the required
towels, crosses, and headscarves for the girls--we would face renewed
disappointment. Even the intervention of the Minister of Diaspora
Hranush Hakobyan did not achieve the desired outcome.

An even more upsetting development was the zeal of critics to use this
incident to start misguided attacks. Rather than criticize the decision
itself or the persons who made the decision, we have individuals
appearing at press conferences and on TV, or writing articles in
newspapers, attacking the Armenian Church, the Ministry of Diaspora,
and the government in general. One organization called Republic of
Western Armenia even went as far as issuing fictitious citizenship
and identification cards with the baptized names printed on them,
displaying the cards with a fictitious flag, name, and photo at press
conferences and on TV. It seems these people forget or don't care that
the two Dersim girls and the Diyarbakir man will return to Turkey,
will continue living among Moslem Turks and Kurds, with their names
paraded on a fictitious republic's fake citizenship cards. Do they
have the right to jeopardize the lives of these already endangered
persons? Or for that matter, do any of these opinion makers, who pass
along all sorts of judgment in the media, care about the emotions
of these three young people who had made such a personal decision as
changing their faith, their religion?

The hidden Armenians have no control over their ethnic roots,
their genetic identity--they were given no choice. They were born
as Armenians, even though the fact that they are Armenians was not
revealed to them until later in life. Some of them have now made a
conscious decision to return to their ethnic roots. But changing
religion by converting to Christianity is an entirely different
matter. No one is born with a religion--Christian or Moslem. Religion
is not a genetic identity but a faith acquired by personal choice and
through family. If someone has made the decision to become Christian
through baptism, there should be no individual, no institution, or
no force to prevent that from happening--especially in the case of
hidden Armenians, who are taking a risk by revealing their Armenian
identity, and by converting to Christianity. If the reason for these
increasingly difficult barriers that prevent baptisms is misgivings
of abuse, there should be other ways of dealing with them quickly and
without delay. Sure, there could be some Moslem Turks or Kurds just
pretending to be hidden Armenians. There could be others who have no
intention of becoming Christian Armenian and who are getting baptized
to gain some sort of advantage, such as employment or a way out of
Turkey and into Europe or the Americas. However, these exceptions
should not lead to draconian rules and regulations for all others
who genuinely want to become Christian. Moreover, why do we have
godfathers? The role of the godfather is to assure the Church that
the person being baptized is eligible and worthy of baptism, and there
should be no excuse or delay by the cleric for further investigation.

The objective of Project Rebirth is to help the hidden Armenians think,
feel, and act as Armenians. Our work will continue regardless of the
barriers placed by certain people. Whether these hidden Armenians
become Christian or not, they have decided to return to their Armenian
roots, and we will continue encouraging them. It would be ideal if the
Church also fulfils its duty in encouraging them to become Christian
Armenians, but if not, it is still alright. After all, Armenians were
Armenians for centuries before they adopted Christianity.


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Posted 21 August 2015 - 10:21 AM


Souren Seraydarian, Chairman, National Congress of Western Armenians
Paris, 19 August 2015

During the last two years representatives of the National Congress of
Western Armenians (NCWA) raised this issue with senior clerics of the
Armenian Apostolic church in Armenia, Turkey, USA, the United Kingdom,
France and Germany and never received a clear answer. For example,
whereas the bishop in Germany accepts to consider every bona fide
request for baptism favorably, Bishop Atachian in Istanbul creates
many obstacles and tries to accommodate the authorities in Turkey and
avoid "trouble". What is missing is a clear and unequivocal policy
and decision by the highest church authorities, i.e. the Catholicos.

Recently clerics refused to baptize three Moslem Armenians during
their pilgrimage to Armenia. It is worth reminding the public that not
all Armenians belong to the same church.. Indeed some are Catholic,
evangelist, Mormon, atheist, etc. This does not prevent them from being
recognized as Armenians of different beliefs. It is discriminatory not
to recognize Moslem Armenians if they feel they belong to this nation.

It is high time to distinguish between ethnicity and religion and get
rid of medieval thinking and to adopt a conciliatory approach towards
all those who identify themselves as belonging to the Armenian Nation.

On the other hand there are tens of thousands of baptized Armenians
who do no longer wish to be identified as Armenians and are satisfied
with their status as fully integrated persons in foreign societies
and countries. Enough is enough. It is time to get our act together
since at this delicate political juncture we do need the support and
cohesion of all Armenians.


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Posted 24 August 2015 - 10:40 AM


Society - 22 August 2015, 11:40


Body of Syrian Armenian Found in Al-Hasakeh

Armenia Found Time for Opera in Syria

There are eight million or more Islamized Armenians who currently live
in Western Armenian lands and in other parts of present day Turkey.

That's ten percent of Turkey's current population. We see a trend
of more and more "Islamized or "Hidden" Armenians" come forward
from Turkey and announce about their Armenian identities. They are
reaching out to the rest of the Armenians around the world and to their
Armenian brothers and sisters who live in the Republic of Armenia,
in hopes of being welcomed by the Christian Armenians.

For one hundred years or so, these good people have kept their Armenian
identities a secret in fear of being harassed, abused, or even killed
by Turks and by Turkish authorities. After all these years they have
not forgotten about their roots. They were speaking our language
secretly inside their homes, so Turks and others would not know they
are Armenian because due to the harsh consequences they would possibly
face. They want to reach out and connect with their Armenian roots.

Armenians in Armenia and in Diaspora are in full support of our
Islamized Armenian brothers and sisters to reunite with the Armenians
in Diaspora and in the Republic of Armenia. We see all Armenians
as the same, and we declare that the diversity in religion among
the millions of Armenians is not a weakness. It's our strength and
we should definitely maximize that strength to benefit Armenia and
Armenians worldwide. We are the same family, called Armenian nation,
with different religions.

Unfortunately some church leaders from our Armenian Apostolic
Church in Istanbul, Turkey, and in Armenia, have created obstacles
for the Islamized Armenians; thus, creating a perception of denial
and rejection by the Christian Armenians of our Islamized Armenian
brothers and sisters, which does not correspond to the real views of
the Christian Armenians. Islamized Armenians don't need to convert
back to Christianity be accepted as Armenians; however, such requests
by Islamized Armenians to convert to Christianity should always be
welcomed. Hence we, as Christian Armenians, demand from the priests
serving in any and all Armenian Apostolic Church not to discourage
our Islamized counterparts and to welcome them as God welcomes His
people because the Priests are God's servants on Earth, and it's
their duty to do God's will.

The Armenian Apostolic Church leaders of Edchmiatzin, Armenia, say,
"These people (referring to Islamized Armenians) need to prove they
are Armenians by going back to Istanbul turkey and providing written
proof from the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul that they are in
fact Armenians. The Islamized Armenians are the living proof of the
Armenian Genocide. Who had birth certificate or who was able to save
their personal documents during the Genocide? Armenians were lucky
to stay alive in those days, yet to safeguard their personal documents.

The Church leaders need to be more compassionate towards our Islamized

Here is where the nonsense is. Since when did the Armenian Apostolic
Church leaders have the authority to decide who is Armenian and who
is not Armenian? Who made them a judge? How could they deny faith to
people who ask for it? Why couldn't the Church leaders verify the
Islamized Armenians background before allowing them to participate
in the All Armenian Games? Why couldn't the Church leaders conduct a
simple DNA test if it was so important? Why were the Jews accepted to
convert during the 1800s? Why are non-Armenians, who marry Armenians,
allowed to convert, but the Islamized Armenians are forced to prove
their Armenian identities?

If this concept that the church mandates is true, then does that mean
Hayk Nahapet was not Armenian since he was not Christian even though
Christianity didn't even exist in Hayks time? Garegin Njdeh was not
Christians, but who can deny that he was an Armenian?

Armenians have a much older history than the Christianity. We have been
Armenians for thousands of years before Christianity and Islam were
considered as religions. So, the Church leaders are basically saying,
"If you are not a Christian you cannot be Armenian." Since when did
the Church leaders get their education and credentials as experts in
DNA research to determine who is Armenian and who is not?

The Church leaders have no right to decide who is Armenian and
who is not. We will not allow the Church leaders to decide who is
Armenian or not. We will encourage our Islamized Armenian brothers
and sisters to reunite with all Armenians regardless of religion,
in the Diaspora and in Armenia. Anyone who criticizes, insults,
denies our Islamized Armenians, their national identity, will be
confronted in a appropriate manner.

Gregor Menejyan

Geopolitical Club - Los Angeles

- See more at:

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 08:57 AM


Posted By: September 09, 2015in:

Book Review:

Aram Haigaz (Aram Chekenian), Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan,
1915-1919, translated and edited by Iris Haigaz-Chekenian (New York:
Maiden Lane Press, 2014)

Reviewed by: Dr. Garabet K Moumdjian, Historian

Those of us who were born to displaced Armenian parents in the
diasporic communities of Lebanon, Syria, and other Middle Eastern
locals in the late 1950s and early 1960s are familiar with Aram
Haigaz's short stories depicting American-Armenian immigrant life
in the United States of America. We read these short stories--always
written in Armenian--when we were in primary school. Haygaz's simple
language captivated us. Then, when we were about 15 years of age,
we read his monumental work about the history, self defense, and
eventual demise of his hometown, Shabin Karahisar, in 1915. We also
read the lengthy--almost 600 page long--saga of his adventures in
"Kurdistan." We learned how he was able to escape death by converting
to Islam in order to save his life...

Aram Haigaz

Now, his daughter, Iris offers us the English translation in an
abridged version. It is indeed a labor of love. The Armenian original
was published in 1972. It took Aram and Iris more than 40 years in
order to bring the project to fruition. I am glad they both did it!

The book encapsulates the essence of the Armenian original. However,
special care has been given to create a crisp and idiomatic English
translation that would captivate Armenian and non Armenian readers
as well.

The autobiographical tome gives us many insights about several
important issues regarding the historical paradigm of the Armenian
Genocide; these include the issues pertaining to conversion to Islam
of boys but especially girls. The latter were hurriedly married to
Turkish and Kurdish husbands and represent the origins of what today
is known as the Islamized Armenians of Turkey.

Moreover, Haigaz, the ever optimist, shows us how there is life after
the great catastrophe that befell his people. Although when reading the
manuscript one becomes privy to the abhorrent evil that was unleashed
upon the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, but,
at the same time, Haigaz, tries to minimize the "deluge" by bringing
forth characters such as "Good Samaritan" Turks and Kurds who helped
orphaned Armenian boys and girls and gave them a safe haven in the
mountains of Kurdistan throughout the general war. It was, after all,
through the actions of such people--who were acting against the will
of their government and, thus, putting their own lives and the lives
of their family members at risk, that many Armenian orphans were able
to escape certain death only to later become able to resume life and
the continuity of their people after the war.

Going deeper into the issue of Islamized Armenians in Aram Haygaz's
narrative, if we are to juxtapose Aram's story on the issue of
Islamized Armenians some interesting information can be deduced:
it is clear that males 15 and over who had converted for the sake of
preserving their lives had a better chance to go back to their own
people. Haygaz himself was able to accomplish such a feat. It seems
that many were able to do exactly that. On the other hand, however,
the situation was not the same for younger males who, because of
their age group, were somehow incorporated into the new ethnicity
and religion. Although seeming forever lost, it is this core that
most probably had and their successors today demonstrate an important
role in the shaping of what today in Turkey is known as the Islamized
Armenian community.

It must be underlined, however, that the situation was more stringent
for Armenian women both young and old. Aram's account is full of
such instances where the females were forever lost to their original
ethnicity. These women too had an important role. It is no wonder
that many Turks and Kurds are discovering today that they are the
offspring of such Armenian women...

Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan is a saga that appeals to
young and old. If you have a child or a grandchild of 15 and over,
please gift them a volume and let them explore this extra ordinary
story. You would indeed do a great favor to the development of a
young mind...


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Posted 28 September 2015 - 09:40 AM

Baptism Matters

Editorial, 22 September, 2015

Two recent Keghart articles about the refusal of priests in Armenia to
baptize several hidden Armenians visiting the country from Turkey this
summer drew a huge and mostly negative response from Keghart readers.

By early September `Moslem Armenians' (Aug. 19) article by Souren
Seraydarian, head of the National Congress of Western Armenians and
Raffi Bedrosyan's `Church Refuses to Grant Baptism to Hidden
Armenians' (Aug. 18) had a combined 1,500 hits, not counting the
additional number of 2,500 hits tracked through the distribution
software and Facebook, which do not appear on the website. Together,
the two pieces received 28 comments. Readers overwhelmingly supported
facilitating the baptisms and many condemned Echmiadzin for its
perceived intransigence. The clergy were dismissed as Pharisees,
ignorant, archaic, holier-than-thou¦ The Church was called
preposterous, dysfunctional.

Keghart readers also argued whether being part of the Armenian
Apostolic Church was mandatory for someone to call himself/herself
Armenian. Pagan King Medzn Dikran was exhumed to assert that one
doesn't have to be Christian to be Armenian.

While oligarch-Catholicos Karekin II brings little honor or decorum to
the Armenian Church or to the Nation, in this instance the attack on
Echmiadzin was a tad harsh.

Judging by the Armenia clergymen's improvised response and transparent
excuses for refusal, it's obvious Echmiadzin'and perhaps the Armenian
Church'is unprepared to tackle this new challenge. The Church is
unprepared because the situation has not been an issue in the Church's
history. As well, the Armenian Church isn't a proselytizing

The uncertainty and inconsistency of some clergymen is also manifested
by the fact that several hidden Armenians were baptized last year
while visiting Armenia.

Baptism is an elaborate sacred ritual. The Armenian Church takes it
seriously as it should. It is one of the sacraments. It's not a matter
of dunking the person in water or spraying water on him/her and,
saying `Hail Mary' pronouncing the candidate instant Christian.

There's also another issue which discourages the Church from baptizing
helter-skelter. It's not known to most Armenians that a number of
Kurds in Syria have asked the Armenian Prelacy of Aleppo (of the
Cilicia See) to be baptized. Their intent wasn't to adopt Christianity
but a ruse to claim `persecuted minority' status at the Western
embassies and thus be granted a visa to emigrate. The Church,
obviously, has to be careful not to be hoodwinked by these insincere

There are also concerns about Turkish secret agents assuming Armenian
identity through baptism so as to infiltrate Armenian communities,
particularly the Patriarchate in Istanbul.

Yet another challenge is the diversity of the global Armenian
communities. There are Armenians in roughly 80 countries. Some
Armenians live in `liberal/progressive' societies while others live in
`traditional/conservative' regions. A radical change in Armenian
Church baptismal procedures has to be acceptable to a rainbow of
communities from Armenia to Uruguay.

The fact that Echmiadzin takes the issue seriously is indicated by its
refusal to give in to the intervention of the minister of diaspora
affairs. Since the minister represents Catholicos Karekin's
fellow-oligarch President Serge Sarkissian, one would have assumed
Minister Hranush Hakobyan would have found a friendly ear in

In a rapidly changing world, the Church'like other institutions'has to
evolve to meet the changing needs of the faithful. In this instance,
what's a trickle can become a deluge if an increasing number of hidden
Armenians or Hamshens decide to become Christian. There are hundreds
of thousand Hamshens in Turkey and in the Caucasus. When some/many of
them decide to become `100% Armenian' they might decide becoming a
member of the Armenian Church an essential aspect of their revived
identity. Other Armenians'particularly in the West'might not consider
Church membership essential to their Armenian identity and might
glibly cite that pagan Medzn Dikran, Argishti were as Armenian as St.
Vartan. But the fact is the hidden Armenians of Turkey or the
Hamshens, who want to return to our nation, don't share this
mostly-Western perspective.

The Catholicos and his Synod must convene ASAP and resolve this
quandary. It's not just of paramount importance to the Church but also
to the Armenian Nation. Considering the shrinking population of
Armenia and the rampant assimilation in many Diasporan communities, we
need Armenians to return to the fold. This is a God-sent opportunity
for our Nation. It's also a God-sent for the unpopular ecclesiastical
leader in Echmiadzin to shine for a change.

Armenians who demand hasty or `compassionate' baptisms for hidden
Armenians would probably scoff at the notorious storefront `wedding
chapels' of Las Vegas. Like a wedding ceremony, baptism is a sacrament
which should be approached with seriousness and deliberation. It also
should be conducted in a proper ecclesiastical framework.

By next summer, when (hopefully) more hidden Armenians head to their
homeland, their National Church should have comprehensive baptismal
rules and procedures in place. No excuses; no improvisation; no
pushing the junior clergymen to take the flak as this past summer.


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Posted 18 February 2016 - 01:00 PM


00:15, 18.02.2016
Region:World News, Armenia, Turkey
Theme: Politics, Society

Seminars devoted to the Armenian Genocide and Islamized Armenians
were held in Hamburg, Germany, according to Akunq.net.

The events were organized by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, a
Germany-based transnational alternative policy group and educational

Coordinator of the seminar entitled "Islamized Armenians in the
Ottoman Empire and in Turkey" was German Turkish writer Dogan Akhanlı,
who has been persecuted by Turkey for years, and for recognizing and
condemning the Armenian Genocide.

The event brought together around 150 people, including well-known
Genocide Studies specialist Wolfgang Gust.

In the seminar entitled "Yozgat 100 Years Ago," the speakers delivered
presentations on the displacement of Yozgat Armenians, the trial
of the Armenian massacres, and on the culture of remembering and
confronting history.


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Posted 03 March 2016 - 09:29 AM


17:01, 02 Mar 2016
Siranush Ghazanchyan

The documentary "Pure State of the soul" by Turkish Armenian director
Ugur Yusuf Ires will screen at the cultural center of the Yerevan State
University tomorrow. The film presents the story of the director's
family, namely his grandfather Harutiun Ires, who regained his identity
at the age of 71, regained his 'pure state of the soul after he was
baptized as Christian Armenian.

The constant arguments between the director's grandparents lie in
the basis of the documentary. "Although they were speaking Zazaki,
we could understand from some Turkish words that all disputes were
about religion," Yusuf Ires told reporters in Yerevan.

"For ten years grandma was trying to persuade her children and
grandchildren that they were Turkish and Muslim. She was confident it
would be easier for them to live with that consciousness. But there is
a reality called genetic memory. This is what motivated the creation
of the film," the director said.

Harutiun's daughter Karin Gulteki returned to her Christian roots
three years ago. She was baptized in Germany, as the tax for baptism
in Armenian Churches of Turkey is too high. "I'm glad to have found
my true identity and individuality," the Dersim Armenian woman said.

"Turkey does not miss any opportunity to pressure Armenians," said
Mihran Gulteki, founder of the Union of Dersim Armenians. He said
"Turkey is implementing a special policy of repatriating Turks from
foreign countries and settling them in Western Armenia, where an
estimated 3-4 million hidden Armenians live. According to him, the
number will even grow if it becomes safer for Armenians to live there.


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Posted 03 March 2016 - 09:31 AM


17:09, 2 March, 2016

YEREVAN, MARCH 2, ARMENPRESS. Dersim Armenian Mihran Gultekin Savior
thinks that Turkey's policies have not changed; it continues expelling
Armenians and Kurds of Turkey and replaces them with Turkmens living
abroad. "Armenpress" reports Mihran Savior who returned to his
Armenians roots years ago, told the journalists about the aforesaid.

"Today Kurds and Turks fight in Turkey, but Armenians are always under
focus. Under those conditions hidden Armenians try to keep their real
identity more covert. The Turkish state regularly tries to speculate
the Armenian factor in this struggle. In fact, Armenians are always
to blame", the Dersim Armenian said.

As for the number of hidden Armenians in Turkey, Mihran Gultekin
Savior mentioned that, according to some opinions, it reaches 3-4
millions. "The reason of such a great number of hidden Armenians in
Western Armenia is conditioned by the fact that they are oppressed
there, and when they decide to unveil their identity, they encounter
difficulties. That is why they keep it in secrecy, but when we conduct
private conversations, they easily unveil their identity and say that
they are Armenians", Mihran Gultekin said.

He converted to Christianity 6 years ago and his wife, Karin Gultekin,
was baptized 3 years ago in Germany. They plan to settle in Armenia.


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Posted 03 March 2016 - 09:34 AM


13:48, 2 March, 2016

YEREVAN, MARCH 2, ARMENPRESS. Founder of "Union of Dersim Armenians"
Mihran Savior and his wife Karin Gyultekin plan to move and settle
in Armenia. Tor the purpose, they will apply for Armenian citizenship
today, on March 2.

In an interview with "Armenpress" Karin, who was baptized in Germany
3 years ago and converted to Christianity, explained their reasons to
make such a decision. "We live in a country where we were massacred,
forced to accept a religion that is alien for us. We do not wish
to live in Turkey. After this interview I and Mihran will apply for
citizenship", she said.

Karin told how they were continuously targeted in Turkey. Even when
they were still Muslims, everybody pointed at them saying "Look, she
is Armenian". After being baptized she had to relinquish her job in
a restaurant where she used to work for 15 years as they said they
are not going to "eat from the hands of a gavur (non-Muslim)". "What
is the difference? You are Muslim and I am Christian. I do not want
to live an enforced life. I want to be saved from all these", Karin
mentioned with great anxiety.

Karin and Mihran have two sons who hail the decision of their parents
to move to Armenia. "Both of my sons are baptized. One of them now
studies in Germany and the other one is a journalist. Both call me
and often say "mother, do what you want, do not be afraid". I finally
made up my mind to do that", Karin said.

The day before she, accompanied by her family members, visited
Armenian Genocide memorial complex and museum. It was difficult for
Karin to speak, saying, "it is impossible to display the grief or talk
about it. Of course, we knew about the genocide, we had read and seen
much. My mother used to tell about the massacres... The grief cannot
be forgotten. It is the only thing that cannot be swiped away from
one's memory".

Though Karin has not yet decided what she will do after moving to
Armenia, but she confidently says, "I am a hard working woman, I will
do any job", and added with a smile, "I will come for sure".


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Posted 03 March 2016 - 09:50 AM


March 1 2016

"Hidden Armenians" documentary film presented by "Azatutyun-TV"
passed to the final round of the prestigious Film Festival in New
York. The Director of Radio Liberty Armenian service, Hrayr Tamrazyan,
in an interview with "Aravot", considers it an achievement in the
Armenian journalism as the festival was attended by the most powerful
TV channels and TV stations with more than 300 films from 50 countries
all over the world. Among them are: CNN, RUSSIA TODAY and BBC.

In March, it will be clear what prize will be awarded to the "Hidden
Armenians" film telling about the Armenian families who have forcedly
converted their belief and nationality as a result of the Genocide.

Hrayr Tamrazyan and his team have meticulously worked 50 hours to
make the material a film. He has personally selected the music that
uniquely supplemented the saying in the film.

He says that shooting a film is like a poem and its birth is
difficult. Incidentally, the "Hidden Armenians" film was highly
appraised by the Turkish well-known historian Taner Akcam and has
posted it on his Facebook page.



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Posted 25 August 2016 - 09:13 AM

Armenian translation of Taner Akcam’s book on forced Islamization of Armenians released

Taner-Akcam-Islamization.jpgThe Armenian translation of Turkish historian Taner Akcam has been published in Yerevan, Akunq.net reports.

The book titled “Forced Islamization of Armenians: Silence, Denial and Assimilation” consists of three parts. In the first part the author speaks about the impossibility of an unbiased study of the Armenian Genocide issue in Turkey, about the difficulties and persecutions he has passed through.

The second part presents the story of discriminatory and biased discussions on the Turkish edition of Armenian Officer Sarkis Torossian’s Memoires, which raised a second wave of criticism against Taner Akcam, who tracked down Torossian’s family in America.

In the third part the author presents the policy of forces Islamization and assimilation of Armenians between 1915 and 1918. Taner Akcam describes this as a structural element of the Armenian Genocide.

The book has been translated and prepared for publication at the Research Center on Western Armenian Studies. Meline Anumyan has translated the book from Turkish, Haykazun Alvrtyan is the managing editor.

The book published under the sponsorship of the Jerair Nishanian Foundation is dedicated to the memory of the innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide.

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Posted 01 October 2016 - 09:07 AM

Interview: The Identity Awakening of Islamized Armenians in Diyarbakir
September 29, 2016

Repairfuture.net: In this interview, Gafur Türkay provides an update on the recent destructions committed by the Turkish army in the historic downtown of Diyarbakir, a city which, before 1915, was home to many Armenians. He also stresses the importance the the restoration of the Armenian church of Surp Giragos in 2011, which is considered as a haven of peace for visitors and has been immediately made their own by the small community of Islamized Armenians in the area. The ” Infidel Quarter” has now been annihilated. Is only left standing the Surp Giragos church whose interior has nonetheless suffered important damages. Gafur Türkay also discusses the question of Islamized Armenians in Diyarbakir and around, as well as the many identity issues they are faced with today. Finally, he lists the difficulties met by some Islamized Armenians who decide to get baptized.

REPAIR: How would Islamized Armenians living in Diyarbakir and the region describe their identities?

Gafur Türkay: For us to understand this we need to look at who those Islamized Armenians are. We are talking about third, forth generation that survived accidentally the Armenian genocide. These people who were a community with their own culture were disconnected from it, their religion changed. They were Islamized, they had no ground where they could keep their language alive and they kept living with other languages. What we call Islamized Armenians are the third and fourth generation. They were unfortunately part of assimilation for centuries. These people had to live a life that didn’t belong to them, all fragmented. They felt the need to hide their Armenian identity due to difficulties they had to face up today. The Armenian word had always been used in this country in a pejorative sense to humiliate people. They never had a chance to live with their own identity nor their own culture. In order to get rid of that “bad” Armenian opinion of people, some tried to mask their identity by praying and worshiping more than would worship a Muslim. They had to continue their lives on these territories under Muslim identity in agony and difficulty and this for centuries.


Gafur Türkay

REPAIR: Did this situation started to change after a certain point?

Gafur Türkay: Of course when you talk of a community assimilated for three-four generation, there is some type of acceptance. One feels obliged to continue life with familiarization with this religion, language and culture that don’t belong to them. When you are resigned to live in another culture, be it by force or without force, it is not that easy to consider going back to the culture of their grandfathers after a century. But there is a fact: while these people were hiding themselves, Muslims didn’t allow them to forget their identities. Let’s say in a neighborhood, there is a disagreement between an Islamized Armenian and a Muslim, the Muslim would not abstain from reminding the other one his/her identity, just for tyrannizing them. Therefore these people were Islamized and they disconnected from their own culture and they never let them forget they were Armenians. Now there are some people accepting their Armenian identity within Islam and some other fully integrated Islam. Some are in a situation where they are ashamed of being Armenian and don’t talk about Armenian identity and react whenever the subject is on table. But among those who have higher education level and those who are from left wing, there are recently some groups facing their own reality. Some of them re-appropriate or want to re-appropriate their own identity and some say “I am a Muslim but Armenian”. The assimilation process was so strong during the century that people are devastated. How many are those who got back their Armenian identity? When they ask me this, I say, “It is a drop in the lake”.

REPAIR: Did the renovation of Saint Giragos church in 2011 to become a place that can be visited by people change anything?

Gafur Türkay: Gafur Türkay: There were many historical building that belonged to Armenians centuries ago in this region. The assimilation continued with the destroying of the cultural texture. When you place a structure belonging to Armenians such as Saint Giragos at its own place, you create a huge positive atmosphere among the Islamized Armenians. People came and visited it many times; they embraced it.

REPAIR: This was a place for people who were in search of their identity. There were no such other places before the renovation right?

Gafur Türkay: In the region and in Diyarbakir, there were no places where they could find a piece they could relate themselves with, there is a huge destruction in that sense. Saint Giragos is the biggest Armenian Church in the Middle East region. Here we talk of a place that had a serious mission in the past. During the Armenian Genocide in 1915 all Diyarbakir Armenians were killed. Those who survived from the surrounding cities found shelter in Saint Giragos. In that sense Saint Giragos is not only a church. When it was renovated, people came a lot; they embraced it.

REPAIR: According to your observations, what were the main needs and requests of those who went to the church, among those who got intouch with you?

Gafur Türkay: Those who came there were before anything else, people who were injured with this century long devastation and we felt that they found themselves there. We heard a lot this during our conversations: “I feel very peaceful here.” When we asked them what they meant by that, they said they didn’t perceive this in a religious sense, that they found themselves there, that that was a place that belonged to them and that they made peace with themselves. When I asked them why they cried, I saw people saying, “My grandfather was baptized here, such person got married here” and grieving, remembering their roots and past.

REPAIR: I remember you organizing breakfasts once a month at Saint Giragos.

Gafur Türkay: Some Muslim Armenian friends would not come and pray so we were organizing events with more social aspect. Once a month people would come together, a breakfast table was set. Those who were coming were not attending the religious ceremony but they were attending the breakfast. Saint Giragos was more than a church. We had a piano recital for example. Why piano? Well in the past Armenian community used to have piano concerts once a month. And also when you look at the inventory list of Saint Giragos in 1915, you’d see a piano belonging to the church. Because of such a past of the church we wanted to organize piano recitals in memoriam. A century ago they carried society’s social needs to the church. That’s what we tried to do in order to come together with the Islamized Armenians; we organized breakfasts and lunches.

REPAIR: You were also organizing some cultural and historic trips and started Armenian language courses. But you were saying you didn’t have enough information sources while you did those activities.

Gafur Türkay: As you would appreciate, we are people that were disconnected from that culture for a century. That devastation and assimilation created such an atmosphere that on one hand we were trying to do something and on the other hand we were learning. In the past, there were in Diyarbakir many Armenian schools teaching until high school level. A century later we opened Armenian language course in Diyarbakir. We tried to learn Armenian. We organized picnics and trips. We went to Harput for instance. Why Harput? Not because we wanted to travel there, we went there because we wanted to discuss, think about the link of this place with the past. We organized another tour to Çüngüs. We visited a canyon where people were massacred during the genocide in Çüngüs. We went two years in a row to Armenia with a group of 50 people. We had the opportunity to see in person the structures in Armenia and meet with people.

REPAIR: Did you organize these activities according to the demands?

Gafur Türkay: Let’s say we initiated it. There were some demands and some common points during the discussions, but it was mainly about what we could bring to those people disconnected from their culture, what they could see or read or experience.

REPAIR: Those activities have stopped as of last September 2015. Due to conflicts and curfew, you didn’t even have access to the church until recently. What is the actual situation?

Gafur Türkay: We have not been able to go there or organize any event since last August. There was a program foreseen for August 15, 2015, but couldn’t be done. Due to the incidents, people from abroad could not come for the program so we had to cancel it. Since that day, due to the region’s situation we haven’t organized any activity. We are talking about a region where the curfew had been on for almost 6 months and Saint Giragos is at the heart of that region. I, myself, have been able to go inside the church for instance. But of course what we have seen there was very significant. The city was all destroyed. There were no streets, no neighborhood. All destroyed, houses, shops… We came upon a flat area. The church’s shops were destroyed. There were no damage at the main block, the roof or the bell tower; they only drilled the wall from one side. But inside the church the damage and loss are significant. For instance the place where we were selling souvenirs is devastated. Other objects, accessories, materials were either broken or disappeared or damaged. Inside the church was used as a base, they installed a stove.

REPAIR: The church was used as a base by the security forces?

Gafur Türkay: Probably, but as it is a closed book, we can’t know who used it, who damaged it. For the moment it is entirely under the security forces control.

REPAIR: Can the church be reached right now?

Gafur Türkay: There is still no access. We were able to go inside with a dispensation.

REPAIR: What kind of feelings you have when you see the neighborhood destroyed?

Gafur Türkay: We have this feeling of devastation. This neighborhood was a place where Armenians lived a century ago; maybe 95% of the population was Armenian. With the church’s renovation that lifestyle was no more a memory but part of their conscious. Unfortunately nothing is left now. The church is there but all the houses that are destroyed were Armenian stone houses. Migirdiç Margosyan has a book named “Infidel Neighborhood” talking about this place. A friend of ours used to joke with us before all these incidents started, “The infidel has gone leaving behind the neighborhood” he was saying. Yes the infidel left already but now there isn’t any neighborhood either. People were killed a century ago and now their place had been destroyed.

REPAIR: Is there a development regarding the expropriation in the district of Sur including the Saint Giragos Church also as published in the Official Gazette last march?

Gafur Türkay: Applications for the cancelation of expropriation have been placed and are presently being processed by the court. Various institutions made applications and as the foundation we have also applied. The court is not yet finalized. No actual action has yet been taken, so all stay as it is. However when the ministers and high officials visit Diyarbakir, they all verbally announce that the district will be restored and no party will be victim. Actually the district is totally ruined so it is hard to tell what will be restored. Again it has been verbally declared that the church will not be expropriated. When the prime minister and the ministers come to Diyarbakir, they verbally announce that places of worship cannot be and will not be expropriated.


Destruction in historic downtown Diyarbakur

REPAIR: However all these are only verbal declarations and therefore are non-binding, right?

Gafur Türkay: Verbal, of course. From a legal point of view the picture is very clear, they took possession of it through the process of “urgent expropriation”.

REPAIR: Some shops that were owned by the church which you said were demolished, were being illegally occupied by people and you were planning to take action or were already taking action to retrieve them. Now they are non-restorable and ruined let alone retrievable?

Gafur Türkay: These properties were already under occupation. Now there is physically nothing left to retrieve. As it is, its land is owned by the state. The government says that they will not victimize us regarding this issue. But as of this moment we do not know what will be done.

REPAIR: We talked about the search of those who wanted to return to their Armenian identity. Those who want to become priests for example, what kind of difficulties awaits them?

Gafur Türkay: There are some formalities and rituals demanded by the patriarchy one needs to follow. There is a 6 months religious training process. In the past, we have done two baptism by consulting the Patriarchate in Armenia. The Patriarchate has some rules. They say, “nobody needs to get baptized in Armenia beyond our knowledge”. ” “If there is demand”, they say,” We will do here what needs to be done”. A person with such a request is first required to go and change the section about his/her religion as written on the ID, s/he needs to get written Christian on the ID’s religion section. In the past, a court decision was necessary for this however now it can be done at the civil registry office. These rules are normal. Patriarchate says “Why baptize someone I do not know, furthermore that person might even not be Christian?” They are right from that point of view. On the other hand, the person with such a request can sometimes also be the member of a family that has been Islamized four generations ago, a family whose identity is well known by everybody. So if a person has such a request to return to his/her original identity, this can be through following some formalities.

REPAIR: Can it be the problem that the faith cannot stay within the boundaries of private life in Turkey? A person, in Turkey, cannot say ” let me not change the religion section of my ID but be a Christian faith in my own private life”.

Gafur Türkay: In the past, in the religion section of IDs it used to write ” Armenian” or ” Syriac”. That is no more the case, now it is just written ” Christian”. The Patriarchate is right from their own point of view, however it is a distressed process for the people who have been disconnected from their identities for a century.

REPAIR: If you can have access again to the church and restart your activities, would you again consider organizing activities such as Armenian language courses? And are you getting any support from Armenian institutions in Istanbul?

Gafur Türkay: We will most probably organize again such activities. We want to learn our language, our culture and everything. This issue has two aspects; first is the economical aspect. Organizing such an activity is a costly issue. However the most problematic part is to find a teacher who can live in Diyarbakir or who is available to travel regularly to teach. We are having a hard time with resolving this issue. It is difficult to bring a teacher who grew up and lives in Istanbul to Diyarbakir. The situation of the Armenian schools in Istanbul is also not very bright; the number of teachers is already not sufficient. But having such problems does not mean we will give up. We will strive to re-start the lessons.

Gafur Türkay is a member of the board of the Surp Giragos Church administration in Diyarbakir

#159 Yervant1


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Posted 31 May 2017 - 09:03 AM

Armenian Weekly
May 30 2017
Documentary on Islamized Armenians of Dersim Screened at Columbia University

By Lilly Torosyan on May 30, 2017 in Books & ArtFeaturedHeadline // 0 Comments // email_famfamfam.png // printer_famfamfam.gif


Special for the Armenian Weekly

NEW YORK (A.W.)—In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of, and interest in, exhuming the stories of Islamized Armenians in Turkey. Though filmmaker Nezahat Gündoğan did not initially seek to portray the account of this “hidden” community, after researching the project for four years, she determined that it absolutely had to be told. Her documentary, The Children of Vank (“Vank’in Çocuklari”), weaves together the stories of an Islamized Armenian family who survived both the 1915 Armenian Genocide and the Dersim Massacre of 1938, unraveling the truth behind their lost Armenian identity.


The English poster of The Children of Vank (Courtesy of Kazim Gundogan)

On April 26, Columbia University screened the film to a diverse audience. A discussion then followed with Gündoğan, Oral Historian Eylem Delikanli, and demography and Armenian village history expert George Aghjayan. Dr. Khatchig Mouradian moderated the discussion, which centered on the importance of unearthing the stories of Islamized Armenians in Turkey and accepting their experiences as intangible contributions to our collective and ethnographic history. “I want to welcome [Islamized Armenians] into the family and remove them from the column of the dead,” said an impassioned Aghjayan. The event was sponsored by the Armenian Center at Columbia University, Research Institute on Turkey, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR)/Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Lecture Series on Contemporary Armenian Issues.

The Children of Vank adds to the discourse of Islamized Armenians in an understated way. After conducting exhaustive research on the subject matter, the filmmaker assumed the backdrop to the stories of these individuals. Though the film’s structure is mainly in interview format, the viewer never sees or hears the interviewer. Each “set” of family members speak separately to the camera about their broken memories, with only their first names listed against a black screen. Eventually, all of the stories come together in this arduous campaign to unmask the truth.

The film begins with Zeynep, a schoolteacher who lives in Izmir. About a decade ago, she inadvertently discovered that her mother was born in Dersim as an Armenian, and, following the 1938 Massacre, was forcibly adopted, her name changed from Aslıhan Kiremitçiyan to Fatma Kiremitçi, and lived the rest of her life as a Sunni Turk. This leads Zeynep on a journey to find her lost relatives—namely her mother’s sister. The film then traces the stories of several other members of the family as they discover their Armenianness and connection to their lost relatives and lands.

After losing contact for over 70 years, the family attempts to find each other and reconnect, despite living in different parts of the world, ascribing to differing ethno-religious identities, and even after their immediate relatives have passed. They speak about their lost Armenian identities, raising themes of ethno-religious belonging, the fragmentation and politicization of memory, and the painful legacy of genocide that continues to haunt Islamized Armenians today.

Prior to the Dersim Massacres, the Surb Garabed Vank (or St. Garabed Monastery) served the village’s Armenian inhabitants for centuries. The 9th century church was the only Christian place of faith in Dersim that was not destroyed during the Armenian Genocide. Sadly, this fortuitous fate was short lived, as bombings in 1937-8 completely destroyed the once-proud structure, and its last monk was exiled; most of the Armenian and Alevi communities of Dersim were either killed or uprooted. There were, however, instances of Armenians surviving—mostly by acquiring a new identity as a Kurd or Turk. The ‘new’ family represented in this documentary—Fatma, Zeynep, Sultan, Cevahir, Ahmet, Kadriye, Meryem, and Haydar—stand as a testament to the latter group.

Gündoğan calls her film ‘the children of the monastery’ because St. Garabed played such an immense, foundational role in the lives of pre-genocide Dersim Armenians that it served as an allegorical parent for Armenians of the village. The rediscovery and ‘homecoming’ of the Islamized Armenians of Dersim is very much tied to the historical legacy of the vank and what it has bequeathed generations of Armenians.

At The Children of Vank’s premiere in Istanbul in February, Gündoğan stated, “It is hard to be a Kurd, an Alevi, a woman, a homosexual, a child—to be the ‘other’ –in these lands…But being an Armenian is even more difficult. Armenians are seen as ‘the other of the other.’” Much of the same sentiments were echoed at the Columbia University screening.


(L to R) George Aghjayan and Eylem Delikanli at the screening

The current demographic makeup of Dersim (now called Tunceli) is almost exclusively Kurdish, but some experts estimate that well over half of the local population today has Armenian roots. Mihran Prgiç Gültekin, the head of the Union of Dersim Armenians, estimates that about 75% of the village’s population are “converted Armenians.” Just four years ago, Aram Ateşyan, the acting Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, claimed that 90 percent of Tunceli’s population is of Armenian origin.

The Children of Vank is part of a larger effort that Gündoğan and her husband Kazim (who was also a researcher for the film) made to uncover the horrific truth of the Dersim Massacre, which includes two groundbreaking documentaries, Two Locks of Hair: The Missing Girls of Dersim (2010) and Unburied in the Past (2013), and a book, The Missing Girls of Dersim (2012).

The documentary was also screened in Yerevan as part of the Golden Apricot Film Festival last year, and will be screened in different cities in the coming months. The trailer can be viewed below:


The screening of the documentary and the panel discussion that followed it concluded a series of successful lectures and discussions organized by the Armenian Center at Columbia University during the Spring 2017 Semester. Other events included a lecture by Dr. Khatchig Mouradian—who served as visiting professor at Columbia in the spring—on the Armenians in China, and a conversation between artists Eric Nazarian and Eric Bogosian moderated by Nicole Vartanian.



#160 Yervant1


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Posted 01 June 2017 - 09:12 AM

Armenian Weekly
May 31 2017
Karanian: Building Bridges in Western Armenia

By Matthew Karanian on May 31, 2017


From the Armenian Weekly 2017 Magazine Dedicated to the 102nd Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Thursday was a school day in Chunkush. The children who normally filled its streets with laughter were instead busy with their lessons.

In the village center, a shopkeeper sold yarn to a customer. A few young men lingered outside a dry goods store. And a pair of mostly even-tempered state security agents shadowed me. Otherwise, the streets were empty.


Ulash Altay plays on a tree in the garden in front of his home in Chunkush. Ulash is a descendant of the only known genocide survivor of Chunkush (Photo: Matthew Karanian)

It would have been easy to bypass Chunkush. I suspect that most travelers don’t give this village a second thought. But most travelers in this part of the world aren’t interested in Armenians, either. I was traveling with a small group of Armenian scholars for whom Chunkush is a gem among the treasures of Armenian history.

Chunkush sits in the remote hard scrabble landscape between Kharpert and Diyarbakir. This village was, until 1915, part of the fabric of Western Armenia. Today, it’s largely unknown to outsiders.

Armenian Chunkush had existed almost since forever and was destroyed in a moment in 1915. Ten thousand Armenians—the entire population of the village—were killed. The region around the village became a mass grave.

It has now been 102 years since the start of the genocide known to many as the Armenian Holocaust, and identified by most Armenians as the Medz Yeghern, or Great Crime. After all this time, Chunkush still exists. But today it is a Kurdish-populated village in Turkey. Chunkush has been mostly cleansed of its Armenian identity.

I had first visited Chunkush in 2014 to see what was left of our Armenian cultural heritage. I saw the ruins of a monastery, two churches, and a centuries-old neighborhood.

I returned in 2017 to see who was left. Chunkush is home not only to the ruins of ancient Armenian buildings. Chunkush is also home to a family that is descendant of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide.

This is how I met Ulash Altai.

Ulash Altai is an 11-year-old boy who lives in Chunkush with his mother and grandmother. His father had been part of the household, too, until his death a few months ago.

When I met Ulash on that Thursday morning in March, he told me that he would celebrate his 12th birthday the very next day. He was supposed to be in school, but on this day, the day before his birthday, he had left school early. He had learned that a group of Armenian Americans was visiting his grandmother. He wanted to be home to meet us.

Ulash isn’t a teenager yet, and he didn’t quite have the maturity to say this. But I would like to suppose that Ulash wanted to meet us for many of the same reasons we had wanted to see his family. I would like to believe that he wanted to learn about his past, that he wanted to start building a bridge to his future.

For the past two decades, I have traveled throughout Western Armenia to document the remnants of our homeland. I’ve recorded our churches, our forts, our ghost towns. But it was not until I met young Ulash that I really appreciated how bridge building has also been a significant, even if unintended, part of my research trips.

When we Armenians visit Western Armenia, we don’t go as tourists. We don’t go to have fun. Instead, we go to learn about our past and to see where our grandparents were from. But we accomplish much more than this. We also build bridges to the future with the people who today live in our homeland.Chunk-528x1024.png

These people, sometimes Kurds, sometimes Turks, are some of the people who use our churches as barns and warehouses. These are the same people who might be tempted to see Armenian ruins as quarry material or as the locations of phantom buried treasure.

And sometimes the people we meet are the so-called “Hidden Armenians” of Turkey. These Hidden Armenians may be full-blooded Armenians who have converted to Islam. Or they may be Turks and Kurds who recall that they had a grandmother who was Armenian.

Our presence, even if brief, is a reminder that we care about our homeland and that we care about the welfare of the Armenians who still live there—whether they are Christian or not, and whether they call themselves Armenian, or not. Our presence in Western Armenia, even if for only a day or a week, is a reminder to the local residents of our shared past.

In Chunkush, this shared past includes Sirahayats, an Armenian monastery, and its surviving church, Sourp Astvatsatsin. The English language translation of Sirahayats is “the monastery that looks out lovingly.” This monastery is located on a hilltop just a few hundred feet from the home of Ulash. I imagine that the ruins of Sirahayats do indeed look out lovingly on Ulash’s modest home.

It was near this monastery a few years earlier that members of my group of Armenian American scholars had first met Ulas’s father. While in the nearby town square, a middle-aged man from Chunkush had approached them. “I see that you’re interested in old Armenian history,” he observed. He said this in Turkish, or at least he said words to that effect. “Well then, you should meet my mother in law.”

This man’s name was Recai. He was a stranger and he could have been many things, but he wasn’t a liar. He really did have a mother-in-law. Her name was Asiya. And, it also turns out, she really was old and she really was Armenian. Her role in the history of the Armenians of Chunkush was more than we could have imagined.


Asiya pauses with her grandson Ulash, during a visit from the author. Ulash is the sole surviving son
of Recai Altay, a Kurdish activist who was killed while incarcerated in Turkey last year.
(Photo: Matthew Karanian)

Asiya had been born in Chunkush in 1920.

At the time of Asiya’s birth, her mother was a 15-year-old genocide survivor—she was born in a town near Chunkush and was the only known survivor of the genocide who was still living in Chunkush. Five years earlier, during the summer of 1915, when the appointed time for killing the Armenians of the Chunkush region had been reached, Asiya’s mother had been 10 years old.

This little girl was standing alongside her neighbors, at the edge of a precipice, waiting her turn to be bludgeoned and pushed into the seemingly bottomless pit known as the Dudan Gorge. Locals today recall the Dudan Gorge, which is located a short march from Chunkush, as the place were 10,000 Armenians fell to their deaths.

This 10-year-old girl waited, but her turn to die never arrived. Instead, she was spared by a Turkish soldier who took pity on her, and who snatched her from death. He took her as his child bride.

Within just five years, roughly the time it took for that 10-year-old Armenian girl to mature, that Turkish soldier would become Asiya’s father.

Asiya’s long life has been marked by two traumas: first from the fear that she would be victimized because of her Armenian heritage; and second from her knowledge that her father had participated in killing every Armenian in Chunkush—every Armenian except for the girl who would become her mother.

Asiya is nearly 100 years old now, and for almost a century, her Armenian heritage has been perhaps the worst-kept secret of Chunkush.

Her son-in-law Recai—Ulash’s father—was killed last year. Sources describe him as a political prisoner who had been serving time for his support of Kurdish issues. A bomb—some say an ISIS bomb—struck his holding cell.


Asiya with her late son-in-law Recai (Photo: Matthew Karanian)

Now his son Ulash is his family’s bridge back in time to the world that existed in 1915, the time when Ulash’s great grandmother stepped back from the abyss, literally, to survive the genocide.

Sirahayats, the ancient Armenian monastery that looks out lovingly at Ulash’s home, is today at risk of destruction.

So also is Sourp Garabed, the grand cathedral that is close to the center of the village.


Asiya pauses with her grandson Ulash, during a visit from the author. Ulash is the sole surviving son of Recai Altay, a Kurdish activist who was killed while incarcerated in Turkey last year. (Photo: Matthew Karanian)

Is it reasonable to expect that Ulash’s appreciation of his ancestry, encouraged by his grandmother, and also by visits from Armenians, may inspire him to take a stand to protect these sites? I believe it is.

People such as Ulash may even take a stand to protect the Armenians in their midst. If this happens, then we Armenians will have helped to build the most important bridge of our time.


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