More “Hidden” Armenians in Turkey return to their origins

More “Hidden” Armenians in Turkey return to their origins –

Armenianow – All the names of locations in Turkish – Ghamishli, Syria, Sasun, Lusakert tell me that I am listening to another of stories of thousands of Armenians, but with one difference that this family did not emigrate, it returned to Turkey continuing to live on their own land only after converting. 

“Since birth we’ve known that we are Armenians from Sasun. We had a big family but only three of us survived – my grandfather, my grandfather’s brother and his son. At that time, a woman takes them to Ghamisha, Syria, however, a part of the family returns to Diarbekir, the other part years later, in 1946 – to Armenia, Lusakert,” Turkay Abdulgafur, a member of local Armenians’ union, the head of St. Kirakos Church Chairmen’s Board in Diarbekir, said.

He is one of the Armenians in Diarbekir who got baptized in St. Kirakos Church and changed his Muslim into Christian on his ID card.

“On Turkish ID cards they necessarily specify the religion you belong to. During the last 3-4 years 25 people from Diarbekir got baptized and changed Muslim into Christian on their ID card. It is very difficult to be an Armenian in Diarbekir, moreover, to officially say about that, but the movement has already begun,” Turkay Abdulgafur said.

Diarbekir (former Tigranakert) is situated in the south-east of Turkey, at the foothills of Sasna Mountain. 

At the end of the 19th century 10,000 Armenians lived in Diarbekir, and they had St. Sargis five-altar and St. Kirakos seven-altar churches. The majority of Armenians were killed in 1895 during Hamid Massacres, 5,000 Armenians were killed during the 1915 Great Genocide. Today Diarbekir has a population of around 845,000, the majority of whom are Kurds.

“Some 3-4 years ago there were only a few Armenians in Diarbekir who did not conceal their Armenian identity, but today as a result of our efforts their number has grown. We organize various events together with those Armenians, for instance, at St. Kirakos Church once a week we prepare breakfast, at the latest breakfast 82 people gathered, today there are around 140-150 Armenians in Diarbekir. Many of these are Muslims by identity, but introduce themselves as Armenians, thus they recognize their national identity as well,” the Armenian from Diarbekir said.

Turkay Abdulgafur said that when after the Great Genocide Armenians living in Turkey got spread all over the world just like pomegranate seeds, for 99 years they have had various hardships in different parts of the world, but it was twice as difficult for them.

“After surviving the Genocide we were made to convert to Islam not being able to introduce ourselves as Armenians, did not have an occasion or an opportunity to voice our identity in public. To save our existence we had to pretend to be fanatic Muslims not to endanger our families and ourselves,” he said. “All Armenians know about their identity, but they were subjected to 100 years of assimilation, as a result they almost completely turned Kurdish, we can even say so, and that is exactly why we must take serious steps for revealing those people.”

Being well-aware of the political atmosphere in Turkey he mentioned that Turkey now has lived great progress as compared to what it was only three years ago, and that is also the credit of the Turkish intelligence who endanger their lives to speak about the events of 1915, they criticize the government for refusing to face their own history. 

Canadian-Armenian pianist, construction engineer Raffi Petrosian and his adherents joined efforts for realization of Diarbekir St. Kirakos Church repair works, it is considered one of the biggest cathedrals of the Christian world. In 2011 a mass was held there.

“St. Kirakos church must attract all hidden Armenians in Turkey like a magnet. And this turned into a reality much earlier than we thought. Many Armenians who were forced to convert after 1915 (or were simply orphans brought up by the Turks or the Kurds) today start thinking that they have Armenian roots in their family, they revive their identity and return to their origin.

Today we have already baptized a few people in St. Kirakos Church. And the majority say they are Armenians, but still continue as Muslims,” Petrosian said.

Upon his initiative 50 ‘hidden’ Armenians from Diarbekir in summer visited Armenia within the framework of the ‘Come Home’ project organized by the Ministry of the Diaspora.

“This is a new reality we must accept, understand that apart from Armenians in Armenia, Artsakh, Diaspora now there are also Islamic, hidden Armenians, of whom there are many in Turkey. We must encourage them to feel, to be more Armenian.

“That is why in Diarbekir, together with the local City Hall lessons of Armenian were held. And graduates of that program were brought to Armenia as a prize to have successfully accomplished the training. It was with great joy and excitement that we came to Armenia. I was excited to show them around in Armenia, and they were excited to see Armenia,” Petrosian said.

Gayane Mkrtchyan

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