One sunny August morning a bus left Diyarbakir, Turkey, with 50 passengers, and traveled to Yerevan, Armenia via Georgia. At the same time, a man flew from Canada to Yerevan to meet this busload of passengers and lead them on a two- week tour of Armenia.
Organizations such as the Gulbenkian Foundation, Hrant Dink Foundation, AGBU, and a few individual Armenians from the U.S. and Canada helped finance the tour. The Armenian minister of diaspora and several senior government officials are scheduled to greet the group.
But what is so special about this group? Why all this attention? They are residents of Diyarbakir, range in age from 18-83, chat in Kurdish or Turkish… Wait, no, they all speak Armenian. But there are no Armenians left in Diyarbakir, except for an old couple (and Bayzar yaya, the female half of the couple, just passed away two months ago).
So, who ARE these people?
Three years ago, when the biggest Armenian church in the Middle East, Surp Giragos Church, was resurrected from its ruins, it served as solid and indisputable evidence of an Armenian presence in historic Armenia before 1915. Some Turks and Kurds, kept in the dark about the facts of 1915, started to question the state version of history, and some initiated the search for the truth. The church also became a living genocide memorial for thousands of Armenians from Armenia and the diaspora visiting the historic homeland. But, more significantly, it became a beacon or a magnet that attracted “hidden Armenians” from various regions near and far. They gathered and met at Surp Giragos. Islamicized, Kurdified, or Turkified, they started exchanging family stories and attending cultural events and concerts in growing numbers.
Seeing all this activity come to life, two years ago the church board and the local Diyarbakir Sur municipality decided to offer Armenian-language classes. And now, as a reward for completing the Armenian-language course, the 54 graduates are headed on a tour to Armenia so that they can practice their newly acquired language skills, and develop their understanding of Armenian history and culture.