By Raffi Bedrosyan
YEREVAN — Along with many high points experienced during the historic trip of 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 arranged the baptism of a man and a woman in Echmiadzin. The man was a teacher in a public school in Diyarbakir. As Christians are not allowed to work in the public sector in Turkey — not even as a garbage collector, let alone a teacher — he took a great risk by converting to Christianity. He was prepared for it; and I am happy to report that he is still employed as a teacher. 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.