The Plight of Hidden Islamized Armenians in Turkey


1461014961119By Raffi Bedrosyan

ISTANBUL — What a difference a year makes. It was August 2015 when Project Rebirth organized trips to Armenia for a large group of hidden Islamized Armenians from Diyarbakir, Urfa, Dersim, Sasoon, Van and Hamshen regions of Turkey, to help them find their roots, language, culture and history.  It seems like decades ago, but it was April 2015, when there was a piano recital at the recently-reconstructed Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir, to commemorate the Armenian Genocide Centennial attended by more than a thousand hidden Armenians. The regular monthly breakfast meetings of the hidden Armenians of Diyarbakir at the Surp Giragos Church have now become a distant memory. The Armenian language classes so enthusiastically attended by Islamized Armenians in Dersim and Diyarbakir have long been suspended.

As organizer of the trips to Armenia, it was gratifying for me to receive emails from some of these no-longer hidden Armenians, such as: “Before I went to Armenia I was a Kurd, and I returned as an Armenian” or, “For years I fought for the rights of Kurds before I found out I was an Armenian at the deathbed of my father, now I want to go fight in Artsakh.”

It was doubly gratifying to see youngsters from Diyarbakir attending university in Yerevan, already speaking Armenian and acting as guide to tourists. It was also a pleasant surprise to find out that the last trip to Armenia resulted in marriage between a hidden Armenian from Hamshen and a hidden Armenian lady from Diyarbakir, who wouldn’t even have known about each other’s existence before last year. In ever-growing numbers, the hidden Armenians had started making contact with one another within Turkey, establishing links with people in Armenia and Diaspora.

And now? The past year has been a living hell for the hidden Armenians of Turkey. The civil war between the Kurdish resistance guerillas and the Turkish army has resulted in massive destruction in southeastern and eastern Turkey. Most of the buildings in the region have been bombed or burnt by the army and police forces, followed by complete demolition and razing of the damaged buildings, creating vast open areas in many urban centers, with only a few mosques, police stations or government buildings left standing. Entire neighborhoods have disappeared, reduced to rubble. The Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir has escaped the fighting relatively intact structurally, with only broken windows and a large hole in one of the exterior walls. But the Turkish security forces have used it as an army base, desecrating the church, burning some of the pews as firewood, with garbage and the smell of urine everywhere. The attached gift and souvenir shop has been destroyed. Several stores and houses in the adjacent blocks to the church, which were originally owned by the church and only recently returned to church ownership after years of negotiations, have now been demolished by the government, along with many of the historic narrow streets and buildings leading to the church. At present, the church stands in the middle of a vast open area.

But worst of all, in March 2016, the Turkish government passed legislation, expropriating the church and all of the properties belonging to the church. The church is now closed to public. The Armenian church foundation has taken the expropriation to Turkish courts, and in case of unsuccessful outcome at the Turkish courts, the intention is to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

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More than a million people have been displaced in the region, forced to flee to safer areas. Thousands of people have been killed or injured, including children and elderly, some burnt alive in the basements of apartment buildings in bombing attacks by the government forces. Thousands more have been fired from their jobs, arrested and jailed for “supporting terrorist Kurdish organizations,” especially intellectuals, teachers, lawyers and journalists.

The democratically-elected Kurdish mayors of most towns and cities in the region have been removed from their posts, arrested and jailed. The co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish party, as well as several members of parliament have also been arrested and jailed.

Following the failed coup attempt against President Erdogan in July 2016, dictatorial powers and state of emergency in Turkey have resulted in silencing of all opposition, media, intellectuals and opinion makers. The situation is bad and still getting worse in Turkey, especially in the southeastern regions, with military operations within Turkey as well as across the border within Iraq and Syria. Although Turkey has pledged to fight against ISIS, it seems that their main fight is against Kurdish forces within Turkey, Iraq and Syria. The Turkish army and police forces taunt the Kurdish guerillas with the ultimate insult, calling them “Armenian bastards.”

Our hidden Islamized Armenians living in the region suffer the same fate as the rest of the population, perhaps even worse. They are discriminated against, no matter where they go. The Kurds discriminate against them for not being “real” Kurds. The Turks discriminate and harass them even more, as they are brainwashed to hate and fear Armenians as perpetrators of genocide against Turks, instead of the historical truth. If the hidden Islamized Armenians choose to come to Istanbul, they are also discriminated against by the Armenians there, unfortunately. Until they satisfy the unreasonably strict requirements of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate and get baptized as Christians, they are not received well by the Armenian community in Istanbul.

Naturally, efforts of Project Rebirth to help the hidden Islamized Armenians find their Armenian roots, culture and language by organizing Armenian language classes in places like Diyarbakir or Dersim, as well as trips for them to Armenia, are now on hold. Instead, efforts of Project Rebirth are now channeled toward helping the hidden Armenians relocate away from the war zones into safe areas, or arranging lawyers for people who are arrested, jailed or unfairly dismissed from work.

There have been major setbacks this year, with great human suffering and material losses. Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir, which was beautifully reconstructed after years of painstaking efforts, sacrifice and hard work, is lost for now. But we have to be reminded that it has already served its main objective — the re-awakening of the hidden Islamized Armenians. This church has acted as a magnet bringing together our hidden Armenians, the grandchildren of the living victims and orphans of the Armenian Genocide, who continue surviving and living on our own ancestral lands, albeit under very difficult conditions.


(Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer and concert pianist, living in Toronto, Canada. He has donated concert and CD proceedings to infrastructure projects in Armenia and Karabagh, in which he has also participated as an engineer. He helped organize the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church and the first Armenian reclaim of church properties in Anatolia after 1915. He gave the first piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915.)


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