Raffi Bedrosyan plays the piano at the renovated Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Dikranagerd (Diyarbekir, Turkey)

Bedrosyan to Lecture on Islamized Armenians in Watertown April 20

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WATERTOWN — For more than a hundred years, Armenians talk about the murdered victims of the Genocide. It is time to talk about the living victims of the Genocide, the descendants of assimilated survivors remaining in Turkey today. On Friday, April 20, at 7 p.m., Raffi Bedrosyan will be in Watertown to address these largely overlooked people who managed to preserve aspects of their identity under extremely challenging circumstances. The Tekeyan Cultural Association and St. James Armenian Church are proud to present this illustrated talk, titled “Islamized Hidden Armenians of Turkey: Hidden Victims of a Genocide,” followed by a question and answer session open to the public.

Bedrosyan will also be the keynote speaker at the Massachusetts State House commemoration the same morning, where he will speak briefly on related issues.

Hundreds of thousands of Armenian orphans were left behind in Turkey after the 1915 Genocide, who were forcefully assimilated, Islamized, Turkified and Kurdified in state orphanages, military schools or Turkish and Kurdish homes. But these orphans did not forget their Armenian identity and secretly passed it on to the next generations.

Now, a hundred years after the Genocide, hidden Armenians started emerging in different regions of Turkey, openly revealing,  their original roots and identity. The most significant trigger for this new phenomenon was the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd, which acted like a magnet helping the hidden Armenians come together, support one another and return to Armenian culture, language and Christianity. Several trips to Armenia, organized by Project Rebirth, in cooperation with the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora, further encouraged the hidden Armenians to come out.

There is now a vast network and support mechanism connecting the hidden Armenians together through Project Rebirth. They need all the support they can get, as there have been many difficulties, dangers and threats against them from a hostile government, neighbors, employers, sometimes their own families, but surprisingly, even the Armenian Church. The clashes between the repressive Turkish government and Kurdish militants for the past two years have made the situation even worse, with the expropriation and closure of the Surp Giragos Church, but the hidden Armenians keep on surviving.

Bedrosyan’s speech will lead to discussion of many issues raised by the new reality of the hidden Armenians, such as ‘Who is an Armenian?’

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Bedrosyan is a civil engineer, writer and concert pianist, living in Toronto, Canada. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, he has been actively involved in Armenian issues ever since he settled in Canada to pursue engineering and music studies. He has given numerous benefit concerts in Toronto as well as in New York, Detroit, Montreal, Vienna and Cairo. He has donated proceeds from his concerts and two CDs toward the construction of school, highway, and water infrastructure projects in Armenia and Karabakh, projects in which he also participated as civil engineer in the 1990’s. Two notable engineering projects were the water distribution network in Stepanakert, capital of Karabakh, and the Goris-Stepanakert highway joining Armenia to Karabakh.

Raffi Bedrosyan

In 2013, he helped organize the reconstruction of Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd in Turkey, the largest Armenian church in the Middle East, which was lying in ruins after being destroyed in 1915.  This was the first Armenian church reconstruction project allowed in Turkey since 1915, followed by the successful return of several properties belonging to the church.

Raffi is also a writer with dozens of articles posted in English, Armenian and Turkish media. In the US, he regularly contributes to the Armenian Mirror Spectator and the Armenian Weekly. His articles deal with Turkish-Armenian issues, the newly emerging phenomenon of Islamized hidden Armenians and the history of thousands of Armenian churches left behind in Turkey after 1915.

With the emergence of hidden Armenians following the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Church, he helped organize Armenian language classes for them. In cooperation with the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora, he arranged several trips to Armenia from different regions of Turkey for hundreds of Islamized hidden Armenians who found the courage to return to their original Armenian roots and identity.

In April 2015, as part of the worldwide Armenian Genocide Commemoration events, he again chose to give a concert at the Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir, Turkey, attended by 1000 people, mostly hidden Armenians. The event became not only a commemoration of the genocide but the rebirth of a people which survived the genocide.

He is the founder of Project Rebirth, which continues to help Islamized hidden Armenians return to their original Armenian roots, language, and culture under difficult circumstances in Turkey.  He works as the Manager of Engineering at the City of Toronto, Canada.

Bedrosyan’s talk will begin at 7 p.m. at the Charles Mosesian Cultural and Youth Center-Keljik Hall at St. James, 465 Mount Auburn St., Watertown. For more information, email tcadirector@aol.com.

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