BERLIN — “The question of whether after such a complete elimination, after the almost total expulsion and forced expatriation of survivors in the successor state, the Republic of Turkey, an existence as an Armenian, subjectively and objectively, is at all possible, has been my concern as a human rights activist for decades.” This is how Tessa Hofmann, genocide researcher and chairwoman of the Arbeitsgruppe Anerkennung e.V (AGA: Working Group for Recognition; Against Genocide, for Understanding among Peoples), opened a commemorative event in Berlin on January 19, the 12th anniversary of the murder of Hrant Dink. This question was the theme addressed by the keynote speaker, Miran Gültekin, originally from Dersim and now living in Istanbul.
The event took place in the Democracy and Human Rights House in Berlin, and was attended by Armenians and Germans, members of the Dersim Cultural Community, the Berlin Armenian community, and representatives from the Armenian Embassy, among others.
What Is an Armenian?
But before Gültekin developed the theme, drawing on his personal experience as a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, Hofmann suggested it would be important first to ask what an Armenian identity really is. It is not an easy question to answer, since longstanding discrimination and persecution often lead to cultural, linguistic and religious assimilation, “what we sociologists call multiple or fluid identities,” she said.
To illustrate the concept, Hofmann drew on the book by Avedis Hadjian, Secret Nation: the Hidden Armenians in Turkey, which appeared last year. The lengthy study is based on interviews the author conducted with people who had at least one Armenian ancestor, who related their experiences in the period between 2011 and 2014.
First, the number of such people, “hidden” or “crypto-Armenians,” is not really known. If Jakob Künzler spoke of 132,000 Cristian orphans in 1919 and Johannes Lepsius estimated the Islamized Armenians that year amounted to 200,000, American archive records refer to 95,000 in 1921 throughout Anatolia. Author Hadjian reckons there were hundreds of thousands of Armenians forced to convert from 1915 on, with the aim of “de-Armenianizing” them. For generations they bore the stigma of being “converts,” “heathens” or “the uncircumcised.” For generations, they preserved the memory of the wrongdoings perpetrated, confiscation, theft, plundering and worse. Attempts later to regain stolen land and property were unsuccessful, defeating hopes of reorganizing as a community.