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An Armenian Named Talaat

Talaat is the son of an Armenian Genocide survivor.

I first met him on a cold January day in Lice (pronounced Leejeh), a district perched on layer upon layer of violence—first against the Armenians, then the Kurds.

It was a day before my scheduled speech at a conference in Ankara.

His family gave us a warm welcome. After all, I was friends with Talaat’s brother, who had recently changed his Muslim name to Armen, and was taking Armenian language courses in nearby Diyarbakir.

I do not remember how long I sat on the sofa in their quaint living room, at loss with words, sipping my tea, and thinking about identity, while my friends conversed with the family, diluting the awkwardness of my silence.

The ruins of an Armenian church, with Lice in the background. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

The ruins of an Armenian church, with Lice in the background. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

Talaat’s father, Hovsep, was born in 1910 in an Armenian village in Lice. His family was butchered during the genocide when he was five, but somehow, he survived, and was taken in by a Muslim family, which renamed him Bekir.

Bekir grew up as a devout Muslim, twice making a pilgrimage to Mecca. He had five sons, and even named one of them Talaat—the name of Ottoman Turkey’s Minister of the Interior at the time of the Armenian Genocide, and widely seen as the mastermind of this crime.

And now, Talaat, Armen’s brother, was sitting across from me, most likely wondering why I had fallen silent after a few minutes of small talk.

***

I grew up learning that a genocide survivor was someone who made it: escaped the miasma of massacre, disease, and starvation, and rebuilt their life either in Soviet Armenia or in the newly emerging Armenian communities in foreign lands. These survivors often shared the same roof with my generation.

But my encounters with hundreds of “hidden Armenians” in Turkey, most of whom, like me, are children and grandchildren of genocide survivors, drove home the realization of how incomplete that definition is.

The tens of thousands of Armenian women and children who converted to Islam forcibly, or to escape death, were genocide survivors too. Often, they were the siblings of the men and women who escaped, and whom we now remember in Armenia or the Diaspora as our dear grandmother or grandfather.

What made one in our eyes a Turk or a Kurd, sometimes an Arab, and the other an Armenian Genocide survivor, was fate—or, simply, luck.

Many of these “hidden Armenians” yearned to meet “certified Armenians.” Some went out of their way to show documents proving their identity, seeking some kind of validation from the latter. And many simply wanted a hug.

***

Talaat’s grandnephew, barely two years old, was the center of everyone’s attention that day. His dark, expressive eyes reminded me of Armen and Talaat. I wondered in what kind of Turkey he would grow up. I wondered what he would learn about the fate of his great-grandfather Hovsep who turned into Bekir, and his great uncles Armen and Talaat. I wondered what he would name his child: Talaat or Zohrab?

I hugged Talaat that day. He then asked my Kurdish friend to take a picture of the two of us. “What can I do,” he said. “My blood is calling.”

We returned to Diyarbakir that evening to catch my flight to Ankara. Within hours, I was scheduled to deliver a talk, and I only had some incomplete notes. But I wasn’t worried; I knew exactly what I was going to say, and what language I was going to say it in.

That night in Ankara, I wrote down my speech in Turkish. Two friends I was staying with, Bilgin and Şebnem, made sure the language was impeccable.

The next morning, as I faced the audience from the podium, I was thinking of my grandparents. But mostly, I was thinking of Talaat.

 

Author’s note: Talaat’s story has been gestating in my mind since January 2013. I hoped I would be able to write it down after I visited him again in May with a group of friends, but all I could come up with was the title of the essay. Finally, upon reading news of police violence in Lice on June 28, I sat down and wrote it. Perhaps one day, Turkey will confront the strata of violent history in that region.

This article also appeared in the Turkish daily Radikal, in Turkish, on July 26, 2013. To read it, click here.

For the full text of Mouradian’s speech in Ankara, click here.

38 Comments on An Armenian Named Talaat

  1. What a coincidence of this article.Yesterday my Kurdish friend (Mesut E.)was telling me about Lice and how it’s pronounced,and here an article mentioning Lice.Mesut,originally from Batman,Turkey.He told me about the peaceful demonstration in Lice ,where gendarme opened fire killing 2 and wounding 9,some of the wounded with life threatening injuries.His comment was “Why doesn’t the western media does not report about this and other similar situation ?”. I said “well the established media is so out of touch with the real world,that they are like puppets of government”…..

  2. Thank you for the article. It will defintitely give those of us with with “Idée Fixe” a new and broader perspective about being Armenian. There is a rather large large Turkish community in the greater Washingoton DC area. Having lived in different parts of the world, I consider myself quite open minded. In fact I do have Turkish friends. Yet my first reaction to someone who claims to be Armenian with the name Gokjen or Hanifeh is resentment and mistrust, especially if they have never been part of the Armenian community in Turkey. Next time this happens, I will ask them to tell me their story.

  3. The story of Talaat pulled at my heart. My father Sarkis, was born in 1910 or 1911 in Piran, a village just a few miles west of Lijeh. His father, Krikor, was butchered as well, but through a sixth sense of foreboding and sheer luck he survived and made it to the America in 1921.

    • avatar Judith Saryan // June 29, 2013 at 6:51 pm //

      Our father Sarkis came from a big family. His father’s name was Krikor and his mother’s name was Mariam. Three of Sarkis’s siblings were lost in the Genocide. I often wonder if one of them survived.

    • Dear lolo,

      Oh my God, I tried so hard for so many years to locate the village Piran where my grandfather was born. I know his family was from Moush. I could find a place called “Piran” adjacent to the Khachi Lich (Խաչի Լիճ or Խաչլվա Ծով), Turkified to Haçlı Gölü. Not far from Bulanik.

      Where is/was the village Piran in which your father was born? Can’t wait to hear from you. Thanks.

  4. Armenians from the upper Goynoug villages of Tokhlan, Alipiran, Churuk, and Kalan, in the Daron region were exiled in a caravan that ended in Diyarbakir. Any women and children still miraculously alive were murdered on the bridge. I continue to hope that my father’s two- year- old brother, Hovhannes, somehow did survive, and that he had descendants. I wonder if my father’s cousin, little Shamiram, survived. I dare to hope that someone took them both, and they grew up together. Katchig, your article has renewed my hope.

  5. I wonder how many percent of today’s Turkey are real Turks, after all they were Osmaniye 100 years ago and all of sudden they become a fake race called Turks.

  6. For every Armenian it should be clear that we have to forgive all
    Kurds what they did in 1915. Since then Kurds themselves have been
    cheated, mistreated and killed by the Turkish government.
    But I often noticed that Armenians here in Hayastan are scarcely
    interested in their Kurdish neighbours. So only a few Armenians know
    that Yezidis are Kurds. Almost nobody knows that Yezidi is an old
    religion, much older than Islam. – Its time to regard Yezidi and
    Sunni Kurds all as fellow countrymen, if they live here in Hayastan!

  7. avatar Bedros Tekeyan // June 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm // Reply

    The Turks passe from here, and they are still continue to destroy and ruin Armenian treasures.

  8. Well, if you all feel this strongly about things, and you keep denegrading Turkey and Turks, then why are you all so terrified to debate us in an open public forum, with full media coverage? That’s pretty cowardly, wouldn’t you agree! If there are those amongst you that aren’t afraid that the real truth will be revealed, then agree to debate us. Contact the ANCA and we’ll do the same with ATAA, so that such a debate can be arranged and executed!

  9. avatar Sevag Tateosian // June 29, 2013 at 11:38 pm // Reply

    Thank you for telling this story. We need to make sure that word gets around and more hidden “Turks” come out.

  10. It would be far better, and practical for those who are hidden to remain so, and to work for the day when they can live on thier land as masters of thier fate, as the the true sons and daughters of the land. Out of tragedies come advantages which should not be thrown away.

  11. avatar seraydarian/mazejian // June 30, 2013 at 4:42 am // Reply

    շնորհակալութիւն այս յօդուածին

  12. avatar Mack Vahanian // June 30, 2013 at 7:11 am // Reply

    CORRECTION: Yezdis are not Kurds.

    I’ve met a and worked with a few trustworthy Yezdi people in Yerevan. They all spoke Armenian better than most Armenians. They all confirmed that they are not Kurds, saying that they are a very tight knit community oriented SATAN WORSHIPERS. Their religion,language and beliefs are totally different from Kurds.

    • 1. Yazidi or Ezidi, NOT Yezdi
      2. They ARE, in fact, a Kurdish people
      3. They are NOT Satan worshippers
      4. You clearly have never met any Yazidis and therfore
      5. You are a liar.

    • well said RVDV:
      .
      Mack Vahanian: you are a liar.
      I am from Yerevan also, and you are making things up.
      None of it is true. Not Satan worshippers, simply pagan believers.
      (news flash: before Armenians adopted Christianity about 1700 years ago, we had our own pagan Gods, a lot longer than we are Christians: look it up)
      .
      You are most likely an Azerbaijani agent, or a simpleton Armenian bigot – attempting to stir up trouble in RoA.
      btw: RoA Yazidis/Yezidis volunteered and fought very bravely with their Armenian brothers-in-arms against Axeri invaders during the NKR war.
      .
      Here, fake Yerevantsi: you can read the truth about Kurd Yezidis in Armenia:
      http://news.am/eng/news/43133.html
      http://news.am/eng/news/128069.html
      http://news.am/eng/news/123417.html
      http://news.am/eng/news/133111.html

  13. avatar Hagop Kassabian // June 30, 2013 at 7:15 am // Reply

    VVhat is our leadership doing vvith regard to these forgotton Armenians?

  14. Hagop; we all need to start by documenting the names of our people who were murdered, along with their village names. We need to find out anything we can about the caravan route. This gives us an idea of where it ended, and where there is a possibility of finding descendants. Caravans from villages I have listed above ended in Diyarbakir. There were babies abandoned along the way by desperate women who knew their child would not live along the route. I know with certainty that two small children were abandoned at Oghnout. I found the descendant of one of them. He knew his history – knew he was descendant of an Armenian ancestor who had been abandoned during the Genocide. He is a Kurdish farmer today. He also knew about the other abandoned child. Also, many children were born on the route and abandoned by heartsick mothers who knew it was more humane to abandon their child than to take it with them. One mother was in the pangs of childbirth when the caravan was ordered to move. She was left there, Kurds jeering her as she birthed. There is a possibility the child survived.

    Here is a quote about her: “Forming a ring around us, armed Kurds ordered us to move. The caravan began slowly moving forward. We had barely traveled half an hour away from Karniaragh when our neighbor Arakel’s wife began suffering the pain of childbirth. Village mothers tried to help her, but the Kurds pulled them away and began mocking the birthing woman’s gestures. The caravan again moved forward, leaving behind the woman who had not finished birthing, Kurds still jeering.”

    If your people are from the area around Palou and Havav, that caravan probably also ended in Diyarbakir. Some of the caravans from Kghi and Garin also went through Palou. The sick and elderly were killed on the Yeprad River bridge and the caravan sent to Diyarbakir. There was a jail in Palou. The men held in it were all murdered. There is a large field on the hills of Amarand that was filled with their bodies. They were all axed to death after their clothing was stripped from them. At least one caravan from Kghi ended at Dara-Busdé.(Տարա Պաստէ)

    There is no question that many children taken as servants to Kurds and Turks did survive, and their descendants know of their Armenian heritage. I know with certainty that one such little girl, Anoush Tchilinkarian, ( Ջիլինքարեան ) survived to adulthood in Palou, still working in the same household. The hanum was a (Քըզըլպաշ )Kurd, and treated Anoush very well. Anoush had a twin brother that she could not account for.

    The Red Cross, American Relief, and others, also attempted to find children after the Genocide. They may still have records of who was searching and where. My grandmother had three small children before the Kurds came into her Kghi village. Her mother took the baby. She never saw them again. One child died of starvation in her arms. The other was lost in the caravan route. Some years later, the Red Cross found her lost child. She had an unusually large strawberry birthmark that identified her. She was 8 years old when they found her, and remembered no family other than the Kurdish one that had taken her in. When she was in her 80s she told me that she remembered the Red Cross woman pulling her out of her adoptive mother’s arms. She remembered the screaming and crying, the most terrifying bedlam, with neighbours trying to force the Red Cross away, siblings pulling on her legs. She was taken to her birth mother, who had somehow escaped and desperately wanted to find her lost child. And to this day, it breaks my heart to remember my aunt, an old woman, tears running down her face, hands folded in her lap, quietly saying, “I wonder if they still remember me. I wonder if they still say my name. I remember them. I remember them all.”

  15. avatar Bedros Tekeyan // June 30, 2013 at 2:24 pm // Reply

    I liked this article and sent it to my facebook page, thanks to Armenian Weekly and also the author of this article Mr Khatchik Mouradian

  16. avatar Papken Hartunian // June 30, 2013 at 10:05 pm // Reply

    Armenians must put their energy in developing modern weapon system to protect their nation from barbarians.

  17. Beautiful piece, Khatchig. Your insights and perceptions are always illuminating.

  18. I have known such stories about hidden Armenians in Turkey. I am sure there are those who don’t even know they are hidden at all. They are taught to forget. And those who do know, what gone through their mind being identified as Muslim in the country that was built on slaughtering their ancestors beginning as early as the 19th century and continued towards twentieth. Armenians weren’t the only victims, but the hardest hit. Recent Turkish demonstrations indicate only the tip of the ice burg of why Turkey doesn’t like to let truth win. There is a lot in store to find out about Turkey’s past and the skeleton in their closet.
    In the min time, Those like Tallat are starting an on going trend of awakening which will eventually rise to thousands and even hundreds of thousands or millions. This trend not only will bring to light the history of the genocide, but also the post genocide of Turkey and the once majority populations which were reduced and displaced to pockets of oppressed minorities.

  19. Very touching story.
    I have a similar one from my family history. I still don’t know how I would react if I met my paternal aunt’s children (or grand-children), especially if they did not speak Armenian.

  20. Robert K deserves a response…First, the above personal story speaks for itself and it is without malice and without debate. Politics is what you are interjecting and power has a way to shadow the issues.
    You need to take a step toward reading neutral materials on the subject, understand the motives and the gains and obviously the results and motivations which speak for themselves. If you are willing to accept the Truth, you will be then be capable of setting yourself FREE.

  21. avatar Mack Vahanian // July 3, 2013 at 8:58 am // Reply

    RVDV wake up an see how did you shoot your own foot by referring to
    your own forwarded website regarding Yezdis.
    http://news.am/eng/news/43133.html Then you can’t deny that their eblem of worship is “Malek Taus” Meaning the Ruling Monarch, which is standing on the cross, as the sign of anti Christ.
    Further more go to Google search engine and just type in Malek Taus
    in order to educate yourself.

    Mack Vahanian, Academician.

    PS I hope Armenian Weekly would consider to publish this secound bit
    for their readers sake.

  22. Well sir, YOU can start with the ATAA to initiate the challenge/meeting you suggest.

  23. avatar Mack Vahanian // July 6, 2013 at 10:38 am // Reply

    RDV II, Re: Yezdi

    In order to conclude this boring matter and to educate both of you
    ignorants, I said go to Google and type in Malek Taus and see for yourselves.

    Over and out!!!!!!!!

    • Mack,
      I wonder how many percent of Axeri people call themselves Antichrist,
      where famous oil digger, Sultan Alioff, destroyed and demolished hundred of thousands of ancient Christian crosses for his personal satisfaction and popularity gain, within his primitive oil Sheikhdom people!!

  24. This is another sad story for the cultural past of the Anatolian Armenians. So Sorry, Erdogan is determined not to leave anything from the past.

    http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/armenian-houses-in-mus-succumb-to-urban-renewal.aspx?pageID=238&nID=50132&NewsCatID=339

  25. To Msheci (Moushetsi)–
    To the best of my knowledge, there was more than one village named Piran. The Piran of my father was located south of Palu and north of Diarbekir, west of Hayneh. (Archbishop Oshagan in New York has an ancestor from this village.) This Piran can be found on some large maps, and is shown for example on the map in the book on the village of Hayneh. Another different Piran is mentioned in Lynch’s “Armenia”, which may be the one you are thinking of.

  26. lolo;
    Hewsen lists the coordinates for Piran as being 38.22 N and 40.04E however, when I look on his map of Turkey at those coordinates, it does not show Piran. Check another map at that location. Those coordinates are definitely in the Armenian Highlands.

  27. my apologies – the coordinates I gave you are out of the Britannica Atlas. They are slightly different in the Hewsen. To find Piran in the Hewsen, go south of Palu to the head of the Sinuk River. The Euphrates runs to the west of the Sinuk. The Sinuk R should be easy to find. The Hewsen shows the symbol on the map for the prelate being at Piran.

  28. Dear lolo,

    I’m so grateful to you. I was able to locate Piran village in H.F.B. Lynch’s “Armenia: Travels and Studies”. I then compared its location with the Armenian Ethnographical Journal of 1899. It’s there. Name, of course, Turkified, in the best Turkish habits. There’s a sentence in Turkish Wikipedia saying something about the name change. Can anyone translate it for me? I’d be much obliged.

    “Köyün ismi Hristiyanların Piran eski büyük ataların isminden gelmiştir, daha sonra göztepe olarak bugünkü halini almıştır.”

    • “the village’s name, Piran for the Christians, comes from the name of one of their forefathers; later on it took on its current name of Göztepe”

    • RVDV, thank you so much. With your and lolo’s help I found my grandfather’s village in Moush. God bless!

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