The Last of the Armenians: A Treasure Hunt in Villages Near Diyarbakir

“Are they looking for treasure?” one of the Kurdish men asks our driver, while the others curiously scan the interior of our car. We are in the village of Kabi (now Bagivar), which had 19 Armenian households before the genocide.

The author with the tractor driver in Satikoy. (Photo by George Aghjayan)

I can hardly see George in the backseat. He is holding up his old and new maps of Turkey, trying to determine which village to visit next.

Our driver Umit (Turkish for “hope”) explains to the locals that we are Armenians from the U.S. looking for the cultural and religious landmarks of our ancestors in the region.

“Was there an Armenian church in this village?” we ask. George is certain there was one—we merely want to determine its location. An actuary who has for years studied Ottoman population records, George has a list of churches and monasteries that once existed in the entire Diyarbakir province, village by village.

A heated discussion ensues in Kurdish between our driver and the others, who are having tea in front of the house where we pulled over. An elderly man is at the center of attention; he is explaining something with great enthusiasm. “You think the old man knows where the treasure is hidden?” I make a meager attempt at humor. George smiles and dives right back into his maps.

Another local, armed with the information passed on to him by the old man, jumps into our car and off we go. After a series of lefts and rights on rugged streets, we arrive at our destination. The local man ceremoniously points to a structure and says: “This is where the Armenian church used to be.”

We photograph the uninspiring building that has replaced the Armenian church with the zeal of paparazzi expecting a celebrity but only seeing her distant cousin. You can tell from our faces that we can’t continue documenting churches that have been razed to the ground.

“Is there an Armenian church that is still standing in this area?” I ask the first passerby in Turkish. She is an old woman and I figure she’d know. Turns out she doesn’t; she came to the Diyarbakir region only 20 years ago, but—my consolation prize—she loves Armenians “like they were my parents and children,” she says.

I don’t give up. A few conversations later, we have a new destination: Satikoy. George, whose grandmother is from Diyarbakir, points out that all 70 households of Satikoy were populated by Armenians before the genocide.

***

Satikoy has one mosque. Its imposing structure in the middle of unassuming houses is hard to miss. And our church is right there.

A local tells me the church roof collapsed “after the Armenians left.” Another intervenes to correct him: “He means after the katliam, the soykirim” (Turkish for “massacre” and “genocide,” respectively).

The Toukh Manoug Khatch Vank, now a mosque. (Photo by George Aghjayan)

The roof was later rebuilt and the monastic compound converted to a mosque.

The interior of what was once the vank of Toukh Manoug Khatch (khatch is Armenian for “cross”) is painted over, and there is no visible trace of its Armenian past. Outside, we see the area, now barren, of what was once the vineyard of the church. Before the genocide, Armenians from Diyarbakir and the surrounding areas used to come to this monastic complex during the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in mid-September, Rev. Dr. Leylekian tells me upon my return to the U.S.

I leave the compound and start walking. I overhear a few people talking to our driver about George’s maps and whether we are looking for treasure. Hrant Dink had a powerful response to those in Turkey who loiter in the  ruins of Armenian graveyards and churches looking for treasure: You are digging and looking for treasure under the ground, he used to say, and you fail to realize that the real treasure was walking on the ground in these lands and was annihilated.

The voices of George, Umit, and the treasure-obsessed locals gradually die down. I am now in a narrow street between the monastic compound and a hill. An old tractor approaches. I give way. The driver smiles and asks where I come from.

“I am an Armenian from America,” I respond. “I came here to see the church.”

He turns off the engine. He begins talking in detail about the Armenians who lived in the village almost a century ago. He points to a nearby area crowded with houses and says: “The Armenian cemetery was right there. They destroyed it and built those houses. I asked our Imam if Islam permits that. He said no religious site should be desecrated.”

His eyes are sad as he speaks. And then they tear up.

The Toukh Manoug Khatch compound, now a mosque. (Photo by George Aghjayan)

“My father was a young Armenian boy when the genocide happened. His entire family was massacred—parents, brothers, sisters. He was taken in by some newcomers and survived. No Armenians remained here.”

He can’t make eye contact anymore.

I think about my own grandparents, those I knew, and those I never met. I take a step forward. We hug each other.

I see George approaching with maps in one hand, camera in the other. I ask him photograph the two of us. Soon afterwards, the man turns the engine on. But before he drives off, he points in the opposite direction and says: “Walk some 200 meters that way. There is an open area where the Armenians used to gather to celebrate the religious feast. There’s nothing there now. But you will feel their presence…” The sound of the engine covers his voice.

I turn towards that direction and start walking.

I had found the treasure.

 

The Turkish version of this article, which appeared in Radikal, can be accessed here.

Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Khatchig Mouradian is the Armenian and Georgian Area Specialist at the Library of Congress and a lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. He also serves as Co-Principal Investigator of the project on Armenian Genocide Denial at the Global Institute for Advanced Studies, New York University. Mouradian is the author of The Resistance Network: The Armenian Genocide and Humanitarianism in Ottoman Syria, 1915-1918, published in 2021. The book has received the Syrian Studies Association “Honourable Mention 2021.” In 2020, Mouradian was awarded a Humanities War & Peace Initiative Grant from Columbia University. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming book on late-Ottoman history, and the editor of the peer-reviewed journal The Armenian Review.
Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

@khatcho

Historian. Author of The Resistance Network. Lecturer at Columbia University. Armenian & Georgian Area Specialist @ Library of Congress. Opinions my own.
RT @ArtyomTonoyan: There is a new video on Azeri telegram channels showing a brutal massacre of Armenian prisoners of war who had laid down… - 2 months ago

39 Comments

  1. Mouradian and Aghjayan 

    Very dedicated work…congrats
    Dikranagertzis are simple …dedicated and kind
    They are so simple…they call them… 
    They come behind the water..”Choori yedeven gookan”
    My both grandparents are from Diyarbakir
    One killed the other was in Baghdad during Genocide…

    SP 

  2. Thank you for taking us back to Dikranakert. The longing for our homeland is pressed into our hearts and our minds will never let go of the thought that these are still our lands.
    What a sensitive and thought provoking ending. Lovely yet sad.

  3. Khatchig,

    An interesting and well written story. I assume there will be a continuation of this, in that you at least attempt to write about the other side of the story as well. Let us know what happened to all of the Mosques and Moslems (and their graves) that were in Armenia! Sadly, we only know of one single Mosque in Yerevan (the other remaining one was bulldozed within the last few years). Thank you.

  4. We, the children and grandchildren of the Christian refugees from what were once Ottoman lands, speak the same language of the heart that remembers our ancestral lands from which our people were forcibly removed – you from Armenia, and I from the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.  My mother often told me of her village which had been settled by her Greek ancestors in Roman times and from which my grandparents and nine children had to flee after the second Balkan War.  I was most fortunate to actually go back there in 1990 after the Communist regime and, like you, found my roots – there were no houses built by Greeks but there was the stone church where my mother worshipped – it had been converted to a sort-of museum – the icons had been replaced by paintings of fruits and vegetables.  But my mother’s feet had walked there and I did too.

  5. Turk-oglu Robert:
     
     
    Armenians are indigenous to the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands: Turks are not.
    Turks are indigenous to the Altai mountains region, 3,000 kilometers East of Yerevan.
    Christianity is 2,000 years old. Islam is about 1,300 years old.
    Armenians adopted Christianity 1,700 years ago, and started building churches centuries  before the spread of Islam
    Do the basic  math: who built first and who started destroying whose religious
    objects first ?
    Seljuk Turks invaded Christiandom about 1000 A.D. and started destroying Churches and converting our Churches to barns or Mosques.
    Have a look at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople/Istanbul: what are those minarets doing surrounding a Christian Church ? Who built Hagia Sophia ? Christians. Who converted it to a Mosque : Moslem Turk invaders. Q.E.D.
     
     
     
    As to the allegedly bulldozed mosque inYerevan: you give us proof, and I will give you proof – including satellite imagery – of your Azeri-Tatar-Turk cousins destroying 10,000 Armenian Christian Khachkars in historic  Armenian Nakhichevan.

  6. It is very similiar to Jews returning to Poland & other European countries which the nazis occupied to look for their famalies & people’s history!!!

  7. To so-called “Robert”
    Your seemingly “neutral” postition betrays your denialist thinking. First of all there was never a Genocide of Moslems at the hands of Armenians. So stop putting Armenians and Turks (not Moslems, as you emphasize purposefully) on even levels. Secondly, I do not know of any mosque in Armenia which was “bulldozed within the last few years”. Perhaps during the communist era, when mosques and churches alike were razed to the ground. The remaining Blue Mosque in Yerevan which was in a state of dilapidation befor independence has been restored and renovated with the help of the Armenian government and is now a touristic and cultural centre. Stop making yourself ridiculous.

  8. Dear Khatchig, you made me cry, thank you very much for doing that – for coming, for speaking to people, for writing what you saw and feel. Thank you. You are doing a great thing, a real thing, a substantial thing. I can’t put it in words, but I feel very very deep inside. Your coming here is something very very precious. And thank George too.

  9.   Khatchig, you continue to provide important information to our community…be it news items, editorials or human interests offering. If we hope to make our claims for western Armenian effective, it is critical for us to bridge our knowledge from 1920 to today. For many Armenians, our perspective is frozen in the chaos of post genocide historic Armenia. We need to read, to interview, to research and to visit…   to make us informed activists with our eye on the goal. Thank you Khatchig for continuing your meaningful contributions. My hope is that your work receives even wider distribution in other on line publications and media outlets.

  10. {He begins talking in detail about the Armenians who lived in the village almost a century ago. He points to a nearby area crowded with houses and says: “The Armenian cemetery was right there. They destroyed it and built those houses. I asked our Imam if Islam permits that. He said no religious site should be desecrated.”} (emphasis mine)
     
    {“My father was a young Armenian boy when the genocide happened. His entire family was massacred—parents, brothers, sisters. He was taken in by some newcomers and survived. No Armenians remained here.”}
     
     
     
    Did you happen to read and understand the meaning of those two paragraphs before spewing your usual Anti-Armenian bile,  Turk-oglu Robert  ?

  11. Our greatest treasure ilies in those like Khatchig and George, who spend their lives in the service of preserving our history. The turks intended that we would be forgotten. George and Khatchig stand with those who intend that our people will always be remembered. I read this story, and the one on the conference they attended, with a deep sense of gratitude for their efforts on our behalf. George’s committment to preserving the names of our villages and their populations is legendary.

  12. Dear Khachik and George
    Impressive amount of work and research . Excellent article
    Please tell me you intend to visit or you have visited the village of Haini near Diarkbekir and what you have discovered there. My late father was from Haini. He was 10 years old when the Genocide started . He lost his father and two brothers in the massacre
    Congrats and Thanks
    Krikor
     

    • Krikor Krikorian, I don’t know if you are seeing this, but my family was from Haini. Not a lot of us Hainetsis around these days. You are the second Hainetsi I have ever found!!! Contact me if you wish at larasmkl@gmail.com

  13. Khachig and George. Thank you for all your reporting from Diyarbakir so far. I can’t wait for your next article. Please note that besides the orphans who were “adopted” when their families were killed or deported during the genocide, there were hundreds of villages in the Diyarbakir region and beyond that were forcefully converted beginning with the Hamidiye massacres of 1894-96. 

  14. Oh of course Robert The Turk (or Robert the Turks) contributed his immortally stupid comment on these pages.. well.. well..well.. I was wondering when you would pop up again Robert the Turk…

    I thought we explained to you about Mosques in Armenia and the whole notion of who destroyed who.. are you that slow to repeat the same thing over and over or are you DELIBERATELY trying to spew your Anti-Armenian Neo Nationalits and denialists comments to help your cause …???? Well .. guess what Robert the Turk??  It aint working my denialists friend..

    Read Avery’s words over and over.. maybe you will get it through your denialists head once and for all.. even though I have no hope for you..

    Gayane     

  15. Dear Khachig and George.. Thank you for taking us b ack to our ancestral lands and create an environment where we can be part of… I chocked up when I read it especially the last part..

    Oh how I wish our people never seen such horror and how i wished our lands and history would not have altered and destroyed by Robert The Turks blood thirsty and cold blooded ancestors… but the day will come when the truth will fiinally burst out for everyone to see.. it is already happening.. it is a matter of time .. robert the Turks it is coming….the truth is coming..   

  16. We should recognize that the grandchildren of the killers, the observers, and the victims are now in late middle age and older. Soon Talaat, Kemal, et al  will realize their dream of first the annihalation of the Christian peoples, second, the annihalation of places, buildings, names, words and things, and finally, the annihalation of memories.

    In a generation, there will not be any more tractor-drivers.

  17. My mother’s second cousin, when well into her 90s, drew a map of a section of Old Diarbekir for me, depicting the locations of the Protestant and Catholic Churches, as well as,  the locations of the homes of both sets of grandparents. On homes within a few doors of these churches are listed the surnames of very well-known remnants of these families in America. It seems that residences adjacent to the respective churches were prized real estate.

  18. JDA jan .. unfortunately you are right… they are leaving us one by one… and the memories go with them.. however, we are here to keep their memories alive.. we are here to fight on their behalf and spread their stories.. it is a hard journey but we have come so far.. we will not give up.. we will keep their memories alive…

    Avery jan– thank you.. :) love your comments to Robert the Turk…

  19. My mother’s story has been documented on audiotape, with photos added, by Dr. Hovannisian. The tractor-drivers may someday be gone but the memories of the survivors are here for posterity.

  20. Great story. In the recenty published novel “Gray Wolves and White Doves” (fiction based on actual events), you can meet remnants of the last Armenians of Diyarbakir and read about their trials and tribulations post-Genocide.

  21. Robert:

    For the record, the mosque you mention that was bulldozed in Yerevan was done so in Soviet times, and was not intended as an attack against Islam per se, but rather manifested the attitude of soviet authorities to all places of worship, regardless of religion. The mosque in question was destroyed in the process of erecting the housing complex that now stands in its place, behind the vernisaj. A similar fate befell many historic churches in Yerevan since 1920, such as the one on Amirkhanian street where the Charents school now stands. Indeed, just as many if not more churches were destroyed by the Bolsheviks in Yerevan than Mosques. Please note that in the post-Soviet era Armenians have been largely respectful of mosques and Moslem cemetaries, despite the acrimony and ugliness of the Karabagh conflict – point in case is the beautiful mosque in Shushi, which astonishingly and happily has remained intact. This is more than one can say for Armenian sites under Azeri control, as the recent wanton destruction of the historic khachkars in Djugha (Nakhichevan) makes painfully clear: a travesty which to the very best of my knowledge has no counterpart on the Armenian side. 

  22. Khatchig — thank you so much for the important work that you are doing!  It’s as if we start in reverse, our ancient civilization begins from traces of who we are in our ancestors.  It is very exciting to think that I can become familiar with the places of my grandparents one day.  I have never traveled to Turkey, but you make me think perhaps one day I will do so.

  23.  
    The ARF Providence Gomideh
     
    Presents:
     
    Sourp Giragos:
     
    The Church That Withstood Time
    A Presentation on the Revival of an Armenian Church in Diyarbakir

     
    Friday, December 9th, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
    Sts. Vartanantz Church, Aramian Hall
    7 Armenia Street, Providence, RI 02909
    Featuring:
    George Aghjayan and Khatchig Mouradian
     
    For more information please e-mail the ARF Office at
    kristaporgomideh.com or call the office at 401-227-0273

    FREE ADMISSION & REFRESHMENTS TO FOLLOW

     

  24. To Ariadris,
    Please allow  me to make a very slight correction.No , it is not connected with  what  you have so well described  but  a  name .That  of the street,Where  Charentz  school is.You mention it  as Amirkhanian,It is best known  as AMIRIAN.BTW,we repaired  that school´s roof and all romms flooring plus put  in heating  system some 5 yrs ago…
    Meaning a group  of our church members ,plus  90% aid we got from WB(one Armenian friend  who works  there , worked  that  out)
    Rgds.
    G-P 

  25. Gaytzag:

    Yes, thank you, I meant Amirian Street and only realized my typo after I posted. Unfortunately, there is no way to edit once submitted. 

    Glad to hear that the school is in good shape, thanks to you.

     

  26. Zariadris jan– well said my friend.. BRAVO… thank you for pointing out to RObert the Turk with his pitty questions tries to put a doubt in those who may not know the history well enough that his attempts are useless……

    Did you hear that RObet The Turk- you will not win.. lies don’t win…

     

  27. This youtube should be our flag on the top of Armenian weekly…

    http://youtu.be/uCebMq-GmH4
    ===========================

    To the Deniers of our genocide…
    If Arab Muslim Killed us…the way Turks did
    Because we were Christians
    We will never had any more Armenians 
    Arabs Looked After Armenians…
    And still looking and respecting
    They call Us ‘Trustful People’…

    Because Islam doesn’t say…
    Kill those who care for you and your land…
    Rarely an Arab trust Turks
    Always remembering how they delayed their advance
    Looking at the Arabs inferior
    After snatching their Religion their philosophy
    Throwing their books in Euphrates…
    Raping and insulting with their ugly woods (Kasookh)*
    in Personal places…

    SP 

    *Syrian Film or Series of films named “Zeer Salim or Zeer Al-Salim”
    were showing, how the Turks were using kazookh….to humiliate the Arabs 
    Every Arab knows about the film 
    In some Gulf countries Turkish Embassies forced them to discontinue the series  
    In others could not…

     
     

  28. Thank you Khatchik for giving us glimpses of what it’s like today on the lands soaked with our history and pain. People over there still know and remember.

  29. Je suis Meshetsi par mon pere et Ledje-Dikranagerdtsi par ma mere.. merci a George et a Khatchig.. je suis touchee de voir pour la premiere fois des photos de villages que ma mere a connu ; elle etait agee de 7 ans en 1915 et devint orpheline ; son histoire est la meme que celle de tous nos rescapes de la mort…

  30. its very unfortunate. aremanians got fooled by russians some time in the past;  has become a cause for a big mistake, and now, will suffer forever.

  31. is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting dinfereft results. Albert Einstein For 96 years Armenia still hasn’t received an apology or even a wrong doing for the crimes Turkey committed. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians weren’t able to get America to say a word, a single word; Genocide. You need to play the role of a bully against a bully. I think Armenia and Armenians around the world have been way too civil about the atrocities committed 96 years ago. When Israel killed the Turkish activists on the flotilla, they played the role of a bully and have gotten away with it. I’m sick of hearing people bring up freedom of speech. If Turkey doesn’t allow freedom of speech, then you give them a taste of their own medicine. You fight fire with fire!! And also, many people around the web have brought up the fact that Hrant Dink was against France adopting this law(which still isn’t a law). Hrant Dink was a very smart man, but his murder alone, and the acts that followed, prove that Turkey is not a country where freedom of speech is allowed. So for all you Armenians who bring up freedom of speech, I disagree with you only because Turkey itself doesn’t allow it in their country.

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