Bedrosyan: Hidden Truths or Lies

In a matter of years beginning in 1915, an entire people was wiped out from its homeland of several thousand years. But how can you wipe out the remnants—its creations, assets, traces, its very existence—from the collective memory of those who remained in that country, or, for that matter, from the collective memory of the rest of the world? This has been an immense challenge for successive Turkish governments, a mission that was mostly successful for almost four generations. And yet, here and there the lies or the hidden truths kept coming out with increasing frequency, especially in recent years.

Even the name of the island was changed to “Akdamar,” meaning “white vein” in Turkish, so that the Armenian Akhtamar connection would disappear. Why this fear, this paranoia? How can these moves convince anybody in Turkey or the outside world that this is not an Armenian church? (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

Hiding the truth and historic facts about 1915 from its own people has been the policy since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, through indoctrination of the education system, control of the media and academia, destruction of Armenian buildings and monuments, and so on. But the facts, perhaps still secret within Turkey but widely known in the outside world, are now being revealed to the masses in Turkey, because of increased liberalization, the internet and pioneering academicians and media opinion-makers who dare to speak the truth in Turkey. As a result, the citizens of Turkey, who for four generations were hidden from the facts, are now amazed to learn that a people called Armenians lived in Anatolia for several millennia, but somehow all suddenly disappeared in 1915. In this article, I will try to give a few paradoxical examples of the attempts in hiding the truth, versus the ones uncovering it.

The second largest and most modern airport in Turkey is called the Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, named after the adopted daughter of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first female pilot in Turkey, a hero who helped put down the Alevi/Kurdish rebellion in Dersim in 1936-38 by bombing the rebels from her plane. Her photos and accomplishments are prominently displayed on billboards at the airport, and are seen by millions of passengers. And yet, there is another side to her story: Her real name is Hatun Sebilciyan, an Armenian girl from Bursa, who was orphaned in 1915, adopted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and given the Gokcen (azure, color of the sky in Turkish) surname by him after completing pilot training. Former Agos Editor Hrant Dink became a marked man by the “deep state” in Turkey when he first uncovered this truth after interviewing Sebilciyan’s surviving relatives in Lebanon in 2001. This fact was deemed an “insult to Turkishness” by the military, the media, and the government. Another recently uncovered fact: The people being bombed in Dersim were not rebels, but mostly women and children; the leaders were already hanged the previous year, a fact acknowledged and apologized for by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mostly to score political points against the governing party at the time (the current opposition party). To add more to the sad irony, these women and children were mostly remnants of the 25,000 Armenians who had sought refuge and found shelter with the Dersim Alevi Kurds in 1915. It is not certain whether Sebilciyan/Gokcen knew that she was Armenian, or if she knew that the women and children she bombed were Armenian.

The ancient city of Ani near Kars, situated on the Armenian border separated by the Akhurian River, is known as the “city with 1,001 churches.” It is a former capital of the Armenian Bagratid Kingdom, and had a continuous Armenian presence from the 5th-17th century. It reached its glory days in the 10th and 11th centuries, when it became a central gateway on the Silk Route; its growing population of 100,000 even exceeded Constantinople at the time. Most of the buildings and churches are now destroyed, but the main Ani cathedral, Dikran Honents Church, the Sourp Prgitch Church, and the city walls are still standing, with clearly visible Armenian writings carved in the stonewalls. After years of neglect (or target practice) by the Turkish military on the remaining buildings, the current Turkish government has opened up Ani to tourists and has started some preliminary restoration efforts. However, there is not a single word about Armenians in the Turkish guidebooks or historic descriptions on Ani. The standing churches and buildings are referred to as belonging to the Georgians or the Seljuks. Even the name Ani is now spelled with an i without the dot, or “Anı”—which means “memory” in Turkish—so that the Armenian Ani connection to this city will disappear. The denial policy and the paranoia linked to 1915 has stretched so far that even the Armenian presence in Ani is being denied.

The museum in Kars exhibits historical artifacts collected from the region—wood-carved church doors, stone tombstones, carpets, and dowry chests. Descriptions explain that the ancient ones are from the Urartians, the more recent ones from the Russians or Georgians. And yet, all these artifacts have clearly visible Armenian writings carved in the wood or stone or woven into the fabric. Again, here, the denialist paranoia has gone to extreme limits, but it can only fool a few Turks who cannot recognize the Armenian alphabet.

The Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island near Van dates back to 921 AD. It was built by the Armenian King Gagik, together with a palace and other buildings on the island. Armenian priests lived there continuously until 1915. All the buildings on the island were willfully destroyed by the Turkish army from the 1920’s to 1950’s, and only through the intervention of renowned Kurdish author Yashar Kemal was the Holy Cross Church building spared. The current Turkish government decided to restore the church as a state museum in 2007. While there are beautiful Armenian writings carved on the church walls, both inside and outside the building, there is not a single word in the descriptive plaques or guidebooks indicating that this is an Armenian church. Even the name of the island was changed to “Akdamar,” meaning “white vein” in Turkish, so that the Armenian Akhtamar connection would disappear. Why this fear, this paranoia? How can these moves convince anybody in Turkey or the outside world that this is not an Armenian church?

In Istanbul, almost all of the prominent historic buildings built from the 17th-20th century—such as the Ottoman imperial palaces, mosques, military barracks, universities, schools, or fountains—were built by Armenians. Led by the renowned Balyan family, royal architects for several generations, teams of Armenian tradesmen and craftsmen were involved in all aspects of the royal construction projects, including stone masonry, tile and mosaic manufacturing and setting, plumbing, foundations, glassworks, and metal works. And yet, until 10 years ago, official guides would tell tourists that Italian contractors named Balianis were involved in the construction of these buildings. Similarly, at least a quarter of the buildings in the historic Pera district, along the main thoroughfare called Istiklal Caddesi, were either built by Armenian architects or owned by Armenians. Millions of Istanbul citizens and tourists live, work, and play in these buildings, without realizing their historic Armenian connection. Two years ago, when the Hrant Dink Foundation published a book on Armenian architects of Istanbul, and hosted an exhibition displaying photos of the buildings, it was like a revelation, causing uproar and amazement among the media and general public.

The government policy of forced amnesia over an Armenian presence prior to 1915 extends beyond architects and builders. Armenians served as ministers in the Ottoman government from the early 1800’s until 1915, and were in charge of key ministries such as the treasury, armaments, mint, public works, customs, and post office departments. Tens of thousands of Armenians worked in the bureaucracy, army, and state hospitals. And the Turkish government has not only hidden their contributions but their very existence, as well. As a result, the general Turkish population has only recently started to realize the important role played by the Armenians in the Ottoman public sector. The contributions of Armenians in the private sector, of course, are completely and forcefully hidden, because all Armenian assets and properties—such as farms, factories, mines, warehouses, businesses, orchards, and buildings—were plundered and taken over by the Turkish/Kurdish leaders and the general public in 1915. In fact, the very foundation of the Turkish private and public sector economy and industry, the start-up of wealthy individuals and corporations, is based entirely on the seized Armenian assets; therefore, this is an understandable component of the denial policy.

The positive contributions by Armenians during the Turkish Republican era are also kept hidden. The introduction of the Latin alphabet and conversion from Ottoman Turkish to modern Turkish was implemented by an Armenian linguistics expert, Prof. Agop Martayan. In gratitude, Kemal Ataturk gave him the surname of Dilacar, meaning “the one who unlocks the language.” In Turkish textbooks, he is referred to as A. Dilacar, with his first name Agop never spelled out. When he passed away in 1978, the Turkish media printed his obituary as Adil Acar, further Turkifying his given name. Another example of a hidden truth is the case of Armenian musician Edgar Manas, the composer of the Turkish national anthem, a fact only known by a few Armenians and completely covered up by the Turks.

Why this fear, this paranoia, resulting in total denial? It goes beyond the denial of the historical facts of 1915. It is the denial of the existence of an entire people on these lands. Is it fear over the Armenian assets and properties left behind? Is it the simplistic argument: If Armenians never lived here, there could not have been a genocide? But then, if Armenians never lived here, how could they have massacred the Turks, as is claimed by the Turkish version of official history? Rather than speculate about the answers, I’ll refer instead to the remarks made by prominent Kurdish professor Ismail Besikci, the recent recipient of the Hrant Dink Foundation Peace Award:

“The Ittihadists [Committee of Union and Progress] had devised a plan to reorganize the Ottoman Empire on the basis of Turkish ethnic identity. The nationalization of the Ottoman economy was a further significant target. But Greeks, Armenians, and other Christian people, as well as Islamic but non-Turkish people such as Kurds, non-Muslim Turkish and Kurdish people such as Alevis, presented significant obstacles to the execution of this Turkification project. They would get rid of the Greeks by forcing them into exile to Greece. The Armenian population would be eliminated under the guise of forced deportation into the desert. Then, the Kurds would be assimilated into Turkishness, and the Alevis into Islam. The wealth and immovable properties of the Greeks, forced into exile, and the Armenians, perished through genocide, would be confiscated by Muslim Turkish notables. A huge, widespread looting operation took place of the assets left behind by the Armenians and Greeks, helping the Ottoman economy, and then the Turkish economy, to be nationalized. Today, the source of the wealth of the haute bourgeoisie is the Armenian and Greek assets. In Kurdish areas of Turkey, the source of wealth of the Kurdish tribe leaders is again the Armenian and Syriac assets.”

As Besikci has said, it has become apparent that the experiment of trying to convert a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural Anatolian society into a monolithic, mono-ethnic, single-religion Turkish nation, and then denying this fact, has failed. The hidden truths about the fate of the Armenian and Greek people, and their assets, can no longer be denied within and outside Turkey, despite state efforts. The assimilation of the Kurds did not succeed, despite state efforts.

As another Kurdish intellectual has very appropriately remarked, for many years the Turks denied that Armenians were ever killed on these lands, and also denied that Kurds ever lived on these lands. An increasingly larger number of opinion-makers in the Turkish media and academia have started to reveal the hidden truths, and sooner or later, the people of Turkey will realize that the historic facts are different than what they have been told by the state. As it becomes apparent that the hidden truths cannot be hidden any longer, the challenge for the Turkish government will be how to revise its stance from denial to acceptance of the truth, and how to deal with the truth vis a vis its own citizens as well as the outside world. It is hoped that this process will be carried out within the norms of dialogue, the establishment of common body of knowledge.


Raffi Bedrosyan

Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer, writer and a concert pianist, living in Toronto. Proceeds from his concerts and CDs have been donated to the construction of school, highways, and water and gas distribution projects in Armenia and Karabakh—projects in which he has also participated as a voluntary engineer. Bedrosyan was involved in organizing the Surp Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church reconstruction project. His many articles in English, Armenian and Turkish media deal with Turkish-Armenian issues, Islamized hidden Armenians and history of thousands of churches left behind in Turkey. He gave the first piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915, and again during the 2015 Genocide Centenary Commemoration. He is the founder of Project Rebirth, which helps Islamized Armenians return to their original Armenian roots, language and culture. He is the author of the book "Trauma and Resilience: Armenians in Turkey - hidden, not hidden, no longer hidden."

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  1. Truth has been a hidden secret is an Armenian myth that only Armenians believe.
    Just for your information, people in Turkey do not treat people based on their ethnic back round. If Sabiha gokcen was an Armenian girl then we can even be more proud of her because of the fact that she served her country instead of collaborating with its enemies

    • Really? Why is the Kurdish language banned?

      Non-Turks are accepted when they are Turkified, or act Turkified or are critical to Turkey’s needs. There are minorities in Turkey who changed their last names so they would not be discriminated against.

    • “People in Turkey do not treat people based on their ethnic background”. Really??? Since when?? Please allow me to bring a few items to your attention. Varlik vergisi (the infamous wealth tax) was a piece of legislation that by law discriminated against non-muslims, imposing taxes that were actually higher than the value of the asset in question. In nearer times let’s talk about foundations (vakiflar), why is there discrimination on how non-muslim foundations? And why do foundations have to go to court to reclaim their properties?

      As to Sabiha Gokcen, yes she was Armenian and Hrant Dink was attacked for saying so. Not only was he attacked he was threatened with death and was eventually killed.

      So please save us this nonsense. This misinformation really has no place in a paper called Armenian Weekly!!!

    • Turk,
      Why would Turks have enemies in the first place? Maybe because they are responsible for the mass murder and theft of the Armenian, Greeks, Assyrians and Kurdis population?

    • “people in Turkey do not treat people based on their ethnic background”

      Really, J Turk? Then, I guess, Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians were not singled out based on their ethnicity to be barbarously slaughtered by Ottoman Turkish savages? And, I guess, drunkard alias homosexual alias freemason Mustafa Kemal’s claim that all the previous inhabitants of Asia Minor: the Hittites, Phrygians, etc., were Turkic, is just a figment of Armenian imagination? Or maybe calling the Kurds “mountain Turks” in the modern-day Turkish society is also an Armenian myth?

  2. Mr. john the turk , did you know that Mustafa Kemal was an alcoholic and a
    homosexual.Thats why he married late in life and he was forced to get married.

    • This “libel”, as you call it, RVDV, is present in many historical accounts. Note: non-Armenian accounts. Not only Kemal was an alcoholic and a homosexual, but also a freemason and a donmeh. Yes, the “father” of your nation was exactly that and I stand ready to provide sources, if the need be.

    • Nvair: You can provide sources if you wish, but it does not change facts. The freemason and donme topics are debatable, there is no 100% clear consensus on that. If he was an alcoholic, I can understand, he spent most of his life in the battlefield or ruling a nation. Different people cope with stress in different ways. And if he was gay- I don’t really care. I don’t judge people based on things that they cannot control. And if you want to use something like that against a person to make them look bad, then that says a lot more about you then it does him.

    • Really?? An attack on gays and alcoholics and Freemasons all in one breath. If you live in Ontario, or for that matter in Canada I hope you are aware of the consequences of your discriminatory statements.

  3. “…people in Turkey do not treat people based on their ethnic back round”. Really???? Try to speak in Armenian in Turkey’s public places and let’s see what will happen to you…
    As long as the US and Israel will lick turkish boots Turkey will always stay on the same track…

    • Arak,

      Further Islamization of Turkey will do the trick. Neither US nor Europe need a highly Islamized and big talking ally like Turkey. It is one thing to have an Islamic ally in the middle East and another thing next to Europe. Newly formed Kurdistan will be a better ally.

    • Sella,

      Thank you for being open about the fact that you want the Islamists to destroy Ataturk’s ideals so you can further your racist Dashnak extremeist agenda of splitting the Turkish borders. Thank you for the fact that some of your countrymen rejoice in supporting ineffective clowns like Erdogan, Davutoglu and Bagis to further the racist Dashnak and racist PKK agendas.
      This tells me that the people of Turkey, no matter what race they are, need to wake up and pull off a “Turkish Spring” and defend it’s territorial integrity from lucrative Dashnak and PKK plots of dividing Turkey’s borders.

    • Jimbo,
      Please, those lands are Armenian lands. They were taken through rape, murder, theft and then total State sponsored amnesia to cover it up. There are many Armenians who have original deeds to orginal lands that the Turks just stole. Your whole history is a scham.

      The truth shall set you free as well.

    • Jimbo Johes,

      Sadly, your comment comes from nowhere.

      I have no connections to Dashnaks or PKK or any organization FYI. I am not politically active in any way, either. I get news from ordinary news channels or from internet. It is not hard to see what is happening to Turkey now. You do not have to be a Dashnak or a PKK member to understand that. However, I have no sympathy for Turkey or Turkish people. No nation committed as many genocides as Turks and covered it up so shamelessly as Turks. No nation destroyed and stole as much culture from others as Turks. Your nation less than 100 years ago exterminated over 75% of Armenians and stole everything that they ever possessed. All that money is in your country’s budget today and every Turk benefits from it. Plus, your country was about to invade Armenia in 1993, and is blockading Armenia to this day. Yes, I do have a lot of sympathy for Kurds, who are treated as second class citizens in their own country. No wonder they want Independence.

      Racist comment? I am not racist in any way, but if you can name a country whose people are more racist than Turkey I will be happy to learn about it. Just google and see what your countrymen were doing in Taksim square in 2012.

    • Jimbo Jones,

      As to ”Thank you for being open about the fact that you want the Islamists to destroy Ataturk’s ideals…”

      Frankly, I could not care less.

  4. Don’t forget the creator of Ataturk’s signature was Armenian as well. Can’t remember his name at the moment.

    • Random Armenian, Turks are embarrassing themselves so much, that even their own officials loves to keep them in dark corners, like John The Turk, they hide the truth from their own people, the creator of Turkish alphabet was an Armenian, his name is Hagop Martayan, and Turks call them Hagop Dilachar.

  5. Mr. Bedrosyan assumes that things will develop in Turkey in the way Armenians want. You will always find a few liberals supporting Armenians or people like Taner Akcam but Trust me the Turkish arguments are extremely strong compare the Armenians one. That’s why we can never see these liberals discussing their arguments on TV debates. I can understand that sometimes TV channels feel desperate to find experts supporting the Armenians but all these people are doing is writing an article on a paper and disappear.

    • At the risk of stating the obvious, let me say this; the reason why we can’t see “these liberals” as you call those who have a different point of view than yours on TV debates is that soon after these debates they receive death threats. They receive death threats to themselves and to their families. So much for free speech and democracy in Turkey!!!

      Yes, you are right they right an article and disappear, literally! And they still write, these are couragous souls.

      Oh, it would be nice if you would refer to Mr Akcam with a bit more respect. He is one of the greatest academics of the Turkish world. Incidentally, have you read any of his books?

    • “the Turkish arguments are extremely strong compare the Armenians one”

      Like what, Turk? That there was a indigenous people living in their ancestral homeland, and suddenly, within a couple of years, it had just disappeared and the central Turkish government had no knowledge of what was happening to 2 million people?

  6. At some point, Turks will realize that Armenia and Armenians are essential elements in telling the history of Turkey. Armenians were present at the very beginning with the arrival of the Seljuks…they built their forts, mausoleums and mosques for them…they provided Turkey with its greatest (and one of the world’s greatest) architects – Sinan. They worked for and with every sultan throught the Ottoman period…they gave and developed music, art, architecture, armaments, as well as their children…and all the essentials of civilization – on behalf of the Ottoman state. Armenians cannot be divorced from Turkish history, no matter how hard they try. Even though the CUP used a divide and conquer approach to steal land, property and history from Turkey’s Armenians…the world knows the truth – which is something that cannot be stolen.

    • Karekin: Would you stop this “arrival of the Seljuks” rubbish, please? Since when a sheer military invasion by terrorizing nomadic tribes into the homeland of sedentary and nobler peoples is termed “arrival”? As for the achievements of the Armenians throughout the Ottoman period, they were achievements of the colonized under the colonizers who gladly encouraged the services of the colonized for self-enrichment and self-glorification. Also, given the fact that Armenians are one the oldest nations inhabiting the Earth, it is chronologically and semantically wrong to say “Armenians cannot be divorced from Turkish history”. “Turks cannot be divorced from the Armenian history” sounds more appropriate given the fact that they settled in the region with fire and sword only in the 11th century AD. Finally, please stop this mind-tilting attempts to pin the blame on the CUP only and portray the life of the Armenians under the Sultans as a life in the wonderland. Sultan Abdulhamid II, the Damned Butcher, as he was dubbed by the Westerners, was in no way a CUP member. Yet, he slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the Armenians in 1894-96 and in 1909. It is a sheer historical distortion to single out the CUP period of the Turkish colonization from the preceding years. It was a general Turkish mistreatment of the native Christian inhabitants, less grave or more grave.

    • Karekin, if the nomadic Turkic warriors just “arrived” into Asia Minor, possibly to share the secrets of sheep-breeding and yurt-pitching in the steppes around the Altay Mountains with inhospitable Byzantine Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians, then why was there the Battle of Manzikert in 1071?

  7. Mustafa kama(father of Turkey, ATA Turk) was an officer,but ferociously nmationalistic and whne the Greeks had settled on the Pontus sea board,where,Armenians also thrived as businessmen, he did not like to see those two people who had deeper roots in the land(his, ancestors had conquered).Being drivn out of the Balkas,Europe, he decided to at least make the turco tatar, mongol people(his ancestors,however according to some with some Jewish ancestral roots a as well) to dispose of them.

  8. Quote, “It is the denial of the existence of an entire people on these lands.” Unquote.
    We have an expression “kogh seerduh togh” which says it all. It’s a question of feeling insecure and uneasy.

  9. And, in a further distortion or covering up of the truth, the key figures of the CUP, architects not of buildings, but of the genocide, were not even truly Turkish at all. Ottoman – yes, Turkish – no. When does this truth get exposed, as it should be?

    • “In a further distortion or covering up of the truth, the key figures of the CUP, architects not of buildings, but of the genocide, were not even truly Turkish at all. Ottoman – yes, Turkish – no. When does this truth get exposed, as it should be?”

      The CUP represented the official government of the Ottoman Turkish empire at the time. Whoever some of them were ethnicity-wise. Sultan Abdulhamid had an Armenian mother, yet he slaughtered up to 300,000 Armenians in 1894-96 and in Adana in 1090. Regardless who the Sultan was ethnicity-wise, he was the head of state. So were the CUP mass murderers.

      All were Ottoman Turks.

    • Karekin: Josef Stalin was Georgian. Can we pin the blame on the Georgian nation for the Stalinist purges?

  10. Just correct me if I’m wrong, 1896-96 – 300 000 massacred by Sultan Abdul Hameed, 1908 – 30 000 by Yong Turks in Adana and then in 1915 another1.5 million, 1918 in Baku 30 000 more, without counting the later on in Nakhichevan , about 20 years ago in Sumgiet , Gerovabat and Baku again by thousands more by Turks brothers, are this numbers small enough to be hidden under the carpet to be somehow disappeared , are we living in a blind folded world ? I think no mater how long the Turkish government tries to hide it, finally the civilized world people will have their say, and it’s about time for the Turkish government to ask for the forgiveness of the Armenian people.

  11. Unfortunately, the ‘civilized’ world is more concerned with oil, profits and greed than justice or Armenians. This was the case in 1915 and is the same now. If it were otherwise, Armenians would not have to fight for genocide recogntion, acknowledgement or reparations….their supporters would lend a hand, but we don’t see that on any front. As we know, words are cheap. Unless words and ideas can be put into action or unless the right words (meaning the hard truth), reaches those who hold the reins of power (in Turkey) and create a change of heart, the fight, the frustration and the disappointment will continue for all Armenians.

  12. THE REAL COVERUP: Were is the study of who the young Turks really were? Someone please tell me why the USA would allow any nuclear weapons installed on 99% muslim country? Also please tell me why the ADL, AJC and Binai Brith work tirelessy to thwart any AREMENIAN GENOCIDE RESOLUTION?

    Someon please answer those questions?

    THATS THE BIG SECRET that the US State department helps cover up as well.

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