A History of a Perfect Crime

A History of a Perfect Crime1
The Armenian Weekly April 2013 Magazine
(Download PDF here)

I spent my high school years in Samatya. The majority of my classmates were the children of the Armenians who had come to Istanbul from the provinces during the republican years. We were allowed to go out during our lunch breaks. Many of the students lived in Samatya and could go home for lunch. Yet, in the early 1990’s, when the political tension in the country reached its peak, because of the Kurdish issue, we were no longer allowed to go outside the school grounds during lunch breaks.

Samatya (Raymond Kevorkian, Ermeniler, Aras Publ., 2012)

Although we used to work hard to not only be good citizens but the “best citizens”—we took compulsory national security classes taught by a high-ranking military officer, and would do our military exercises in the schoolyard so loud that half the district would hear our voices—it never guaranteed our security.

In those years, constant bomb warnings were reminders that we were not safe. After each warning, we would go out to the schoolyard until the entire school was searched. Sometimes we would be asked to go home early. We hardly had any idea why a bomb would be planted in our school. No one would put these bomb warnings into context. There was nothing to understand; it was just like that. And so we got used to these warnings, along with the changing security measures that were an ordinary part of our school life.

During my doctoral research, I read Armenian newspapers from the 1930’s and had the chance to look at Samatya from a different perspective. Samatya was one of the districts where kaghtagayans were established. Kaghtagayans were kaghtagan (deportee or IDP) centers that hosted thousands of Armenians from the provinces. These centers functioned until the end of the 1930’s. Armenian newspapers published in Istanbul in the 1920’s and 1930’s were full of reports on the kaghtagans’ severe conditions in these centers, where they often had to live on top of one another. The community in Istanbul was responsible for providing food, work, and a sustainable life for these people. Yet, it was not easy, as the financial means of the community were shortened to a great extent, the court cases for saving its properties continued, and its legal status was in the process of complete eradication. And still, Armenians whose living conditions in the provinces were systematically decimated continued to come to Istanbul.

Armenians who remained in the provinces were threatened in several ways. Arshag Alboyaciyan referred to these attacks in his book Badmut‘iwn Malatio Hayots’:

In 1924, Armenians were leaving en masse since a group of attackers—15 people—were raiding their houses asking for money and jewels, beating them up, almost to death. This organization was called Ateshoglu Yildirim… They would put signs on the houses of Armenians and tell them to leave within 10 days… One day, they put a sign on the main church, giving Armenians five days to leave; otherwise, they said, ‘Ateshoglu Yildirim would burn you all.’2

Armenians understood that the organization was trying to intimidate them into leaving in order to take over their properties, along with the other Emval-i Metruke (Abandoned Properties).3 In November 1923, two prominent Armenians, on behalf of 35 Armenians from Malatya, sent a letter to Mustafa Kemal, asking for security and the right to live in their houses. They wrote that if their citizenship was not recognized and they were required to leave, that this should be told to them officially, and not by raiding their houses.4 The letter did not have a positive impact; on the contrary, the signatories were asked to leave the country, and the 35 families had to follow them.5 Over the following months, Armenians continued to leave Malatya to Syria or to Istanbul.

I first came across the Ateshoglu Yildirim cases through an oral history project I conducted for my doctoral research. My interviewee said there were others in Istanbul who could talk about this organization and its raids. He contacted one family, they said yes, but then changed their minds. It was during the same time that Maritsa Küçük, an elderly Armenian women, was brutally killed, two others were severely beaten, and another attacked in Samatya. The atmosphere of fear was once again at its peak for the Armenians, and I decided to stall my research on the topic.

Yozgat, Amasya, Sinop, Ordu, Tokat, Kayseri, Diyarbakır, Sivas . . .And so it continued—Armenians were systematically forced out of Asia Minor and northern Mesopotamia throughout the republican years. They were essentially forced to come to Istanbul, looking for shelter, food, work, and a secure life, following the Settlement Law of 1934; sometimes through extraordinary decrees ordering them to leave a certain place and be settled in another; through racist attacks that occurred on a daily basis; or simply through the state’s refusal to open Armenian schools in the provinces, which was one of the “guaranteed rights” of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923.

Armenians who came to Istanbul remained at the bottom of all hierarchies. They were caught helpless between the institutional power structures of the Armenian community in Istanbul and the state. The latter cared about them the least. These centers were closed at the end of the 1930’s; yet, Armenians continued to come to Istanbul from the provinces throughout the republican era, and their socio-economic problems occupied the agenda of the community for quite some time.

An Armenian suspect was recently arrested for the murder of Maritsa Küçük and for the other attacks on elderly women in Samatya. On the same day, the Turkish media covered the arrest with a news item, disseminated by the police,6 implying that since the suspect was Armenian, no racism was involved. Hence, the issue has been resolved.

We know that law has little to do with truth or justice. On the contrary, the mechanisms of law create substitutes for truth or justice. The cases of Pınar Selek, Hrant Dink, Sevag Balıkçı, along with the murder of Maritsa Küçük and the other attacks in Samatya, remind us of not only the impossibility of justice, but also the perfection of a crime, which continues to silence the witnesses.7


1. This article is a revised and expanded version of Malatya, Yozgat, Ordu ve Samatya,” published in Radikal İki, March 2, 2013.

2. Arshag Alboyaciyan, Badmutiwn Malatio Hayots‘ (Beirut: Dbaran Sevan, 1961), pp. 966–967.

3. For Emval-ı Metruke See Nevzat Onaran, Emval-ı Metruke: Osmanlı’da ve Cumhuriyette Ermeni ve Rum Mallarının Türleştirilmesi (Istanbul: Belge Yay, 2010), Uğur Ümit Üngör, Confiscation and Destruction: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property (Continuum Publ., 2011), Taner Akçam and Ümit Kurt, Kanunların Ruhu (Istanbul:İletişim Publ., 2012).

4. Alboyaciyan, Badmut‘iwn Malatio Hayots‘, p. 967.

5. Ibid.

6. See the press release of the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Organization of Nov. 3, 2013, after meeting Murat Nazaryan.

7. See Jean-Françis Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. transl. Georges van den Abbeele (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), p. 14.

Talin Suciyan

Talin Suciyan

Talin Suciyan is a Teaching Fellow and a PhD candidate at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, Chair of Turkish Studies. She has worked for over a decade as a journalist both in Turkey and Armenia.
Talin Suciyan

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  1. Very interesting article – great research here. Thank you Talin for writing this. I’ve often wondered how the Armenian Genocide was finished up, i.e. how surviving Armenians were essentially not allowed to go back to their homes and properties following the Genocide during the Republican period of Turkey.

    It occurs to me that many of the approaches, including the legislation used to rid Armenians out of the interior provinces, likely violates international law and perhaps even Turkish law, and importantly may not be conditional on recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

    My point here is that an approach Armenians can take to at least defacto recognition of the Armenian Genocide is to reclaim these until now lost properties. I believe this is already in process for the return of Church properties to the Armenian Patriarchate. Does anybody know, or have ideas about, how personal properties of Armenians could be reclaimed?

    • @robert
      I have a idea about your problem..
      first apply for Turkish citizenship
      next apply for a Job, after 20 years of work, apply for retirement
      then apply for housing credit
      and finaly you can achieve your goals

      My family exiled from Thessaloniki …People in Turkey 7/24 plus 20 years work to have a home…It is not so easy to have a home in Turkey…

  2. My grand parents told me they use to put black paint or ribbon (I can not remember which one it was)on the Armenian peoples doors to mark them and distinguish them from other houses,in order to single them out for persecution.

  3. I grew up in 60s in an area of Istanbul, where we had an intense population of the so-called ethnic minorities (it is an unacceptable shameful definition, I am using it because it became a legal definition), namely Armenians, Greek Rums, Jews. They have all been our good friends, neighbors and just like my family members. Because of them, I have a large collection of Armenian, Greek and Jewish music and books.

    Gradually they disappeared from the scene, because of the oppresssions and persecutions over the years. I hope to see these people again in large numbers all over Turkey, building their churches, synagogues, homes and bringing their rich culture and colors to make this land more livable and more colorful.

    Am I hopeful? Yes I am always hopeful, but the reality might be different and may not turn out be the way I like it to be. Who knows? Let’s keep hoping.

  4. To Bennu:

    Sorry to hear that your family was exiled from Thessaloniki. That must of been tough.

    Your description of getting a home in Turkey sounds like it could apply to Armenia as well… meaning that in both these countries, and I think like much of the world unfortunately, it’s not an easy life for the average person.

    So much of the trouble really is because we humans are so busy fighting with each other that much of our efforts are wasted. Maybe I’m naive in saying it, but I think the world would be a much better place if we just did away with the borders and let people live. We could still all keep our cultures, be it Turkish, or Armenian, or Kurdish, or French, German, Italian, but we recognize the world as one place. What a world that could be!

    • @robert I agree with you, Robert …we all humanbeing it is easy to set boundaries in relationships…but we should remove our mind boundaries! we share common pain, history, cuisine, songs, land…My family exiled from Greece, died in Turkey…your family exiled from Turkey and I understand how you feel ..you re dying everyday..

    • wrongo, Turk oglu Turk Bennu:
      we Armenians share nothing with you Turks: your savage nomadic ancestors invaded the lands of my civilized, indigenous ancestors, Armenians, murdered the indigenous peoples, stole their lands, stole their wealth, stole their genes, stole their culture, stole their cuisine, stole their song & dance, stole everything: and now incongruously claim everything that was Armenian, Assyrian, Greek is supposedly ‘Turkish’.

      And Armenians were not, quote, ‘exiled’ from Turkistan: indigenous Armenians were murdered by progeny of invading foreigner Asiatic Turkic tribes: 2 million unarmed Armenian civilians, including children and babies (1895-1923). The survivors barely escaped with their lives and spread throughout the world. “Exiled”, my foot.
      Like I said: we have nothing in common with you Denialist Turks.
      And we are not dying every day: from the brink of extinction, we have grown to 12 million worldwide.
      Wait for the payback, Denialist: it’s coming.

  5. @Resoman I hope you will come back…I love Armenian architecture. especially churches are amazing and so much caracteristic…I can’t help saying this.. armenian cuisine so delicious..the only thing we need is a little emphaty that will bring us closer together…My grandfathers father(motherside) died in Sarıkamış..grandfathers family(mother side) killed by armenian gangs… We have to get rid of hateful thoughts…if you really think so, our door is wide open to welcome you..
    A poem by Mevlana
    A certain person came to the Friend’s door
    and knocked.
    ‘Who’s there?’
    ‘It’s me.’
    The Friend answered, ‘Go away. There’s no place
    for raw meat at this table.’
    The individual went wandering for a year.
    Nothing but the fire of separation
    can change hypocrisy and ego. The person returned
    completely cooked,
    walked up and down in front of the Friend’s house,
    gently knocked.
    ‘Who is it?’
    ‘Please come in, my self,
    there’s no place in this house for two.

  6. Dear Avery, Your denial of our common culture is not much different than Genocide denial. I live in Australia. I came here 9 years ago and I already see the changes in my culture. I wouldn’t imagine to eat pizza with pineapple nine years ago. And probably my Australian neighbour wouldn’t imagine to eat olives and fetta at breakfast. Cultural exchange is a two way process. For the Anatolia, Asia Minor, Western Armenia whatever you call, after living 1000 years together how can we deny mutual exchange of cultures. I tell my daughter, if somebody asks about her nationality, tell them you are 25% Armenian, 25% Greek, 25% Kurd and 25% Turk. Yes Avery, I believe that we are all Armenians, Greeks, Turks and Kurds. This our destiny Avery and we can’t escape from it. As Robert said before in another discussion, truth will free us. I want to share a mournful song about an Armenian, Kasap (butcher) Misak who was executed after 1909 Adana Armenian Massacres. It is in Turkish and sing by a Greek singer.


  7. Dear Avery,
    I did not know that you could flare up this wise!!oh my God! please, easy easy does it.Tell them great Turkey people that we have been so far the downtrodden Ermenis,but now you may expect anything from us.Like shoring up a Big National investment Trust that will outbalance your propaganda machine.
    Next tell them , we are there to strike deals with your elitye, if latter condescend and fullu undeerstand that we are no longer what 30/40 yrs ago yoiur elite thought we were. Fact is we ,the Armenian World Congress that convened its second Convention in Lausanne ,exactly 60 yrs after the infamous Treaty of same name,we declared that Treaty as a piece of …we denounced it on the ground that when that Euro Turkish Treaty was signed, we had bearly emrged from the Ashes…on our way to ..you know the rest. We are now in a position (viz. 1983) to declare in the same Hall of the Beau Rivage Hotel,where our 2 person delegations Boghos Nubar and Avedis Aharonian were denied entry….we now are DIFFERENT!!!!!
    Tell them you are to face the k u r d i s h tsunami soon, unless you please become more understanding and come to watch another football match in Yerevan and officially declare acknowledgement of the Genocide you committed upon our people, beg forgiveness and promise to make amends…First and Foremost BLOOD MONEY…….

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