Depriving Anatolian Armenians of Education

Special to the Armenian Weekly

At the delicate age of 13, my grandfather started his first day of school at the local technical school in Sivas, Turkey. He and his friend Nishan, the only other Armenian in the school, sat side by side in the front row of the classroom. It was on the third or fourth day that the vice principal of the school abruptly showed up in the classroom and said, “Melkon and Nishan, please report to the principal’s office. Bring your backpacks and all of your belongings as well.”

Empty seats on a sidewalk in Mush. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)
Empty seats on a sidewalk in Mush. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

They walked towards the principal’s door confused and frightened. Once they entered the office, the principal put out his cigarette and, without any hesitation, told them to sit down.

Then he began, “Unfortunately boys, there’s no more room in the school for you both. I’m afraid you need to find a new school.”

Not knowing what to say and with tears in their eyes, they both held their backpacks tight, refusing to let go, and begged, “Please, we will do anything to stay. We want to go to school. We want to learn.”

Their pleas were ignored and they were sent home.

My grandfather said the walk home that day was the longest walk of his life. They cried and cursed and cried some more. From that day on, after being refused from every other school they applied to, they never stepped foot inside a classroom again.

This was my grandfather’s story, but what about the others?

It turns out that all of his Armenian friends were also expelled from school. This was the case not only for the Armenians of Sivas, but of all the Armenians living in Anatolia. I have yet to meet an Anatolian Armenian, especially an elderly man, who received a full education. Almost all of them were forced out of school with the flimsiest of excuses.

My grandmother, who received exceptionally well grades, was expelled from school after students complained that she received better grades than them. Others, like my uncle, were expelled because they chose to be called by their Armenian names rather than their Turkish renditions. The excuses were always creative and ever so effective. It became obvious that their only fault was their Christian Armenian identity.

After the Armenian Genocide and in the first half of the 20th century, just a couple of dwindling Armenian communities remained in an ocean of a growing Islamic Turkish population. They were products of a destructive storm that had wrecked everything and abandoned what remained like scattered debris In Sivas alone, there were 46 schools prior to 1915; a couple of years later, they were all destroyed. Nevertheless, those who remained continued their struggle. They learned Armenian on their own and held their own church services secretly in their homes. The biggest hurdle for them, however, was systematic neglect.

As Armenians in Istanbul were becoming doctors and architects, their kinsmen in Anatolia weren’t even given the opportunity to learn to read and write. This disparity is something that has always intrigued me. Why were Armenians in Anatolia subject to scrutiny while those in Constantinople lived in relative comfort? Who set these boundaries? Which local governmental edict, if any, prevented Armenians from going to school in Anatolia? Better yet, who told the principal that my grandfather shouldn’t be going to school?

Answers to such questions are almost impossible to find. Nothing is written on paper and there were no formal declarations or documents that openly proclaimed that the education of the Anatolian Armenians should be circumvented. However, history can give us some clues.

We know that during the Ottoman era, the only national autonomous movements to have succeeded were those in the periphery of the Ottoman Empire. For example, Greece, Serbia, and Albania were located in the far-reaching parts of the Ottoman Empire, where life was already semi-autonomous in many ways. Armenia, on the other hand, did not enjoy that luxury. It was deeply embedded in the heartland of the empire. These geo-political circumstances forced the Ottoman government to adopt even harsher measures against the Armenians in order to protect the “heart” of the empire and restore the dignity of the Turkish people.

Even though the Ottoman Empire subsequently collapsed, the sociological consensus remained. Turks throughout Anatolia vehemently held the traditional values and customs that were instilled by their ancestors for centuries. Even with most Armenians gone, those who remained were still under the crossfire. An educated Anatolian Armenian could spell a recipe for disaster. Therefore, they not only had to remain uneducated, but become law-abiding Turks as well. It is no surprise that campaigns of Turkification were most prevalent and effective in Anatolia, where Turkifying the educational system was given a primary role.

There are thousands of cases of Armenian children being deprived of basic education and other basic rights. Although there are many studies on the effects and aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, I have yet to see a study concerning this matter, which I believe will shed more light on Armenian-Turkish relations.

I recently read an article about the village of Govdun in Sivas. After a brief summary of what happened in 1915 was provided, the article ended with this sentence: The “Armenian village life in Sebastia had come to a most tragic end.” Upon reading this, I thought that perhaps the problem also lies with Armenian researchers themselves. Many Armenians are consumed by the idea that everything ended in 1915. But, this type of reasoning greatly reduces the quality of research in the field and creates a moral and intellectual void. I posit that post-genocide Armenians lived harder lives than their ancestors in the Ottoman Empire, who enjoyed full access to schools, benefited from an independent Armenian press, and had numerous churches to attend. The ones after the genocide did not. They received nothing but neglect, including by Armenians throughout the world, who didn’t even know they existed.

This time period was and still is particularly devastating for my family and many other Anatolian Armenians. At a personal level, as the only person in my family to have graduated from a high school, I’ve always felt that the more educated I became, the more of a rift I created between myself and members of my family. The family dynamics in my family took a very serious blow and have entirely shifted. Their understanding of life was far different than mine. They are deeply entrenched in the idea that survival is of critical importance, whereas education can always come later.

Yet, as I learned, this was not their fault. They were the sons and daughters of people who suffered from severe neglect and systematic oppression. And the oppression of those days is still very much a part of my life today. As a family, our education, priorities, careers, and even our last names are all a remnant of this tainted past. Therefore, I always treated school as a place where I could recover what my family had lost over the past century. I felt as though, by stepping into a classroom, I could break this chain of oppression that kept my family hostage for so many years.

But what has been lost for some can never be fully recovered. Which makes me wonder what would have happened if these children were allowed to go to school. Just imagine how much more they could have contributed to the betterment of not only themselves and those around them, but the entire country as well. Armenians have always been instrumental in developing nations throughout the world. Following the genocide, Turkey was going through a massive restructuring project. The Armenians could, would, and should have been an instrumental tool in this process. Armenians, such as Agop Dilacar and Vahram Cerciyan, proved that they too could become helpful in building a new republic, even if it meant a nationalist one.

As for my grandfather, he laments those days daily. After being expelled, he began his long career as a carpenter at the age of 13. He, along with his family, moved to Istanbul so that his children won’t suffer the same fate he did. He continues his profession to this day, which involves making and repairing small wooden objects such as doors and tables. Although he has been working for decades, he nonetheless enjoys his job and is very content. In fact, at his current age of 86, he still wakes up every morning to go to his workshop. Yet, whenever I see him, he always repeats the same somber lines, “Oh, my son, if they only let me go to school, I wouldn’t be repairing these tables and doors, I would’ve studied and become an architect or an engineer!”

“It’s ok, Dede,” my response has always been. “I’m going to school for us both.”

 

Born in Paris to Armenians from Turkey, Garen Kazanc moved to Los Angeles at a young age, where he attended and graduated from the Armenian Mesrobian School in 2006. He received a B.S. degree in sociology from Cal State Los Angeles. He has been an active member of Hamazkayin and the Armenian Poetry Project.

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Garen Kazanc

Born in Paris to Armenians from Turkey, Garen Kazanc moved to Los Angeles at a young age, where he attended and graduated from the Armenian Mesrobian School in 2006. He received a B.S. degree in sociology from Cal State Los Angeles. He has been an active member of Hamazkayin and the Armenian Poetry Project.
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26 Comments

  1. Wow. Wonderfully written. Thank you for telling us your family story and giving us insight into the lives of Armenians left from the genocide.

    • Anatolian? What kind of term is that? Isn’t it ironic that the title of this article shows how genocidal Turks can easily manipulate public opinion via a supposedly Armenian publication that only uses geopolitical terms created by Turks to disguise their occupation of other peoples’ lands?

  2. Education and Turkish barbarity were the reasons why my Hungarian father moved back to Hungary with my Armenian mother, my brother and I in 1941. We suffered much during the war, the Soviet occupation and Communist oppression but in spite of it all, I am grateful to my parents for moving to Hungary where both my brother and I could go to university. Education for us was important for both of our parents and especially for our mother who was not allowed to get an education in Turkey.

  3. we have not survived under adverse systems by chance. We have over the Ottoman centuries instilled in ourselves certain traits. Here are just two of many such traits :-
    1)Gain knowledge but never demonstrate your knowhow to all and sundry.
    2) Channel a bright proposal for an important project to higher authority by first implanting the idea into the mind of a suitable member of the ruling class. At all cost avoid featuring in the limelight.

  4. How can you possibly say that “For example, Greece, Serbia, and Albania were located in the far-reaching parts of the Ottoman Empire, where life was already semi-autonomous in many ways.”

    Greece was NOT a far flung area of the Ottoman Empire but was right next door to Turkey, plus Greece won back most of its territory from the Ottomans in a series of CENTURY long wars stretching from 1821 to 1922. Not a Decade in this period went by without constant and brutal wars between a tiny but growing Greece and the Ottoman Empire.

    Also do you forget the over three million Greeks who lived in Anatolia alongside the Armenians? They also suffered the full panoply of oppression and bias meted out by the Turks.

    There is plenty of suffering in each of these peoples histories to not covet anyone else’s. You may want to look at the history of Serbia and the Albanians, these peoples suffered as well.

  5. Thank you Garen for your article, its another sad story of mankind. I dont think Garen was suggesting that the greeks or serbs had it easy under ottaman rule and they suffered less, and let us not forget assyrians and greeks were slaughtered as well perhaps a million each. to respond to the greek the minorities in anatolia there was no place to go and the neighbors were not too friendly as europe was able to assist serbia and greece

  6. Garen, very well written. I also agree about the necessity for an improvement in the intellectual quality of the research on Anatolia’s Armenians. When we say that “everything ended in 1915”, we trivialize and neglect those Armenians who live in Anatolia ourselves.

  7. Really an informative article, presented from both (direct and indirect) personal experience and partly academic perspective. I hope Armenian Weekly publishes more articles like this one and hopefully Garen has more stories to share with us.

  8. Now here is a truly shameful act. A very sad story, but this is the place where even being a non-Sunni Muslim attracted the wrong kind of attention. Depriving children of education in my mind is as bad as Tehcir. Instead of fighting the ghosts of the Ottomans, Turks and Armenians could and should work together to erase these real stains on the conscience of the Turkish Republic. I was fortunate enough to have some very very smart Armenian kids as my classmates, but then again, I did not grow up in Sivas.

    • It wasn’t quote, ‘Tehcir’ ( “displacement,”), it was Genocide, Denialist.

      And Turks and Armenians don’t need to work ‘together’ on anything: you Genocidal denialist Turks will pay for the Genocide of 2 million of our Armenian civilians.
      In a few years, in a hundred years, 200 years, 500 years.
      Makes no difference: however long it takes.

      You remember, don’t you, the story I told you a while back about our Prince Zakare Zakaryan. The 500 year delayed revenge he visited on those who had murdered Armenians ?

      We are weak now.
      But not forever.
      We survived your ancestors’ attempt to wipe us out.
      You Turks made two Big mistakes:
      1) attempting to wipe us out.
      2) failing at it.

      God help you Genocidal denialist Turks when that day comes.

  9. YASUTO ¨THE Greek,
    Of course we know about the Greeks in Pontus…what I did not know was the 3 millions of them..welcome here…
    Our refugees,rather survivors mainly sought refuge in Greece and were received with open arms.Thanks for that.I personally like Greeks,had a friend long ago.We have quite a few things in common including the Genocide perpetrated on the Pontus Greeks as well.
    May I also commend your bravery against the Ottoman Turks,whom you people pushed out of their conquered lands in the Greek Peninsula and the majority of the islands in the Aegean Sea.
    I also know that you were luckier ,since the British helped you quite a bit. We were not that lucky.
    Now let me ask a Question .No,Not to you but to
    Voskanapat…above.To what publication does he refer to.When he writes a supposedly Armenian publication re Anatolia?
    To surmise and very much in brief. My little bit of this nicely written article by Garen.
    When Reza Shah came back from Turkey( invited by Ataturk)he shut down the Armenian Schools in Tehran…we kids had to apck up our books and go home..
    Until he was shipped to Johannesburg, when the allied troops( U.S.,British.French and Soviet ones) entered and put his son on the Persian throne.Then our schools reopened there. I left for England though at age 16 for higher education etc.
    What do we learn from these acts??? simply that the Turk(in general) has been some sort of a menace to humanity in all the sense of the word.Even lately they have tried hard to meddle in Egypt, then Syria..however without success.
    Armenians do have the right to claim QUITE A BIT.I wish Greece would give us a hand when the time comes….also other neighbours.
    No , I am not inciting war but if they (the Turks
    ) understand somehow that there are things that cannot be erased at all. then perhaps we can by and by come to terms with them.However, reparations First and Foremost a condition

  10. Avery
    You make me laugh.Do you know that Armenians will become an extinct human species a few hundred years later let alone they will be in a position to take a revenge

    • John the Turk has manifested his blind hatred towards Armenians, to the sense of justice, sense of humanity and everything else that qualifies and distinguishes one as a “human” being. He has spoken “out of the abundance of his heart”(Luke 6:45). Jesus Christ referred to his type with a simple statement, quoting Psalm 69:4, “They hated me without reason” (John 15:25). This is a description of the mind that serves Satan, the Prince of darkness, by choice. So that people do understand the true state of affairs, He went on explaining; “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs from thistles? (Of course not!) Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit…..Every tree that brings not forth good fruit will be hewn down and cast into the fire”.(Matt.7:16-19) Human life is short, with no guarantee of tomorrow to anyone. But we know that God, who is good, is in full control, and that in due time He will bring about the just deserves to each one who was given a chance to conform to His image. So, do not waste your time arguing with ill-intentioned idiots. Their time comes when they least expect. They are here today, and for sure gone tomorrow.

  11. Dear Garen, thank you very much for this. Your article indicates a very important reality about what kind of a treatment a small number of Armenian families remaining in the provinces in the “old country” faced in the Republican area in Turkey. And as you say, it is little known, because it is little researched. Talin Suciyan, from Ludwig Maximilian University’s Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, Munich, examined in her doctoral thesis in detail the Armenian presence in the post-genocide an a denialist habitus in provinces. Her book will be published soon, as far as I know and hopefully will be translated into Turkish. An interview with her was published in Armenian Weekly. I hope you saw it: https://armenianweekly.com/2013/11/11/examining-the-denialist-habitus-in-post-genocidal-turkey/ Thank you again for this very powerful piece.

  12. Great article Garen that explains much about why Anatolian Armenians continued to diminish following the Genocide.

    Now as for you, John the Turk, I was aghast to read your words that quote – “Armenians will become an extinct human species a few hundred years later”. Sounds very much like part of the play book of the Young Turks in 1915 who not only were responsible for the Armenian Genocide but also brought down the centuries old Ottoman Empire. When contrasted with those heroic Turks who saved Armenians during the Genocide… well, there is simply no comparison to make. The question for you John the Turk is what kind of Turk do you want to be, a closed minded racist like so many of the Young Turks, or among those Turkish heroes that saved Armenians? Your choice!

  13. John the Turk,
    Are your dog masters in Ankara actually preaching that Armenians will become an extinct human species in a few hundred years? And, exactly who’s going to try and make this happen? Again the Turks? As hard as your savage, robbing, looting, raping, slaughtering, genocide committing Turkish people attempted to wipe out the entire Armenian race and its entire homeland, its mission failed miserably. The Armenian population of the world today, is actually three times larger than it was, right before the start of the Armenian Genocide in 1915. As for the homeland, in addition to the Republic of Armenia, there is also the Republic of Artsakh. This translates to two Armenian nations. And, just wait until the period of time that the stolen lands of Western Armenia are finally returned to the Armenian people, either by way of court, or outside of court. This will end up being the third Armenian nation.

    By the way, were you aware that by the year 2044, which is only 30 years away, with the current rate of Kurdish population growth as compared to the current rate of Turkish population growth, the Kurds will end up being the largest group in Turkey? And, at that rate, within a period of time much shorter than a few hundred years, the Turkish inhabitants of Turkey will most definitely become an extinct human species. I guess that explains the reason why the Turkish government is so extremely frightened over this particular topic. As for the nation of Armenia, its Armenian population is 97.9 percent. As for Artsakh, its Armenian population is 99.7 percent.

    Hey, John the Turk, do you have any more hilarious entertainment that you would like to perform over here on Armenian Weekly? Feel free anytime.

  14. {“ Avery You make me laugh”}
    (john the turk // December 24, 2013 at 3:28 am //)

    (Avery // December 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm // Repost)

    I am glad somebody is happy to read my posts.

    And nobody knows for sure which ethnos will become extinct a few hundred years later.
    My bet will be on Armenians being around long after ‘Turks’ have melted into an unrecognizable blob.

    We have been around about 5,000 years.
    As Armenians.
    How many peoples do you know that faced anything like what we faced 1895-1923 and bounced back ?

    What percentage of ‘Turks’ are actually Turks i.e. original Turkics from Uyguristan region, do you know ?
    What part of you is ‘Turkish’ other than the language and calling yourselves ‘Turks’ ?
    If tomorrow you start calling yourselves ‘Kruts’ and started speaking ‘Krutish’, would anybody be able to tell the difference ?
    You Turks have nothing to anchor you to the land as a distinct ethnos.
    Even after 1000 years, deep down, you know you do not belong to these lands.
    Observe the hysterical reaction of Turkish officials when Pres Sargsyan supposedly said something about Mt Ararat that he didn’t actually say.
    Every other day there is another pronouncement from some Turkish or Azerbaijani (TatarTurk) official about Armenians being foreigners to these parts. We note it, but shrug it off: because deep down inside we know what is ours and what isn’t; who is indigenous and who is a nomad.
    Do you know why those 100s of thousands of Azerbaijanis outside NKAO simply streamed back to Baku ? Because deep down in their core they knew, they just knew, that they were living on the lands of others.
    Same reason 400K Armenians left Baku and other Azerbaijani cities: not our lands.
    Same reason 150K Armenians of Artsakh stood and fought: their land.

    Your country is slowly fracturing as we speak: Sunni vs Shia/Alevi, Kurd vs Turk, Kemalist vs Islamist, AKP vs Gulen,…
    How long before an all out civil war breaks out ?
    Will there be a Turkey in its present form in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years ?
    Are you sure ?
    At this rate, Kurds will become majority in Turkey around 2040.
    Childbirth in European part of Turkey where ‘Turks’ concentrate is already below replacement level.
    (check TurkStat)

    Despite the doom & gloom prognostications about Armenia, it has advantages and strengths that none of its neighbors have.
    Compare Armenia 20 years ago to today. Same with NKR.
    Time is on our side.
    And we don’t need much: go ask your TatarTurk cousins what Armenians are capable of when everyone is armed and when everyone decides to fight. You Turks imagine it will be a replay of 1915: you’d be surprised what awaits you when you try again.

    Armenia is not Israel, yet (military wise). And Turks fight much better than today’s Arabs.
    But all the pieces are there, and everything is being put together: patience ma boy, patience.
    Would you like to guess how many Armenian engineers and scientists are involved in Russian weapons design bureaus ?
    Do you know how many Armenian scientists and engineers there were in USSR in rocket design, ICBM design, nuclear weapons design ?
    Look up who was the designer of Lunokhod, the pioneer in robotic space exploration: landed on the Moon 30 years _before_ Americans landed a rover on an extraterrestrial body.
    We got lots of problems for sure: but all are solvable and we are actively working on them.
    How are you Turks going to solve the ‘problem’ of 20-25 million Kurds in Turkey, for example ?
    Your country is being consumed and transformed from inside, and there is absolutely nothing you Turks can do other than watch helplessly.
    Go Kurds.

    Have a jolly Merry Christmas over there in England, John the Turk.

    • “What percentage of ‘Turks’ are actually Turks ”

      Was it not you telling us “Turks” to go to our homeland East Turkistan ?

      If we are, as you claim, not true Turks but the natives of the region then your suggestion is meaningless.

      You better clear your mind.

      “We have been around about 5,000 years.”

      We have not seen you around since 1071. We saw Roman Empire, Byzantium but no you.

    • I’m so proud of you and proud to be an Armenian my friend , you explained everything better than i ever could , we Armenians will survive and fight another day and Turks will pay the price , trust me .

  15. Necati writes: We have not seen you around since 1071. We saw Roman Empire, Byzantium but no you.

    It’s disturbingly interesting how you willing fail to admit/mention the word Armenian. Perhaps it is you who ‘…better clear your mind.’

  16. Hey Necati, your latest post is even more absurd than your other posts. You sound like a typical desperate Turk, who feels disturbed and threatened by his/her country’s extreme criminal past. For your own information, Turks have never been the natives of Anatolia. On the contrary, Turks have been the thieves of Anatolia. The whole entire land of Anatolia, is a stolen land that the Turks stole away from the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians, right after committing genocides against these three peoples.

    Hey Necati, how can you possibly believe that the Turks have occupied Anatolia for five thousand years? For your own information, the Turks arrived on the soil of Anatolia, in the year, 1064. That’s 950 years ago. You’re over four thousand years off the mark. As for the Armenian people, they inhabited eastern Anatolia for at least 3700 years before the arrival of the first Turks on Anatolian soil.

    Hey Necati, what are your new year’s resolutions for 2014? Maybe you should consider taking a course in beginner’s math.

  17. Garen , excellent article , I hope to see more from you , and you are right in after genocidal research about the situation of remaining armenians . Then again we should not forget the bitterness of everyday life of those days where we faced every hardship without methodical organizational efforts to set up our future, not to mention a huge assimilation that occurred naturally just for the sake of everyday bread. Many arab tribes took our children and they fed them and they became Arabs. Imagine the helpless Syrian refugees today , and compare them to the armenians in 1915, where there was no social media , no coverage , no UNHCR , nothing . We were a people left for destiny, but we were able to stand up. It is the time now to restore everything back even if it takes 1000 years. I hope my compatriates who are commenting on ignorant Turkish comments , not be immotional , because I don’t blame these people , their government has put these ideals and ideas in their minds through systematic pervert education , that puts its effort to clear the past of this so called Turkish nation . Modern day “turkey” and it’s rulers do this , and deny that they inherited the Ottoman Empire and the ittihad ve terraki government, while he himself mr mustapha Ali reza “ataturk” kidnapped 10 british officers to stop the British mandate tribunal and save the ittihad and tarraki government officials who were caught in Istanbul for committing the armenian Assyrian Greek Syriac and Chaldean genocides. And they do not inherit anything . The commenters know that history begins with mustapha Kemal , don’t blame them , they are ashamed from their past. I have met some Turks in beirut by chance , and every time I ask them the traditional question , the same reply comes to me ” something very wrong happened in those days ” and ” let us forget and become friends again” . Surprise , surprise , they know , but it needs courage to admit. I believe that things will change in turkey in many ways , and at the end they will admit and give back what they have stolen from us , so that they become a part of the civilized world , because these are not the days of gergi khan or alp arslan or holako, no more manazgerds will happen . Once again dear garen thank you , keep up the good work and write for us .

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