Poetic Justice: Diyarbakir Armenians Baptized at Etchmiadzin

Special for the Armenian Weekly

The homecoming trip of the (no more) hidden Armenians from Diyarbakir to Armenia finally began this week, after months of planning, preparation, resolving issues, and seemingly endless three-way long distance discussions from Diyarbakir to Yerevan and Toronto.

Diyarbakir Armenians baptized at Etchmiadzin (Photo by Gulisor Akkum/The Armenian Weekly)
Diyarbakir Armenians baptized at Etchmiadzin (Photo by Gulisor Akkum/The Armenian Weekly)

One moment they burst into dancing in the streets as soon as they hear a playful tune, and the next moment they cry uncontrollably at a scene which may mean nothing to passersby but has reminded them of something, someone – all the way back to 1915.

And now, the “new” Armenians of Diyarbakir are strolling in the streets and museums of Yerevan, tiptoeing into the various churches scattered all over Armenia. Emotions are near the surface… One moment they burst into dancing in the streets as soon as they hear a playful tune, and the next moment they cry uncontrollably at a scene which may mean nothing to passersby but has reminded them of something, someone – all the way back to 1915.

Yerevan is full of Armenian kids from all over the world as part of the “Ari Dun” program at the invitation of the Ministry of Diaspora, which has also helped organize our itinerary. Government officials arranged to meet the Diyarbakir group on our first day, along with hundreds of the Diaspora kids. The Diyarbakir group was extremely anxious about how they will be greeted. The Armenian officials were equally curious about these Turkish/Kurdish speaking individual— ranging in age from 18 to 83—mostly middle-aged, and representing all socio-economic and education levels. Among them are teachers, students, doctors, housewives, and retired individuals. Some of them are sophisticated urban dwellers; others are going abroad for the first time.

I am acting as the translator (from Armenian to Turkish and back), but my task needs to be more than just to relay statements and messages. On the one hand, I have to be able to convey, from Turkish to Armenian, the incredible desire and courage of these individuals in becoming new Armenians; and on the other hand, I have to be able to convey, from Armenian to Turkish, the honest sincerity of welcome of the government officials.  But I am happy to report that by the end of the meeting, the previously anxious Diyarbakir Armenians and the previously serious-looking government officials were dancing the Diyarbakir “halay” together to Armenian music, while the kids from the Diaspora, Russia, the U.S., France, Iran, and elsewhere, watched these grown-up kids in amazement. A government official says his parents are from Mush, another one says from Sasun, then one of the Diyarbakir Armenians screams “My father is from Sasun, too,” and the common stories from Sasun pour forth.  They don’t need my translation anymore, they have already started comparing Sasun village names and hugging one another…

I had been a bit apprehensive when the Diaspora Ministry representatives told me they had planned two hours of Armenian language lessons each day as part of the itinerary, thinking that our group would be more interested in sightseeing. To my surprise, they all burst into enthusiastic applause and were deeply grateful for the lessons.

When we visited the Madenataran with its manuscript treasures and the village of Oshagan where Mesrob Mashdots, the creator of the Armenian alphabet, is buried, they understood better the mystery of the strange letters that they saw for the first time in their lives just two years ago.

As I reported in previous articles, almost all of the group members have some degree of “Armenianness” in their family, some from one parent, some from both. They have mostly decided to come out as Armenians, but not as Christians—yet.  Two of them have already been baptized in Diyarbakir’s Sourp Giragos Church, changing names, identity and religion. Gafur Turkay has become Ohannes Ohanian, his wife Nurcan has become Knar, proudly wearing not one but all three cross necklaces given to her as presents after her baptism. One of the teachers in the group is determined to be baptized at Etchmiadzin. The risks he is taking are enormous. He is a primary school teacher in a government school. He may lose his job, friends’ circle, or worse; but his mind is made up. In addition, if he is baptized in Etchmiadzin instead of back home at Sourp Giragos, he will gain bragging rights over Gafur/Ohannes as being a more complete Christian Armenian… I have arranged for the ceremony beforehand with Bishop Pakrad Galstanian of Etchmiadzin, formerly the Canadian Diocese Primate.

We also have a lady who has spent many sleepless nights trying to decide whether she should also get baptized. Her dilemma is even more dangerous. She feels she has an obligation to her long-suffering late father, a hidden Armenian, who had encouraged her to become a Christian Armenian before he passed away. But her devoutly Moslem Kurdish husband has forbidden her from taking this step. The night before our trip to Etchmiadzin, she tells me she will not be able to go ahead with the baptism.

In the morning, we are off to Sardarabad, visiting the Victory Museum, understanding the significance and consequences of the 1918 events. As we approach Etchmiadzin, the lady with the dilemma walks from the back of the bus to where I am sitting, and tells me her final decision: “My father suffered a lot. I know he is still suffering even though he is dead. I need to do this to end his suffering. If I will suffer as a result of this, I am prepared for it.”

“My father suffered a lot. I know he is still suffering even though he is dead. I need to do this to end his suffering. If I will suffer as a result of this, I am prepared for it.”

So we end up witnessing a double baptism ceremony at Sourp Asdvadzadzin Church in Etchmiadzin for the “new” Stepan who took his Armenian grandfather’s name, and for the new “Anjel” who took her Armenian grandmother’s name. I am certain this was the first time in Etchmiadzin, or all of Armenia, where the Armenian baptism ceremony was carried out in Armenian along with the Turkish translation word-for-word. At the end, Pakrad Srpazan concluded with the statement: “To become a Christian, one needs to be brave, to become both an Armenian and a Christian, one needs to be doubly brave.” Everyone had tears in their eyes, including Pakrad Srpazan.

Isn’t it ironic that these individuals chose to become Armenian on the same day when Turkish Prime Minister and presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated on national TV: “They [opposition] said I was of Georgian origin. Even uglier, they accused me of being an Armenian, sorry to say” ?

And isn’t it doubly ironic that if Erdogan does become President, the presidential mansion that he will reside in was once owned by an Armenian family known as the Kasapyan family?

Our reporting of the journey through Armenia toward a new life for the (no more) hidden Armenians will continue.

 

To read Bedrosyan’s previous article, click here.

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Raffi Bedrosyan

Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer 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 Karabagh—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 articles explain the significance of this historic project as the first Armenian reclaim of church properties in Anatolia after 1915, as well as other Turkish-Armenian issues. He gave the first Armenian piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915, most recently at the 2015 Genocide Centenary Commemoration. He is the founder of Project Rebirth, which helps hidden Islamized Armenians reclaim their original Armenian roots, language, and culture.

20 Comments

  1. Raffi Bedrosyan is doing incredible work, both in his actions and his writings! He is a visionary and I look forward to each and every one of his articles. I admire him and the work he is doing. Yes, these people are Kurdish and Muslim, but they also are Armenian and that miracle of Armenian identity is finally able to show itself, even if under great duress. All obstacles must be removed, that is the challenge both for the Kurdish leadership under which most of these people live and also for Armenians in the Diaspora and Armenia that still retain prejudices. It is a way forward and these people are only the beginning of what I hope is a great movement. Personally, I thank you Raffi for making this happen!

    George Aghjayan

  2. what a great heartwarming story, I can feel the emotions and bravo to all this brave new Armenians, I wish this is the start of something great on our long and sad histry

  3. Congratulations, Raffi, for the great work you’re doing. A man of words and of acts.
    Jirair Tutunjian

  4. Thank you so much. It’s beautiful to see this and inspiring. I so wish that Western Armenian is taught!!

  5. I can not grasp the joy he and she have reached of returning back to his and her ancestors pledge Christianity and comeback to their people safe. God Bless you and your family

  6. This story is so moving! It must be an incredible experience for Raffi to witness and be part of. Bravo to all of you for daring to explore your past and roots!

  7. As we all know, Armenians come in all shapes and sizes, with different passports and languages, light hair, dark hair, blue eyes, brown eyes. We accept them all. Maybe it’s time we also learn to accept Armenians as they are, no matter what religious tradition they grew up with – Christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian, pagan….because at base they are still all Armenians. Instead of confining the concept of Armenian identity to Christianity, it can and probably should be expanded to embrace the concept of a much larger, more inclusive family regardless of religion.

    • We have to be careful here with what we say. It is a known sociological fact that “no nation can be built on language alone”; end of citation. It takes more. Social customs and traditions, social interaction, along with religious traditions are some of the key ingredients.

  8. Dear Raffi
    This is the best gift to both Turkish and Armenian societies and to humanity .
    These Diarbakirians will become the ambassadors of both Armenia and Turkey and will be able to act as a bridge between the two. Their stories will be part of the common body of knowledge and/or common history that the Turks and the Armenians must have, in order to achieve future peace and neighbourly relationship .
    We are all grateful to you, Srpazan Pakrad and the Government of Armenia for co hosting with you and your Turkish counterparts their trip to Armenia. We are amazed and equally grateful to them for taking this courageous pioneering step.
    We are anxiously waiting for the rest of the news on their trip, their interaction with their newly found surrounding and state of mind and emotions they go through, which, you so beautifully had described in this article.
    Your action and their courage speaks volumes on human dignity and respect. I hope this is just the beginning to bring more Armenians and Turks of all faith together. That will create stronger bonds than any signed Protocols .
    Thank you
    K.m.gregsarkissian@gmail.com

  9. My respects to the woman who went through with the baptism in order to honor her father as it was his last wish of her, despite her husband’s refusal. That takes amazing courage, and I hope she will not get any reprisals as a result. Her husband needs to come to terms with history and understand that her family’s religion (and thus culture) was practiced in these lands centuries before Islam, and in the article itself we have a key last word in the passage: “They have mostly decided to come out as Armenians, but not as Christians—yet”

    Thank you Mr Bedrosyan for also helping these ‘New Armenians’ who are interested in their roots to once again find themselves.

    I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but I also feel that in order for this project to become successful, many of these Armenians need to come out and courageously declare themselves who they really are, by very large numbers. That way there could be at least a “safety net” for themselves and others who are unsure to go through with their coming out as Armenians. Let’s face it, as I write this, Turkey’s neo-Ottoman dictator was elected “president” and is about to take up residence in a confiscated Armenian house, despite publicly and shamelessly declaring that it is ‘dishonorable’ to be called one. So for these Armenians, coming out as New Armenians could also be a dangerous proposition.

    • I’m proud of this woman too. But for her next visit to church, it would be much nicer if she covered her bare arms, and avoid wearing dresses with deep cuts in the front LOL.. I’m sure Raffi can cover these issues without hearting feelings. Bravo Raffi!

  10. Bravo Raffi, excellent devotion, great cause, and even better, great authorship. I will circulate your article to friens.
    Vahak

  11. My respect to our Muslim compatriots, I think that they should convey to Christians first and then to Armenians. There should be no other way. Our ancestors have paid a lot being and staying Christians throughout the ages. Having Muslim Armenians will turn Christian Armenia into Muslim Armenia in a couple of decades. Muslims will multiply exponentially. Their loyalty is to Mecca & Medina, not to Etchmiadzin . We (Christian Armenians) have to stop Islam and their shari’a to enter our territories. Doing otherwise will help fulfill their long sought for goals. It will be like letting in the Trojan horse. It’s that simple, to become Armenian, they have to convert to Christianity first.

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