Bitlis Town Council Names ‘William Saroyan Street’

BITLIS, Turkey—The Bitlis town council recently approved the renaming of five streets in this historic town in south-eastern Turkey. Among the names is “William Saroyan Street,” after the great Armenian-American writer whose ancestors came from Bitlis before 1915. Saroyan was born in Fresno, Calif., but felt strong ties to his ancestral home. He visited Bitlis in 1964; 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of that visit.

Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute) and Hüseyin Olan (Bitlis co-Mayor) in Sapkor district of Bitlis, June 2014
Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute) and Hüseyin Olan (Bitlis co-Mayor) in Sapkor district of Bitlis, June 2014

One of the champions of renaming “William Saroyan Street” was Barzan Serefhanoglu, whose grandfather, Adil Serefhanoglu, was the mayor of Bitlis when Saroyan visited the city. Adil Serefhanoglu showed great respect to Saroyan—and paid a high price for it. After Saroyan’s departure, he was harassed by the authorities who wanted to punish him.

“William Saroyan Street” will now be the main street of the Sapkor district of the city, where the Saroyan family home was located. The district looks over the citadel in the city below. Many of the houses in the district still bear the dates of their construction in Armenian, Ottoman, and Western numerals.

The Gomidas Institute congratulated the co-mayors of Bitlis, Nevin Dasdemir Dagkiran and Huseyin Olan, as well as all members of the Bitlis town council who unanimously approved the name changes.

Bitlis co-mayors Nevin Daşdemir Dağkıran and Hüseyin Olan
Bitlis co-mayors Nevin Daşdemir Dağkıran and Hüseyin Olan

“This was a sensitive decision,” said Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute. “The people of Bitlis have expressed their pride in one of their own Armenian sons. Such sentiments could not have been expressed even a few years ago, when all positive sentiments regarding Armenians and Kurds were proscribed by the Turkish state. We have come a long way in Turkey, but there is still a long way to go.”

The other names adopted by the Bitlis town council celebrate Bediuzzaman Said-i Kurdi, Kemal Fevzi, Serefhan, and Ferhat Tepe.

The renaming of “William Saroyan Street” is partly the result of a bridge-building operation the Gomidas Institute initiated in 2013, before the current co-mayors and town council were even elected. The Institute’s efforts resulted in increased contacts, a public exhibition dedicated to the Armenians of Bitlis before 1915—an exhibition that was shown in Bitlis and Fresno—as well as other projects still underway.

The Gomidas Institute’s work in Bitlis was made possible with the help of the Turkish Human Rights’ Association (IHD), the Bitlis Bar Association, the Armenian Studies Program at California State University (Fresno), as well as private individuals. For more information, e-mail info@gomidas.org.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.

6 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article. The Gomidas Institute has been a beacon of light in softening the destructive effects of our huge losses by encouraging the children and grandchildren of our perpetrators to make amends, small as they are…but it is a beginning.

  2. Bitlis, VAnm, Kars, Ardahan Eerzeroum,you name it…Can all(rather should all)wait until our commemoration ofr the 100th Annioversary of the Genocide is PRESENTED TO THE WORLD AT LARGE, PROPERLY ,with claim lodged at appropriate instances AND ONLY THEN VISIT SUCH LIKE VISITS.

  3. Did not finish above above. These sort of anticipated visits, please great Turkey immensely.Showing tot he world that the doors are open we are VERY FRIENDLY WITH THE heirs of the Genocided(so called) Armenians.Fact is we have always been nice to the Armenians,otherwise we would not let these people come and visit their so caLLED ANCESTRAL LANDS…
    One does not have to be a diplomat to guess what these sons of murderers are upto.Only Paremid, not to say barxzamid Armenians do not grasp what their diplomatice machine is grinding….
    Please have patience, wait a bit then you can go as much as you please…
    Wait and see what the Armenian TSUNAMI WILL BRING fwd…

  4. These gestures mean very little, while turkey blockades Armenia, actively supports the Azeri aggression toward Armenia and still denies the occurrence of the genocide.

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