What’s Next for the ‘Hidden Armenians’ of Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd?

The historic first trip to Armenia of Diyarbakir’s “hidden Armenians” is coming to an end and it is time for us to assess its impact, consequences, and next steps.

At the end of the first week, we organized a “Dikranagerd Night” at a beautiful location called the HyeLandz Eco Village in the village of Keghatir. We invited government officials, academicians, and researchers following our group, as well as some of the new-found relatives of the hidden Armenians, whose ancestors had managed to escape to Armenia after 1915. This reunion between the Islamicized Armenians of Diyarbakir and their Christian-Armenian relatives was a special one. Needless to say, the dancing and singing kept the whole village awake until the early hours of the morning. During the last few days, the group visited Lake Sevan and there—whether Muslim or Christian—they all reinforced their “Armenianness” by dipping into the holy waters, some just their toes, some their entire bodies… Then they were off to a government camping facility in Dzaghgatsor for a few days, where they had a chance to rest after a whirlwind tour of Armenia, and learn more of the Armenian language, songs, and dances. They all enjoyed the camp, except for the morning gym classes and the “beds from the Stalin era.”

Scenes from the trip
Scenes from the trip

On this drive back home to Diyarbakir to resume their lives, perhaps a bit apprehensive about their emerging new identities, I would like to share some of the life stories of these no-more-hidden Armenians. There is enough material for a book or movie for each of the 50 members of the group. Through interviews by the media or Ministry of Diaspora officials, the Armenians of Armenia have started to find out about them. The most interesting responses have been to the question, “When did you realize you had Armenian roots?” Some of them found out they were Armenian when they were already adults, at the deathbed of their parents or grandparents. Some discovered when they were in compulsory military service in the Turkish Army, when their commanders told them they couldn’t be trusted because of their “background.” Some found out when they were little, when other kids shouted “Armenian” to them in the street or at school; they knew it was a swear word, without knowing its meaning. As they rushed home crying, their parents had to explain that Armenian is not a swear word, but their identity. Some hidden Armenians tried hard to appear as devout Muslims; one even became an imam, a Muslim religious leader, while keeping his identity hidden. However, most hidden Armenians tried to ensure that their children married into other hidden Armenian families. Even the imam gave his daughter to another Islamicized Armenian boy, raising questions among his Muslim followers. No matter how much these people tried to hide their Armenian roots, however, it seems that their neighbors or government officials knew about their origins. During disagreements with shopkeepers, businesses, neighboring women or kids at school, the insult of “gavur” (infidel) or “devil-rooted Armenian” easily came out, no matter how devout they appeared to be.

“…we will keep on expanding our efforts in Diyarbakir and in other regions of Turkey, pushing the envelope on rules and regulations in order to facilitate the ‘coming out’ of our hidden Armenian brothers and sisters—the grandchildren of the ‘living’ victims of the genocide.”

One tragicomic story involves three Muslim-Kurdish boys about 8-9 years old; one of them was from a hidden Armenian family, but unaware of his roots at the time. They stole some of those famous Diyarbakir watermelons from the orchard of a hidden Armenian Islamicized man. The man caught the three little thieves, but let the two real Muslim-Kurdish boys go and gave a good beating to the hidden Armenian boy. I leave it to the psychologists to ponder the reasons for this man’s actions. Years later, this hidden Armenian boy found out about his real identity, and still thinks about this incident.

The participants in the trip visit Garni.
The participants in the trip visit Garni.

Another interesting fact that emerged from the interviews is the special place Yerevan Radio has in all Kurdish families’ lives, including our hidden Armenians group. As the Kurdish language was banned—and even possessing a Kurdish music tape was a punishable crime in Turkey for several decades—all Kurds tuned in to Yerevan Radio, which broadcast Kurdish news and music for a couple of hours each day. The members of our group all remembered how, when they were growing up, everyone would stop work at their homes or at shops to gather around the radio and hear Yerevan Radio’s Kurdish news.

I am confident that the groundbreaking nature of this historic first trip will open the road for other hidden Armenians to follow, but I would like to report on three additional successful outcomes resulting from this trip.

Firstly, two university graduates in our group who wanted to further their graduate studies in Armenia will be able to fulfill their dreams. Through an agreement with Armenian government officials, they will attend Armenian universities with free tuition, mastering the Armenian language during the first year and continuing on in their desired field of study.

Secondly, some members of the group inquired about obtaining Armenian citizenship, perhaps with future plans of retiring in Armenia. As per the existing citizenship requirements, the Armenian government demands documents and proof of Armenian ethnic origin; of course, no such documents exist among our hidden Armenians, except the memories passed on from their parents and grandparents. In discussions with government officials, I proposed the possibility of a baptism document as proof of Armenian origin. I suggested that if a hidden Armenian “comes out” and gets baptized in Armenia—similar to our two members who got baptized in Etchmiadzin (see previous article)—then this should be sufficient proof to apply for Armenian citizenship. The proposal was received favorably and will now be discussed in Cabinet, hopefully leading to approval by the government.

Thirdly, learning the Armenian language, history, and culture is essential to re-discovering Armenian roots. The Virtual University run by the AGBU in Yerevan is offering online courses in these subjects. The administrators have agreed to offer these courses for free to all applicants from Turkey. This will have a huge impact on the hidden Armenians of Turkey, wherever they are—in Dersim, Van, Mush, or Diyarbakir—as they can start learning on their own, and in their own homes, even in the absence of organized language courses.

The participants in the trip attend Armenian language and history classes.
The participants in the trip attend Armenian language and history classes.

Although this trip was the start of a new reality within the Armenian world, and was received with great enthusiasm by both government officials and the public in Armenia, I must admit that not everyone is on board. There are still quite a few Armenians who disapprove of the time and effort in bringing out the hidden Armenians. Perhaps it is untimely to air our dirty laundry, but I believe the arguments put forth by these disapproving Armenians must be discussed, as some of these people hold important posts within the Armenian Church and in political organizations in the diaspora and in Istanbul. These disapprovers argue that Muslim Armenians are not really Armenian until they convert to Christianity by getting baptized. But then, they argue that they cannot get baptized unless they show proof or documentation of their Armenian origins, until they speak fluent Armenian and “pass tests of being a good Armenian.” I believe it is shortsighted and unrealistic to have such requirements for hidden Armenians living in Van or Dersim, who are surrounded by Muslim Turks and Kurds, working in government jobs. The other argument I find incomprehensible is that the emergence of hidden Armenians in large numbers undermine the veracity of the 1915 genocide, and that it is tantamount to strengthening the Turkish case for denial. I have even received comments that Turks will now use the hidden Armenians as proof that the genocide never happened. I should stick to engineering or music, they say, instead of getting involved in these issues. These comments can be dismissed, were it not for the fact that they come from individuals in undeservedly responsible positions in the diaspora and in Istanbul.

Regardless, we will keep on expanding our efforts in Diyarbakir and in other regions of Turkey, pushing the envelope on rules and regulations in order to facilitate the “coming out” of our hidden Armenian brothers and sisters—the grandchildren of the “living” victims of the genocide. There is a Turkish term for these hapless survivors: kilic artigi, meaning “remnants of the sword.” The attempted murder of a nation and the total confiscation of its wealth took place within Turkey, and as we approach the Centennial, we must realize that its resolution will also take place within Turkey. No matter how many events we organize in the Armenian Diaspora or in Armenia, no matter how many third-country parliaments and politicians appear to sympathize with our cause, at the end of the day, the only change will come from within Turkey when the peoples of Turkey realize the truth about 1915 and force their government to stop the denial and deal with the consequences. One of the key components toward this goal will be to re-create an Armenian presence within Turkey. The continuing dialogue between Armenian and Turkish civil societies and opinion makers, combined with the emergence of hidden Armenians within Turkey, are essential toward eliminating both past and present barriers.

I will conclude this series of articles with a tribute to the courage and determination of our hidden Armenians, and a few questions for readers to ponder: How will they be received back in Turkey? How will their families, neighbors, employers, and employees react to their new identity? Just consider Stepan’s case, the newly baptized man who works as a teacher at a government school. All of his students are Muslim. He told me he knows there are several kids in his class who come from hidden Armenian Islamicized families, but he doesn’t know if the kids know about their roots. How will the Muslim kids (or their parents) react to him coming out? How will the hidden Armenian kids (or their parents) react? How will his own kids react?

We are in uncharted waters, but sooner or later, truth and justice will prevail.

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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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16 Comments

  1. Bravo!! This is amazing. Brought tears to my eyes. The hidden Armenians are heroes. They are embracing their roots at great peril to their lives and livelihoods. I hope we are all lucky enough to meet them one day.

  2. I found this article deeply moving. Johannes Lepsuis believed that about 200,000 Armenian women and girls were forced into Turkish “marriages” and many of these hidden Armenians doubtless come from these families. Others come from families that either converted, or pretended to convert, in order to survive — the grandchildren of these people are discovering their roots, and cannot be held responsible for the actions of their grandparents. We should do everything we can to support and welcome them. We can only imagine the pain of growing up knowing that they are born among people who would hurt or kill them if their identity were known, and they don’t even have the comfort of a community. The idea that their existence could be used to argue against the reality of the Armenian Genocide is nonsensical — why would they hide, if nothing was wrong? These people have been hurt enough. I, for one, welcome them with open arms.

  3. They have my full support and I am sure there are thousands of Armeninas in the diasporan communities as well as in Armenia who will happily reach out to them. I feel strongly that the islamised Armenians are very much part our nation. There will always be some people who will be scared of anything that is different and not in line with their conditioned way of perceiving things. No one has the right to deny anyone their identity, and whether people like it or not the Islamised Armenians will reclaim their Armenianness, as they are doing it for themselves and not to please or seek approval of a few narrow minded people in the diaspora or in Armenia. It should however be the moral position of rest of the Armenian world to support them on their road of self discovery.

  4. Raffi, you are on the right way, and keep up the good job.I think this is the right approach to this problem.People can always criticize but they are unable to do anything positive to solve this very important problem.We need more people to act not to react,period.

  5. I think the answers to some of the questions you raised depend on the intellect and the maturity levels of their neighbors, colleagues, etc. back where they come from. Given the very low level of intellect, if not a complete lack of it, displayed by the rural Turkish peasants and given their deliberate and institutionalized anti-Armenian indoctrination by the Turkish racist officials over the years, it is not far-fetched to imagine they could be faced with much more hostility and further racism.

    However, since the Turkish-occupied province of Tigranakert (falsely known as Diyarbakir) and surrounding areas, where most of these “hidden” Armenians come from, are today mostly inhabited by ethnic Kurds and for as long as the Kurds, the former criminal Turkish collaborators turned victims to their former Turkish genocidal masters, can take advantage and benefit from the resurgence of “hidden” Armenian communities to strengthen their stand against the Turks, I think they should see positive changes associated with “outing” themselves.

    Furthermore, even though I think we should be open-minded and welcoming of these “hidden” Armenians to reconnect with their roots, I still strongly believe we should move forward with caution and that their ultimate and eventual integration into the mainstream Armenian societies MUST be preceded with complete rejection of the cult called Islam, purification through baptism, and with the full embrace of anything and everything that defines you and I as Armenians in the truest and most genuine sense of that word. Nothing less will suffice.

  6. Re Ararat’s comments – I spent several days this summer in the precincts of Diyarbakir’s restored Armenian church, observing numerous interviews with local Armenians. It was pretty awesome to hear a 10-year-old boy openly say “I am Armenian”. The fact is that the majority have no desire to join the cult called Christianity. Most looked upon religion with disinterest or distain. Some said they had used their rediscovered / regained Armenian identity as a way of extricating themselves from Islam but had no wish to exchange the prison of one religion with the prison of another, others were quite happy to be Armenian and remain Muslim. Those professing to be or expressing a desire to be Christian were the exception.

    The Surp Giragos church now acts almost like a community center for Diyarbekir’s Armenians, a place with a relaxed atmosphere where they can meet and express their Armenian identity regardless of whatever other diverse identities history has given to them and that they have chosen to retain or cannot easily discard. However, I have worries for the continuation of this openness, given the hostility of the Armenian Church to things and people not under its control.

    The Armenian Church had very little to do with the restoration of the Surp Giragos church, and nothing at all to do with the re-emergence of Diyarbekir’s hidden Armenians. It would be a great tragedy if the Church were to get its divisive claws too deeply into it. This Armenian church is alone in Turkey for its openness to all visitors at all times – go to any other active Armenian church and, if you are lucky enough to get passed the almost always locked doors, you are inevitably meet with an obnoxious caretaker stating “forbidden, forbidden – you must get permission from Kumkapi”.

    • @Steve, whether you like it or not we are a Christian nation and Christianity is part of our identity and overall makeup. One can never be an Armenian and Muslim at the same time. Not now and not ever. The Armenian nation will never allow it. Our nation has suffered tremendously over the years because of Islam directly or indirectly. Whether we fought to ward off Islamic warlords or Islam was used as a tool against us by our Muslim enemies, the fact remains that Islam is the common denominator that has brought so much misery upon our people. Turkish sultans invaded Christian lands, as they so proudly claim, at the command of Allah. Islamic fervor, among the illiterate and zealot Turkish and the Kurdish populations, was used by the genocidal Turkish leaders to help expedite Armenian mass-extermination.

      You need to think much deeper than to try to turn my genuine assertion that Islam is our enemy and that these “hidden” Armenians can’t remain Muslim and be accepted as one of us into some religious power struggle by the heads of our church. This is not about whether the Armenian Church officials will be hostile toward these people because they won’t convert and/or remain agnostic and that they will require their conversion as a precondition to reunite with their lost brethren and be accepted among them. This is about whether or not our people will accept these people as one of us without giving up, abandoning and repenting the religion of our enemies. After all, they were either forcefully converted or they did so in order to survive the slaughter that befell their fellow Armenians. If either of these two is true then should be glad and jump on the opportunity to clear themselves of that Islamic cult and be pure again.

      This is not about the preference of the theology of one religion over another but rather this is all about how Armenians perceive Islam and those who adhere to that cult and want to carry the “Armenian” label at the same time. It will never work and it should never be allowed to work until the “Armenian” label is purified of Islam, plain and simple. I will go as far as to say they can even be agnostics if they so please (therefore still incomplete as Armenians) but they can’t remain Muslims. An “Armenian Muslim” is an oxymoron, plain and simple.

  7. Dear Raffi,

    I would like to express my deep gratitude for all your undertakings. Vartzkernit gadar. It was very emotional to read your reports of Diyarbakir Armenians in Armenia; very touching indeed.

    A couple of thoughts on the disapproval of certain Armenians regarding the hidden Armenians or partial Armenians of Turkey. I believe those who express those disapprovals may be loud, but I don’t believe they represent the majority. I would like to think that we are a more open and accepting people.

    Although it is up to the Church to show leadership in matters of religion, unfortunately Armenian Church has stopped being a shepherd a long time ago. It is being ruled by the rich and the loud for their own purposes. I would even venture to question its relevance. One only has to go to badarak on any Sunday to see how empty the churches are. However, I agree that religion is a big part of our culture and I do question whether you can be a Muslim Armenian for ever. For the time being we do need to accept and welcome these hidden Armenians and show our support and be their advocates.

    As to the language issue, the diaspora is full of Armenians who do not speak Armenian. Are we to say they are not Armenian? I would venture to say that those who bring up the language issue did not think twice when Melkonian was being closed in Cyprus, nor would they sponsor any language courses to anyone in general.

    Finally, I would like to express my support to those who openly express their Armenian roots, despite all dangers and difficulty in a hostile environment. My thoughts and prayers are with them. May God be with them and protect them forever.

  8. Ararat – you speak like one of those “usual suspects” community leaders who are always talking about Armenian unity but who actually spread nothing but alienation and division, suffocate diaspora organisations, and drive away anyone with creativity or new ideas. You certainly have their self superiority – such arrogance to speak for what “The Armenian nation” is, and what it “will allow”.

    I wonder how many Armenians you really want to get rid of to “purify” the “Armenian label”? There is no place for Muslim Armenians, you have said. And I doubt those “incomplete” agnostic or atheist Armenians will be overlooked for long by your purification. And of course you will want to get rid of homosexual Armenians too. And what about any Armenians who have un-Armenian desires for democracy, equality, individuality and independence of thought, and any Armenians not willing to exist in a culture of hierarchical deference, and any Christian Armenians not members of the Armenian Church, and any Christian Armenians who are members of that Church but who dare question its values and hierarchies? Maybe, after your white genocide of unacceptable, not-really-a-real-Armenian Armenians, you might be left with a few thousand acceptably perfect Armenians to live in a village-sized Armenia. Do these Diyarbakir Armenians comprehend the size of the Armenian-laid minefield they are walking into by just wanting to be called Armenian? I hope they are prepared for the inevitable disillusionment.

    • @Steve, it is nothing new that we have Armenians from different Christian denominations and persuasions as well as Armenians of various social orientations. I may be disappointed with the choices they have made or even be vehemently opposed to their ways of life, and although I consider them misguided, but I still consider them Armenians. What I have problem with is the idea of the so-called Muslim Armenians. Islam and Christianity are mutually exclusive and not only “Muslim Armenian” is an oxymoron and Islam is the religion of our genocidal racial enemies but that Islam can not and should never be allowed to take root among our people. To be an Armenian and Muslim is a slap on the faces of the 1,500,000 murdered Armenians at the hands of TURKISH MUSLIMS!

    • @Arshag, I have good news and bad news in response to your remark. The bad news is that your impression is quite inaccurate. The good news is that for every Armenian with your mentality there thousands with mine. If that was not case the Armenian Cause would cease to exist.

  9. If it weren’t for my grandmothers’ and others’ faith, they would not have survived. Christianity and their identity gave then an understanding not only of their suffering but even of survival and what it meant.

    I really wanted to post, however, about the beating of the Armenian boy by the other Islamicized Armenian. Does nobody venture a reason? I think it is simple. Under the Turks (Ottoman or otherwise) esp. minorities like the Armenians had to be model citizens. It is within the understanding of “saving” or preserving the community that such discipline comes, to teach the boy not to do things that endanger him or the rest of the group. This is my belief, rooted in centuries of living in such circumstances. Yes, it’s different from ideas today about parenting, but not different from my grandparents’ perspective.

  10. Hello, I like to reply Ararat and others who have similar mentality. I’m one of those so called “Islamised Armenians”and I live in Turkey. I refuse to worship any kind of god and/or religion. I’m an Armenian by blood in my veins whether you accept it or not.

  11. I know this article is several years old but this is amazing! My great-grandparents(who escaped the genocide) were Armenians from Dikranagerd. My father’s grandmother always told him that they had family still in Dikranagerd who were “hidden Armenians”. I can’t help but wonder if any of these people are my family…!

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