Dersim Leaders Embrace Armenian Roots, Plan Armenia Trip

Armenian Weekly readers will remember well the historic first journey taken by 50 “hidden Armenians” from Diyarbakir (Dikranagerd) last August to Armenia. These brave individuals were the grandchildren of forcefully Islamicized/Turkified/Kurdified Armenians from 1915, who had the determination and guts to return to their roots after the reconstruction of Sourp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir, the first Armenian church to be resurrected in Turkey since 1915. As a reward for participating in an Armenian-language course organized by the local Diyarbakir Sur municipality and the Church Foundation, they were taken on an unforgettable journey to Armenia, to better understand their forgotten history, culture, and heritage.

Armenian language students in Dersim
Armenian-language students in Dersim

I am happy to report that the “coming out” of the hidden Armenians is not restricted to Diyarbakir. Now, it is the turn of the hidden Armenians of Dersim (officially, the Tunceli province) in Turkey. Dersim is a vast mountainous region with beautiful valleys, dotted with hundreds of picturesque villages between Erzurum (known as Garin by Armenians) and Erzinjan (known as Yerzinga) in eastern Turkey. Prior to 1915, Alevi Kurds and Armenians populated the region. The Alevi Kurds, who have traditionally been sympathetic to the Armenians, did not participate in the 1915 massacre and plunder of the Armenians; in fact, they saved tens of thousands of Armenians, either by protecting them against the Ottoman Turkish Army within their own villages, or providing them safe passage toward Russian Armenia.

In the Armenian language classroom
In the Armenian-language classroom

As a “reward” for protecting the Armenians and for “rebelling” against the new regime, the Alevi Kurds paid dearly 20 years later, in the 1930’s, when the Republican Turkish Army indiscriminately killed most of them, including thousands of assimilated, Kurdified Armenians. The army’s methods varied from assembling the civilian population—men, women, and children—into caves filled with poisonous gases, to killing them with machine guns.

Fast forward to today, and hidden Armenians are emerging from among the Alevi Kurd population of the region, reclaiming their Armenian identity, changing their Turkish/Kurdish names to Armenian ones, and beginning to learn Armenian. After overcoming numerous obstacles, and logistical and organizational challenges, an Armenian-language course was launched on Feb. 1, with dozens—young and old—registering for the three times-per-week classes. An Armenian and Alevi cultural association has also been formed, named “Deradost,” which stands for Dersim Armenians and Alevis Friendship Society. There is also “Dersiyad,” which promotes cooperation and support among Armenians in Dersim, as well as Dersim Armenians in Istanbul and abroad, mostly in Germany.

Mihran Prgitch lectures the students
Mihran Prgitch lectures the students

Similar to the initiative that took Diyarbakir’s hidden Armenians to Armenia, a trip is now planned for some of Dersim’s hidden Armenians to visit Armenia in late March. But there is an added significance and a historic first in this trip: All 12 of the participants are elected village officials of hidden Armenian villages in Dersim. During this trip, they will learn about Armenian history and culture, but, through TV and media, they will also show the Armenians of Armenia and the diaspora the historic Armenian churches and monuments from their own villages, prior to 1915 and now. The trip is sponsored by an individual from Canada, as well as by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, following several e-mails and phone calls between Lisbon, Dersim, Istanbul, Yerevan, and Toronto.

Details about this historic trip and the reflections of the Dersim village officials during their visit to Armenia will be revealed in future articles.


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 the history of thousands of Armenian churches left behind in Turkey after 1915. 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 Islamized Armenians return to their original Armenian roots, language and culture. He has appeared as a keynote speaker at numerous international conferences related to human rights, genocide studies and Armenian issues.

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  1. Raffi thank you for your honest Article i will add more …to prove yours…

    How Many Innocent Children Were Trained
    To Gun Down Their Own Race
    ‘Still–Till Today!’

    The world should know, their Turkish populaces should know,
    That some Turkish Army Members are Turkified Armenians!
    Trained to kill their nation the real Armenians . . .
    Born from innocent mothers, trained to kill their
    brothers, sisters, relatives, kin . . .!

    How can anyone imagine such a distress!
    If ‘thy’ discovered . . . through studying DNA . . .s
    His real genes, his artful origin, his honest race . . .
    Tell me . . . Who can oppress? . . . How can Thee Oppress!
    Such an unbelievable tragic–despairs!

    “Even to kill any human is a sin, how about your kin?”

    Like the Armenian female orphan,
    Pilot Hatun Sebilciyan (Sabiha Gokcen)
    Ataturk trained her to be a pilot and send her to bomb
    Her Armenian Turkified nation, in Dersim (1937-1938);
    Bombing 10.000 innocents, and the rest 50.000, leaving them homeless.
    Was it a tiny genocide! Pain is never healed yet!

    If anyone use word Dersim or says, “I’m from Dersim”
    Everyone who lived during that era will remember what does it mean!
    “Dersim and its despairs!”
    Bombing innocents and only innocents;
    As no fighter left to fight against savages, against Turkish godless race!

    The world should know who are the savage Turks . . .
    See her birthdate, she was born and died the same day and month
    (on March 22, 1913, and died in March 22, 2001*, a real lie)
    And how unrealistic that orphans they know their birthdates!

    Journalist Hrant Dink was gunned because of her,
    He said, and published in his Turkish newspaper ‘Agos’
    “She, Hatun (so-called Sabiha), genetically was an Armenian Orphan”,
    Ataturk snatched her from the orphanage!
    I will continue my message with Hrant’s to say,
    She was trained to kill her own and other innocent Alevi populaces!

    (C) dr. Sylva Portoian
    Wikipedia, 2014; I put the date of birth, if it is changed later, people should know!

    Armenian Orphans After Genocide
    Ironically Turkified!

    Tell Us . . .
    How can we forget?
    When we see our orphans
    In this undefined shape

  2. It´s wonderful that these people risk to admit they have Armenian roots.
    But wouldn´t it be good to inform these guests about the high unemployment
    rate in Armenia. In rural districts of Dersim the unemployment rate is surely similar to Armenia. In order to avoid later disappointment these travellers should know they cannot expect too much help from Armenia in the future.

    • What does unemployment have anything to do with them learning about their heritage?????????? Quit trolling and get lost.

  3. First order of business is for them to renounce Islam. They do not necessarily have to convert to Christianity, but they must move away from their backward and intolerant religion, otherwise, they will eventually stir trouble within our culture. It’s better they become atheist or agnostic than to prosthesis their beliefs on the rest of us.

    • d ont be afraid, and let’s them choose their own way.
      D ont forget, they suffered more than the diaspora.

    • Do Alevis go suicide bomb places? Do Alevis commit terrorism? Did Alevis commit crimes against humanity against people? Alevis are the most peaceful religion there is! Period.

  4. I do not understand why the religion becomes a big issue.if you feel Armenian who are we to question the person,are we all living as Christian or we are only baptised and that gives right to be an Armenian.

  5. These are heroic people who resisted while we were assimilating, and they have to become Christians before we accept them! As far as I’m concerned, they can do what they think is right. These guys are blood; their genes are precious. As much as I respect our Church, let’s not forget that presenting the other cheek is out of the question.
    The heroism of Artsakhtsi and the survival of the “children of the sword,” proves that we can revive this Nation as long as we respect each other.

  6. Sometimes one person can do a better job than a government.Thanks for the people who are trying to integrate our lost brothers and sisters to our culture and identity.They need a big hug from all of us.

  7. Probably a typo; Dersim’s adjacent provinces are Erzincan to the north and west, Elazığ to the south, and Bingöl to the east. I wonder if any of my cousins are in the photo :-)

    Yerevan, Armenia

  8. My father recounts in his memoir, Avedis’ Story, how he and his family were saved by the Dersim Khurds. During the crossing he heard Armenian words spoken and saw that Khurds were following some Armenian customs. I know he would be thrilled to know that the grandchildren of these same Khurds were being united with their Armenian heritage. Thank you to everyone involved in this endeavor.

    Just as a point of interest, they made the journey from Mezereh (Elazig) and finally reached Erzincan after traversing the mountains.

  9. When I read the story about our lost brothers and sisters who have the courage to reveal their Armenian heritage, my eyes began to fill with tears and I almost cried like a child (I am a tough man in my middle age). According to some recent research and statistics there are around 5 million lost Armenians living in Turkey today. I ask all Armenians to lend a helping hand in every way possible to help our lost brothers and sisters to find their true rightful roots.

  10. My love to this courageous nation (Armenian) who desire all the respect, success, and progress. Despite of the genocide and all kind of heated crimso that any human feel ashamed of, but they survive, and start to move forward to glorious.

  11. I feel it is important to have them embrace our Christian faith. To teach them of the truths of Christianity: redemption, death, burial and resurrection of Christ. To personally accept Christ so they can have the power to change from the inside out. It is part of our culture and has played an important part in our history.

    It is the spiritual aspect that will truly change their hearts, minds and bring healing to their issues personally.

    I am touched by this restoration and the brave souls of the people. One of the writers is correct, I hope they do not expect too much from Armenia.
    There truly is hope and a new exciting future!

  12. This is truly beautiful, the recovery of a lost branch of our family. We should welcome them at least as much as the loving father of the prodigal son, who left of his own accord! These people suffered mightily and did nothing to deserve it, they did not leave of their own accord. They were mightily sinned against. The redefinition of their personal identity will be a difficult journey for each one of them. We should give them all the love and moral support possible, and let them find their own way with no additional difficulties from demands from us. Who knows what bridges of understanding will eventually come from this reintegration of these lost children of Armenia? God bless them. I have nothing but deep respect for the courage it takes from each and every one of them to reveal their hidden identities, when they still live among the persecutors and are therefore taking great risks to reclaim their Armenianness. Again, God bless them!

  13. I admire these people for their courage and dedication to finding their roots especially since they are likely to be persecuted when they go back to “Turkey”. I am troubled that folks are insisting on their conversion. If we welcome them with open arms and exemplify the love of Jesus to them… they will want to be Armenians and Christians. Instead of insisting their conversion… lets pray for their conversions on a daily basis That is Christian love.

  14. It is up to us in the diaspora to patiently and lovingly embrace these lost Armenians and empower them with the knowledge that comes through educating them about their heritage, culture, religion etc. that they will desire to return to their “roots”. As far as unemployment in Armenia goes I feel they need to be taught that they can make a huge difference right where they live in the regions of historic Armenia. I was so pleased to learn of the Alveci Kurds, their loving neighbors, who knowing the consequences of the risks they were taking took those risks and suffered the consequences along with their Armenian neighbors. A big thank you to them! Thank you for your report, let’s be mindful of these lost Armenians and pray for them that God will turn their hearts to Christ Jesus and they in turn will spread the good news their heritage and the truth of the Bible which it has been based upon for centuries.

  15. I am sorry but there is no credible way to establish their Armenian identity. Republic of Armenian needs to be very careful with these people. I do not embrace them because I think the enemy element can gain an access and spread propaganda in Armenia via these people. These people should stay where they are. Their eyes no longer look like they are Armenians. Sorry to rain on your parade.

    • Sir, I dont know if you are Armenia Armenian or diaspora, “These people should stay where they are”, where do you think they are? they are in their mother land, lands that if not Armenia Armenians, diaspora lives by remembering these lands everyday, they live already in Armenia, our mother land their mother land, your mother land, mission can not be accomplished by having back artsakh because Armenia is beyond republic of Armenia and Artsakh, so we just must find the way to accept them and this is the path to claim the the motherland recognized internationally by americans and allied countries. this is my idea i accept them as the grandsons of my grandfather’s brothers and i feel i have something to do to help them so they can know themselves and know what does it mean to be an Armenian.

  16. If we want this program to be successful we should embrace these brothers and sisters with open arms, transition them to our culture, introduce to them our Christian faith and let them decide. Accepting Christ is through personal conviction and is not something that can be forced upon like Islam.
    Moreover, we need these lost members of our families who are indigenous to the region to populate Western Armenia when it finally joins the motherland.

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