Project Rebirth: Homecoming of ‘Hidden Armenians’

 

Some came by chartered bus from Diyarbakir, Sasun, and Urfa, others by public transport from Dersim through Tbilisi. A few came by rail from Artvin in the Hamshen region via Batumi, others drove their own cars from Hopa. The destination for all? Yerevan, Armenia.

Following the success of the historic first trip of 50 “hidden” Islamicized Armenians from Diyarbakir, Turkey, to Armenia last August to re-discover their roots, culture, and language, the project was repeated again this year in an expanded fashion
Following the success of the historic first trip of 50 “hidden” Islamicized Armenians from Diyarbakir, Turkey, to Armenia last August to re-discover their roots, culture, and language, the project was repeated again this year in an expanded fashion

Following the success of the historic first trip of 50 “hidden” Islamicized Armenians from Diyarbakir, Turkey, to Armenia last August to re-discover their roots, culture, and language, the project was repeated again this year in an expanded fashion.

The trip, now formally named Project REBIRTH: VERADZNOUNT, was part of a wide range of activities supporting Islamicized Armenians. This year, 80 selected Islamicized Armenians were brought from Turkey to the homeland, to participate in the Ari-Tun event organized by the Ministry of Diaspora.

After several months of planning, fundraising, organizing, and negotiating with government officials and hotels in Armenia, the trip was set for the first week of August.

The participants were met in Yerevan by the organizer of the tour, who flew in from Toronto, Canada. The timing of the trip was made to coincide with the Pan-Armenian Games, which brought more than 6,200 Armenian athletes from all over the world to Armenia, including 450 from Turkey, representing the historic Armenian homeland teams from Van, Bitlis, Mush, Dersim, Diyarbakir, and Musa Ler.

This year, more emphasis was placed on having the younger generation participate in the trip; as a result, several children of those who came last year were now part of the group. The age of the participants ranged from 11 to 87. The Islamicized Armenians come from all walks of life; they are teachers, lawyers, artists, writers, poets, high school and university students, business people, housewives, and retired pensioners. They may have different perspectives about almost every subject, but they all share one common goal: to search for and find their Armenian roots. Their life stories and quest for their roots are as different as themselves.

They are all descendants of the “living victims” of the 1915 Armenian Genocide—orphaned Armenian boys and girls who were captured, protected, hidden, or bought by Turks and Kurds, and who became Islamicized, Turkified and Kurdified.

As the grandchildren of these assimilated orphans, they became aware of their Armenian roots during different stages of their lives. Some found out about their Armenian origins at an early age, while others discovered it in their adulthood, on their parents’ or grandparents’ deathbed.

During this trip, they eagerly participated in Armenian-language classes every morning, followed by expeditions to significant historic sites during the day, and cultural events in the evenings. Interestingly, the participants from the Hamshen region already spoke a dialect of Armenian, and could easily understand or be understood by Armenians in the street.

The full-house concert and the activities of the group were followed widely by the Armenian media and TV.
The full-house concert and the activities of the group were followed widely by the Armenian media and TV.

One of the Armenian cultural events the entire group attended was a concert I gave, performing the works of Komitas, Khatchaturian, Alan Hovhaness, and Edgar Hovanissian. The full-house concert and the activities of the group were followed widely by the Armenian media and TV.

As a result of this trip, the participants will no longer be hidden Armenians when they return to Turkey, as their real identities have been revealed at considerable risk to themselves and their families. They may be discriminated against by their employers, lose their jobs if working in the public sector, lose their Muslim friends, neighbors, and even the rest of their families who prefer to remain Muslim Turks or Kurds. But they are all willing to take the risk.

Throughout the trip, the expectations, short- and long-term goals of Project Rebirth and the needs of the hidden Armenians were discussed. As courageous people willing to take the risk of revealing their Armenian identities, they need support mechanisms related to Armenian-language instruction, increased interaction and exchanges with cultural groups to and from Armenia, and technical and professional help related to restoration projects for abandoned or destroyed Armenian churches, cemeteries, and other monuments in their cities and villages.

More importantly, on a personal level, they may need financial, legal, and social services help for family and employment problems triggered from revealing their Armenian identities.

The Project Rebirth organizers hope to engender a willingness in these new Armenians to learn the Armenian language and history, organize among themselves the planning and implementation of the restoration of Armenian churches and buildings, arrange regular social and cultural activities to encourage others to “come out,” and more critically, pass along their desire to return to their Armenian roots to their children and the next generation.

Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan (L), Raffi Bedrosyan (R)
Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan (L), Raffi Bedrosyan (R)

The goals and objectives of Project Rebirth are now well defined, and a few of the short-term goals have already been achieved. One example was the agreement negotiated between the organizer and the Ministry of Diaspora last year to have two university students from Diyarbakir, who had participated in last years’ trip, continue their studies in Armenia with free tuition. After a year of intensive Armenian language instruction in Yerevan University, we watched with great pride and satisfaction as one of these students acted as a guide and translator to the participants of this year’s trip.

The ultimate goal of Project Rebirth is nothing short of creating an Armenian presence again on historic Armenian lands within Turkey, in terms of people, culture, and architecture.

Although there is support and appreciation by certain influential leaders in Armenia, the significance and potential of Project Rebirth is not yet fully understood by some diasporan leaders and organizations. It is our hope that with increased understanding of the new realities related to the hidden Armenians in Turkey, Armenians within the diaspora and Armenia will be able to undo some of the damages of the past through Project Rebirth.

 

The trip was organized and sponsored by Raffi Bedrosyan, with additional contributions from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, AGBU Asbeds, and a few individuals.

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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.

26 Comments

  1. This project is one of only two events in the past hundred years–the other being the recapture of Artsakh–that has undone some of the consequences of the genocide. One of two. It is more important than any country recognizing genocide, more important than boycotting some radio host that insults Armenians, more important than all of that. We all need to support it and spread awareness of it as much as possible. Let’s get our priorities in order.

  2. Very encouraging news i am inspired by the willingness and determination of all Hidden Armenians who took the risk and unvealed themselves by their true identities. I wish them all the best,, it very touching, overmore i pray that by passing time there are more and more outburst of Hidden Armenians about their true identity and nby visiting Armenia i think they wil be inspired how Armenia and Armenian people embrace them with open arms as one Armenian nation. Thank Gopd the truth will come out gradually i believe and someday soon we will hear that they are the ones defending their own towns, cities and villages, no soubt they will start wondering if they have any diasporan Armenians or relatives in Armenia who are looking for each other.

  3. About forty years ago I took my daughter to kindergarten because I was a single mom. She was barely three years old and did not speak English. She hung on to me and started crying, tearing my heart apart. Suddenly she could not communicate with anybody! I can imagine that first threat of isolation. For a whole week life was hell for both of us but we survived.
    A few weeks later, when I picked her up she was already playing with other children and was comfortable in English. We came home for dinner. She walked into the kitchen, right arm held up towards me, palm open, the other arm akimbo:
    “Why do I have to learn Armenian?” she asked.
    “Because, because . . .” I was expecting this question along with many others but not this soon! My mind went blank.
    “. . .because it will make you smarter.”
    She paused for a while. It took time to ingest the idea.
    “Oh? OK then!”
    Problem solved. I met no opposition when she started Armenian School. We had settled the problem long ago.

  4. This is totally amazing and must be supported by the Armenian Diaspora. We have to come to terms with the fact there are people who are Armenian and at the same time Moslem. We cannot let that fact stop us from supporting these brave folks. It is only recently that I realized the full extent to which the Turkish government has demonized Armenians. Every school child is taught that we are their enemy –traitors to the Turkish state. Raffi — you are a man of vision to undertake this work and I can only hope your dream of seeing this Rebirth of Armenians within Turkey happens. It has started…. the narrative must change. Thank you!

  5. My compliments to Mr. R.Bedrosyan , your tireless efforts starting to blossom.Diasporan and homeland Armenians ,it is time to extend our arms to our sister and brothers(hidden) and welcome them.After all their grandmothers and grandfathers during the Genoside were just children all the decision for their futur was made by adults.

  6. iskapes huzvatz em
    apren kazmakerpoghner@, u ketsen qach hay quyrern u yeghbayrner@
    janq ch’petq e khnayvi ognelu irents, vorov irenq en darnalu arevmtyan hayassa-i himnadir qarer@

  7. “the ultimate goal of Project Rebirth is nothing short of creating an Armenian presence again on historic Armenian lands within Turkey”
    This should be as high up on our list of priorities, even more than genocide recognition

  8. There can be no greater or more important project for every Armenian, every Armenian Organization nor for the Armenian Republic but to reclaim these people as Armenians.
    NONE…..

    Every effort should be exerted to make the passage of these people BACK to their Armenian identities as easy and free of trauma as possible.

    EACH one of these people shows extraordinary courage , not only externally against the threats and heartbreak that publicly acknowledging their lost identities will cause, but also the “internal” conflicts which will inevitably occur.

    These people need every resource that can be accorded someone who is a “Refugee” in the starkest sense of there word…. Emotional, financial, psychological, social, linguistic,… and hopefully, religious support when they are ready.

    They need to be handled like the golden relics they are; LIVING relics of inestimable value, EACH one.

    There were years ago some Islamicized Greeks from Pontus in Anatolia who came to Greece to reclaim their identity; sadly some native Greeks made them feel less than welcome and heartbreakingly many decided to RETURN to Turkey where they felt less discrimination. A Double tragedy, as these people in effect were lost TWICE…..

    Here’s hoping that the Armenians can learn from Greece’s missteps and Succeed fully with these incredibly courageous people.

    May God Bless all of you!!!

  9. The tremendous work done by Mr.Raffi Bedrosian for Project Rebirth should be appreciated and helped by us ,Armenians whether in Armenia ,Artzakh and Diaspora

  10. Lately,I have been observing the reaction of ‘patriotic Armenians’ who under no circumstances would consider approaching these Turkish speaking Armenians from the ‘old country’ now Turkey. Perhaps some of them do not speak Armenian themselves but any Armenian speaking Turkish is not a ‘full Armenian’.
    The test will come at the next Pan Armenian games when all participants will carry their country’s flag.Will the Turkish Armenian participants be allowed to carry the Turkish flag?
    I hope very much that they do.

    • The pan-Armenian games are currently underway. And there were several historically Armenian cities represented in the opening ceremonies.

  11. It’s difficult to overstate the significance of this initiative. Incredible work and dedication. The earlier commentator was spot on: “This project is one of only two events in the past hundred years–the other being the recapture of Artsakh–that has undone some of the consequences of the genocide. One of two. “

  12. Bravo Raffi!!!
    Thr best way to remember our martires of Genocide will be to help their decesandes to return to their origines and make any support to realize this goal.I belive any disapora armenian will give his support financially, legally or as much as possible to his capacities to help and improve our hidden Armenians that hopefully soon woll not be mora “Hidden”

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