The Plight of Hidden or Islamized Armenians in Turkey

Special for the Armenian Weekly

What a difference a year makes…

It was August of last year, when Project Rebirth organized trips to Armenia for a large group of hidden Islamized Armenians from Diyarbakir, Urfa, Dersim, Sason, Van, and the Hamshen regions of Turkey, to help them find their roots, language, culture, and history.

'It seems like decades ago, but it was last April, that a piano concert took place at the recently reconstructed Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir.' (Photo: Courtesy of Raffi Bedrosyan)
‘It seems like decades ago, but it was last April, that a piano concert took place at the recently reconstructed Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir.’ (Photo: Mehmet Masum/Courtesy of Raffi Bedrosyan)

It seems like decades ago, but it was last April, that a piano concert took place at the recently reconstructed Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir, to commemorate the Armenian Genocide Centennial—a concert attended by more than a thousand hidden Armenians.

The regular monthly breakfast meetings of the hidden Armenians of Diyarbakir at the Surp Giragos Church have now become a distant memory. The Armenian language classes so enthusiastically attended by Islamized Armenians in Dersim and Diyarbakir have long been suspended.

As the organizer of the trips to Armenia, it was gratifying for me to receive emails from some of these no-longer hidden Armenians.

“Before I went to Armenia I was a Kurd, and I returned as an Armenian,” read one. “For years I fought for the rights of Kurds before I found out I was an Armenian at the deathbed of my father. Now I want to go fight in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh/NKR),” read another.

It was doubly gratifying to see youngsters from Diyarbakir attending university in Yerevan, already speaking Armenian and acting as guides to tourists. It was also a pleasant surprise to find out that the last trip to Armenia resulted in marriage between a hidden Armenian from Hamshen and a hidden Armenian from Diyarbakir, who wouldn’t even know about each other’s existence before last year.

In ever growing numbers, the hidden Armenians had started making contact with one another within Turkey, establishing links with people in Armenia and Diaspora.

And now? The past year has been a living hell for the hidden Armenians of Turkey. The civil war between the Kurdish resistance guerrillas and the Turkish army has resulted in massive destruction in southeastern and eastern Turkey. Most of the buildings in the region have been bombed or burnt by the army and police forces, followed by complete demolition and razing of the damaged buildings, creating vast open areas in many urban centers, with only a few mosques, police stations, or government buildings left standing.

Entire neighborhoods have disappeared, reduced to rubble. The Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir has escaped the fighting relatively intact structurally, with only broken windows and a large hole in one of the exterior walls. But the Turkish security forces have used it as an army base, desecrating the church, burning some of the pews as firewood, with garbage and smell of urine everywhere. The attached gift and souvenir shop is destroyed.

Diyarbakir in ruins (Photo: Courtesy of Raffi Bedrosyan)
Diyarbakir in ruins (Photo: Courtesy of Raffi Bedrosyan)

Several stores and houses in the adjacent blocks to the church, which were originally owned by the church and only recently returned to church ownership after years of negotiations, have now been demolished by the government, along with many of the historic narrow streets and buildings leading to the church.

At present, the church stands in the middle of a vast open area. But worst of all, in March 2016, the Turkish government passed legislation, expropriating the church and all of the properties belonging to it. The church is now closed to public. The Armenian church foundation has taken the expropriation to the Turkish courts, and in the case of an unsuccessful outcome at the Turkish courts, the intention is to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

More than a million people have been displaced in the region, forced to flee to safer areas. Thousands of people have been killed or injured, including children and elderly, some burnt alive in the basements of apartment buildings while being bombed by the government forces. Thousands more have been fired from their jobs, arrested and jailed for “supporting terrorist Kurdish organizations,” especially intellectuals, teachers, lawyers, and journalists.

The democratically elected Kurdish mayors of most towns and cities in the region have been removed from their posts, arrested and jailed. The co-leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), as well as several members of parliament, have also been arrested and jailed.

Following the failed coup attempt against President Erdogan in July, dictatorial powers and the state of emergency in Turkey have resulted in silencing of all opposition, media, intellectuals, and opinion makers.

Surp Giragos today (Photo: Courtesy of Raffi Bedrosyan)
Surp Giragos today (Photo: Courtesy of Raffi Bedrosyan)

The situation is worrisome and continues to get worse in Turkey, especially in the southeastern regions, with military operations within Turkey as well as across the border within Iraq and Syria. Although Turkey has pledged to fight against ISIS, it seems that their main fight is against Kurdish forces within Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. The Turkish army and police forces taunt the Kurdish guerillas with the ultimate insult, calling them “Armenian bastards.”

Our hidden Islamized Armenians living in the region suffer the same fate as the rest of the population, perhaps even worse. They are discriminated against, no matter where they go. The Kurds discriminate against them for not being “real” Kurds. The Turks discriminate and harass them even more, as they are brainwashed to hate and fear Armenians as perpetrators of genocide. If the hidden Islamized Armenians choose to go to Istanbul, they are discriminated against by the Armenians there. Until they satisfy the unreasonably strict requirements of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate and get baptized as Christians, they are not well received well by the Armenian community.

Naturally, the efforts of Project Rebirth to help the hidden Islamized Armenians find their Armenian roots, culture, and language by organizing Armenian language classes in places like Diyarbakir and Dersim, as well as planning trips for them to Armenia, are now on hold.

Instead, the efforts are now geared toward helping the hidden Armenians relocate away from the war zones into safe areas, and arranging lawyers for people who are arrested, jailed, or unfairly dismissed from work.

There have been major setbacks this year, with great human suffering and material losses. We have lost control, for now, of Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir, which was beautifully reconstructed after years of painstaking effort, sacrifice, and hard work. But we must remind ourselves that it has already served its main objective—the re-awakening of the hidden Islamized Armenians. This church has acted as a magnet, bringing together once hidden Armenians—the grandchildren of the living victims and orphans of the Armenian Genocide—who continue surviving and living on our own ancestral lands, albeit under very difficult conditions.

Raffi Bedrosyan

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."
Raffi Bedrosyan

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  1. I often wander if the situation of the Islamized Armenians is further exasperated by the the interest Diaspora shows in them. The very nature of their characterization as “hidden” arouses academic if not a romantic interest in them. It may be time for the Diaspora to curtail its interest in hidden Islamized Armenia.

  2. God damn the Turkish government. The genocide is still alive and Armenians Christian or Islamized are still being prosecuted and annihilated. The world should not sit silent. Acts of Turkish government are inhuman and barbaric.
    God help our people living in Turkey.

    • Sorry, Not “TURKEY”, but occupied Historical Armenia or occupied Armenian Highlands and all it’s sounding terretories, we need to start using the correct worlds, the country Greater Armenia existed for 3500 years. Past 200 years of systematic genocide and deportation of the remaining Armenians from their historical- ancestral homes, villages and towns was/is the only method Seljuk, Tatar, and Mongol TURKS have used(and are still using it today) to steal and occupy 99% of HISTORICAL ARMENIA that expanded; from Caspian Sea to Black Sea to Mediterranean Sea/ocean and all paid with the blood of our ancestors.

  3. What a terrible outcome. I am convinced that the Turkish government is intent on the total destruction of all other minorities, So much progress had been made in Diyarbakir, it felt like a re awakening for people not to be afraid of their Armenian roots. People will not forget this period but the brutalisation and brainwashing of the majority is the problem. I photographed inside the old Armenian quarter and exhibited inside St Giragos…this is hard to believe now.

  4. The Turks are after us no matter what! My family was all massacred by the Ottoman Turks, except for my father who, God bless him, survived in the worst of circumstances and eventually found his way to the U.S. Until he passed away (peacefully), he refused to travel outside the U.S. no matter what. God bless the Armenians throughout the world.

  5. Nobody forced the hidden Armenians from coming out of the closet (so to speak). Armenians must help Armenians, no matter their religion, location, or their ability to speak Armenian.

  6. Recently I came across an interview with an islamized Hamshen Armenian who also explained that Armenian interest and attention in Islamized Armenians is possibly not welcomed by them and exposes them to more danger and hardship. This people already are in uneasy situation and should not be exposed to more harm and hardship just because their reality excites our romantic national feelings.
    This situation needs to be approached with care.

  7. It is unfair…real unfair to treat our unlucky people this way …

    The religion is not a gene …

    Only godless Armenians see this way …
But fair Armenians should accept them as they are …

    because that was not their mistake …

    Shame on any Armenian who refuse to accept them their way….
Armenians should remember they were pagans…
If we are true Christians…we should accept them
remember how much they suffered
to live between savage races…all these years …

    They are psychologically sick…
Our duty is to treat them…and never reject them …

    Dr. Sylva
    written instantly

  8. Vahe, I do believe that diaspora Armenians unknowingly caused the problem for hidden Armenians in Turkey. I’ve read a few comments in regard to videos about the Hemshen Armenians. The comments are from Hemshin posting they are not Armenian but are Turkish.

  9. The Armenian Nation is indestructible. I truly believe this! In 451 A.D. with Vartan Mamigonian’s leadership we fought the Persian mighty army, even though we lost the battle, but we won the war because we did not give up our Christian faith. So, now all these Muslimized Armenians are finding their way back to their original roots. Kudos to them all. We are like the mythological Phoenix and declare to the world that we are alive and still will contribute to the civilization
    of humankind.

  10. There has been near absolute silence from European and American governments, officials, and ngo’s on the now extraordinary level of oppression inside Turkey by the Turkish military and the Erdogan dictatorship (it has gone beyond the point where it can be legitimately called a “government”). Now that at least one of the main reasons for that silence (the requirement of Turkey’s co-operation to enable Clinton’s planned American intervention in Syria) has gone, and another (the requirement of Turkey’s co-operation to limit migration into Europe) is reduced by the rapidly diminishing political influence and relevance of Germany’s chancellor Merkel, it is possible that this silence will gradually end. However, I think the author of this article is making an error by labeling that oppression a “civil war” – it is not an appropriate label to be using to describe events in a country that still tries to excuse and deny genocide under the guise of “it was a civil war”.

  11. This is very sad news and disheartening. However possible, we must believe and express that “The LIght” will fill the Darkness, the Darkness will become Light, and The Darkness shall be no more!

  12. Thank you Raffi for your continued efforts. It is painful to read your article. All is not lost though. Through your efforts you were able to awaken a whole generation of Armenians. You should be very proud of your achievements.

  13. My grandfather, Kerop Bedoukian, wrote a book called “some of us survived”. I can’t say I have a whole lot of sympathy for the Turks. We have a saying here in North America..”what comes around, goes around”. Armenian Power!

  14. the most tragic mistake was that we as Diaspora armenians have lost our land and we have lost the geographical foothold. I believe it is high time that we as diaspora Armenians and specifically the armenian political parties should re-think about bringing a 180 degree change in our struggle for our cause.
    struggle from behind the desks and in International organizations’ hallways will not bring results. Remember Khrimian hairig’s message.

  15. only hungarians,chuvash,gaugoz able to live as christian in turkey because they have turanic or turkic ancestry.

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