Special for the Armenian Weekly
Yet another plague has recently shaken Turkey: the purges of academics from Turkish universities. According to the BIA news network, 4,811 academics from 112 universities have been discharged by five statutory decrees declared during the state of emergency. Fifteen universities have been closed.
One of the universities, from which many academics have been dismissed or even detained by police, is Firat University in the city of Elazig (Kharpert), which has a long history of persecution of Armenian students and educators.
According to Matthew Karanian, the author of the 2015 book Historic Armenia After 100 Years, Kharpert is one of the oldest areas of Armenian habitation. “Some scholars believe that Kharpert may even be the cradle of the Armenian nation,” according to Karanian.
The author Robert Aram Kaloosdian, whose father comes from the village of Tadem in Kharpert, writes about individual stories of the Armenian villagers of Tadem, which was continuously inhabited by Armenians since its founding until the early 1920’s. His 2015 book Tadem, My Father’s Village: Extinguished during the 1915 Armenian Genocide also elaborates on the great importance the Armenian community of the village attached to education and learning.
“Research shows that Tadem had been prominent at one time,” writes Kaloosdian. “The émigrés founded the Tadem Enlightenment Education-Loving Society, generally known in English as the Tadem Educational Society, on June 17, 1891, in Portland, Maine, for the purpose of establishing a coeducational institution in ‘the village of Tadem in the province of Kharpert’, their hometown in historic Armenia. They also pledged to support and improve the school year after year ‘financially, morally, and intellectually.’”
But for Armenians who were exposed to constant persecution at the hands of the Ottoman regime, trying to improve their educational system was no easy task. “My father’s youth evolved under the shadow of terror: stories of flight and hiding, of slaughter, plunder, and devastation. The village was an emotionally wounded community. Memories of the massacres were still fresh in the minds of my father’s elders, as nearly every Armenian family in Tadem had paid a heavy price. A young person growing up in the early years of the twentieth century learned that massacre and murder were part of the experience of being Armenian in the Ottoman Empire,” Kaloosdian explains.
However, the Armenian villagers of Tadem were still deeply dedicated to learning and cultural advancement. “Tadem’s citizens, both at home and in the United States, were smitten with the desire for literacy and learning. They were not looking to run a school just to get the children off the dusty roads of Tadem or out of fertile fields of Kharpert. They wanted to spread the love of learning in order to bring light into the dark world of their ignorance.
“The Tadem Educational Society stocked a library with Armenian books, and the writings of the greater authors of Armenia passed from hand to hand. According to its surviving alumni, the school was enjoying a renaissance when the First World War exploded and the Armenian massacres terminated educational and cultural life in Tadem. The church and school were destroyed a second time, and the people of Tadem dispersed to form colonies in the Near East. Twenty-four years of effort, sacrifice, and commitment came to an end… In the span of a few months in the middle of 1915, Tadem ceased being an Armenian village,” writes Kaloosdian.
Kaloosdian explains that the story he learned from the survivors of the genocide in Tadem presented the village as the microcosm of what was occurring throughout the Armenian provinces.
All other Armenian villages and towns were exposed to a similar treatment in 1915 and afterwards. Historian Christopher Walker writes in his book Armenia: The Survival of a Nation that in a dispatch dated, Nov. 14, 1929, British consul A. Monck-Mason quoted an Armenian from Kharput saying: “In Turkey today we have no means of existence; we are persecuted, robbed, ill-treated, thrown into prison, judged, and, if we are lucky, deported.”
Many Turkish people seem to be shocked by the current governmental pressures against academics and educators. But the “original sin” was committed in the Armenian Genocide. As Kaloosdian writes, “The scars of those terrible years remained with the survivors until the end of their days.”
Kaloosdian effectively clarifies what genocide actually entails. It was not only hundreds of thousands of human lives that perished—the genocide has also caused the destruction of a great civilization.
According to a 2013 report by Turkey’s History Foundation entitled the Minority Schools from Past to Present, in 1894, there were 6,437 schools that belonged to Armenian, Greek and Jewish minorities in the Ottoman Empire. In Istanbul alone, there were 302.
There are only 22 minority schools in Istanbul today. Sixteen belong to Armenians. All of the minority schools across Anatolia have been closed down.