Documentary about Islamized Survivors of the Armenian Genocide Premieres in Istanbul

Special for the Armenian Weekly

A new Turkish documentary about Islamized survivors of the Armenian Genocide premiered in Istanbul on Feb. 9.

The English poster of The Children of Vank (Courtesy of Kazim Gundogan)

The documentary The Children of Vank tells the story of what happened to the few survivors of the 1915 genocide in the province of Dersim (“Tunceli” in Turkish) and of the 1937-38 Dersim massacre.

According to the documentary, the Armenian survivors of these two genocides were exiled by the Turkish government to other places across Turkey.

Due to the forced Turkification and Islamization policies of the Turkish government, the Armenian names of the survivors were changed and they were given Turkish names. They were then made to convert to Islam by reciting the Shahada, the public recitation of Islamic belief that is declared by all converts to Islam. Some were raised as Alevis in Alevi households.

A still image from the documentary (Photo courtesy of Kazim Gundogan)

The film is named after the Surp Garabed Vank (Saint Garabed Monastery) in the village of Halvori in Dersim. The word “Vank” means monastery in Armenian.

The Surp Garabed Vank, which is believed to have been built in the ninth century, was the only Armenian place of worship in Dersim that was not destroyed in the Armenian Genocide.

The monastery was bombed by Turkish forces in 1937 and its priest was arrested. It was completely demolished in the massacre in 1938 and the priest was brutally murdered—alongside other Armenians and Qizilbash/Alevis in the village of Halvori Vank.

“The Turkish state targeted all Qizilbash/Alevis across Dersim as well as the Christian community in that village in the 1937-38 genocide,” said Kazim Gundogan, the producer of the movie, speaking to the Armenian Weekly. “Almost all of them were killed. That is why, we named the people whose stories we told 75 years after the genocide ‘the children of the monastery (Vank)’.”

A still image from the documentary (Photo courtesy of Kazim Gundogan)

Kazim Gundogan and Nezahat Gundogan, the researchers of the movie, traced the Armenian survivors of these two genocides in the provinces of Konya, Bolu, Istanbul, Izmir, and Dersim and conducted interviews with them. Kazim Gundogan also wrote a book about the Armenians of Dersim entitled The Children of the Priest: Armenians of Dersim 1. “Our research on Armenians of Dersim is ongoing. We will publish a second book about the stories of the Alevi, Muslim, atheist and Christian Armenians of Dersim at the end of this year,” said Gundogan.

The documentary details the courageous yet traumatic lives of the surviving children and grandchildren of the monastery. It describes their shattered memories, their efforts of searching for their roots and their journey back to Dersim.

A still image from the documentary (Photo courtesy of Kazim Gundogan)

Gundogan emphasized that he would like to share the documentary with those who want to learn more about the Armenians of Dersim and the 1938 massacre by organizing premiers and talks about the movie across the world.

Ahmet Ak, who learns about his grandmother’s Armenian identity, says in the documentary: “I think she was so scared that she did not share anything with us. It is so hard to be an Armenian in these lands. And they lived through these difficulties in person so deeply.”

Kazim and Nezahat Gundogan have also produced two ground-breaking documentaries about the 1938 Dersim massacre: Two Locks of Hair: The Missing Girls of Dersim (2010) and Unburied in the Past (2013).

A still image from the documentary (Photo courtesy of Kazim Gundogan)

In 2012, the two also published a historic book called The Missing Girls of Dersim, which contains more than a hundred stories as well as several documents detailing the painful experiences of the surviving children of Dersim, who were kidnapped by Turkish soldiers or bureaucrats following the massacre.

At the press conference organized during the premier of the Children of Vank, the director, Nezahat, said that it took them four years to complete the making of the documentary.

“We all know that historical truths are covered up, hidden and denied by the official ideology and the official history narrative in our country. Hence, it takes a very long time to chase the truths and reveal them,” said Nezahat. “It is hard to be a Kurd, an Alevi, a woman, a homosexual, a child—to be the ‘other’— in these lands… But being an Armenian is even more difficult. Armenians are seen as ‘the other of the other,’” Nezahat added.

A still image from the documentary (Photo courtesy of Kazim Gundogan)

According to Nezahat, the documentary is not just movie, it is what the filmmaker calls “a struggle for truth.” “I hope this movie will pave the way for revealing many other untold stories,” Nezahat explained. “And I hope it will help stop even greater sufferings and atrocities from taking place again.”



Uzay Bulut

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. She is a fellow at the Middle East Forum (MEF) and is currently based in Washington D.C. Bulut’s journalistic work focuses mainly on Turkish politics, ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey, and antisemitism.


  1. This Verse about Dersim will be in my poetry 18th collection
    “BRING-OUT, Our Genocided Skulls & Artful Hands”
    hope at the end of 2017

    ‘Dersim Genocide–Ethnocide’ of 1937-1938
    Committed by the hands of Turkified
    Armenian Orphan; her Identity was crossed on from
    Hatun Sebilciyan to Sabiha Gokcen
    The world should know
    Who are the Seljuk-Ottoman-savage-Turks.
    See her birthdate, she was born and died the same day and month!
    (on March 22, 1913, died March 22, 2001, a real lie!)
    Even a ten-year-old student can detect.
    And how unrealistic is ––
    That orphans know their birthdays!
    Journalist Hrant Dink (1954- 2007)
    Was gunned down . . . because of pilot Hatun!
    Hrant documented,
    She was an Armenian Orphan,
    Ataturk snatched her from the orphanage
    And trained her to kill her own people
    Because they were not Sunnis,
    But innocent Alivis* ––
    (Turkified Armenians and Kurdish).
    May 8, 2014
    *Alivis: Alevi: Alevis (Aleviler, Elewî) are a religious, sub-ethnic and cultural community in
    Middle East and South Asia, numbering in the millions. Alevi worship takes place in
    assembly houses (cemevi), not in mosques. The ceremony (âyîn-i cem, or simply cem)
    features music and dance (semah), which symbolizes the main planets around the Sun (by
    man and woman turning in circles) and the putting off of one’s self and uniting with God. In
    Alevism, the men and women are regarded as equals and pray side by side. (Wikipedia, 2014)
    According to the folk etymology the word ‘Dersim’ was derived from the name of the
    Armenian priest Ter Simon (Tersimon, Dersimon) he was Alivized (became Alivi) in the early
    17th century.
    Armenians add ‘Der’ or ‘Ter’ before their surnames if the person is a priest or arrives from
    a family whose ancestors were priests.)

  2. Yes, this has never been told. It ghouls be in the history books at schools in the West. Turkey also slaughtered the Kurds.

    • After the Sunni government lost the WWI against Britain-USA, Turkey was given to the Shi’ite to govern. That is when the Sunni/Armenians were being killed off by the Shi’ites-Kurds. They continue to do so in these present times. The Sunni-Armenians are now being attacked in Syria, northern Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Some of the Yezidi Kurds ‘J’ DNA have also been attacked because of not being of a Shi’a Islam religion. Many Adamic ‘R’ DNA blondish haired Armenians think they are of the black haired ‘J’ DNA Kurds (same as Shi’ites ‘J’)! Kurds use to be in Armenia’s land but that part of Armenia ‘R’ genetics lost the land to the Kurds ‘J’ genetics . See Kurdistan.

  3. Europe has the most ‘J’ DNA inter mixed with the Adamic-Arian ‘R1a’ DNA seen as the ‘R1b’ DNA. Asia has the most Adamic-Arian R1a’ DNA especially seen as the Baluchistani. Most Kurds are of the ‘J’ DNA as is the Yezidi Kurd, over 90% of the Azerbaijani, most Shi’ites especially in Saudi Arabia and now Iran, and the Burgher jew ‘J’ DNA of Israel government and the Burgher controlled governments (not the citizens)of the United Nations’ (U.N.) Chartered Nations such as Turkey, USA, Britain, Russia, China, and many more. Armenians are as the Syrians called Sunni that are across into India (Pakistan).

  4. My question here is…why did the American Govt hide the “ian” from the rest of the people of the US…as if to say…no Armenians were to inhabit the states? Take their names? Does anyone else have this desire to get their names back? Armenian people have the “ian” at the end of their name…I would like to see my maiden name as Albertian once again…..

  5. Hello, where was a human right “protector” Europe again in 1937?
    Is not this prove that armenians and armenian govt should not trust turks and all kind of fake protectors.

  6. Armenia and Syria Sunni/Armenians of the Abrahamic ‘R’ DNA lineage (includes Adamic Turks-Baluchistan Pashtuns) are being exterminated by the U.N. Chartered Nations governed by the ‘J’ DNA race! Such is the USA, Britain, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Europe, most of Africa, and Israel!

  7. Mr. Dellerman,

    I do not understand what you are trying to say, but I infer you are anti-semitic and racist. Armenians face extermination form the Turk and Azeri governments, with the backing of a majority of their citizens, and a lot of help from Israel.

    However, staring with Ambassador Morgenthau, Franz Werfel, and Professor Lemkin, Jews have been among the strongest supporters of the Armenian cause. Stronger than our ‘natural” allies the Georgians by far. Armenians are not anti-semitic, so please sell your Bogh to Turks, who are a Nazi-loving people obsessed with Kemalist racial pseudo-science.

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