Hidden Armenian and Greek Celebrities in Turkish Cinema

Special for the Armenian Weekly

Being a celebrity is often associated with having a certain lifestyle. Fame often brings fortune, privileges, and opportunities—whether they are career-related or not. Celebrities are thought to have an “easier” life, in which they get special treatment wherever they go—well, except for celebrities in Turkey who are Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, Jewish, or members of any other ethnic or religious minority. Sometimes, even being associated with them is considered unacceptable.

Ayhan Işık, for example, was the most beloved Turkish leading actor in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He was also a movie producer, director, script writer, singer, and painter. He was nicknamed by Turkish people “the king without a crown”– a king who had to change his Armenian-sounding last name to be able to have an acting career.

Ayhan Işık

His parents were originally from Salonika (now Thessaloniki, Greece). Born in Izmir in 1926, Ayhan lost his father at the age of six. His family then moved to Istanbul, where he attended the painting department of the State Fine Arts Academy. He first became a painter and graphic designer and worked for several magazines in Istanbul. According to his known biography, upon the insistence and encouragement of the editor-in-chief of Yıldız magazine—for which he was then working—he entered an acting competition organized by the magazine and came in first. But before he entered it, he had a major concern: his last name, Işıyan, could have been perceived to be Armenian. This concern made him change his surname and adopt a Turkish one: Işık.

Thanks to his enormous talent, good looks, and charisma, he became a living legend in Turkish cinema and played in numerous movies. Işık died in 1979 at the age of 50, which shocked his family, friends, and fans.

Nubar Terziyan, another well-known actor from Turkey, was one of the few Armenian actors who did not change his name. He was devastated by the untimely death of Işık, who used to call him “father.” In 1979, Terziyan placed a notice in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, which read:

“My son, Ayhan, this world is ephemeral. Death is the fate of us all. But you did not die. For you still live in our hearts and in the hearts of millions of people that you have left behind. How blessed you are. (…) Your uncle, Nubar Terziyan.”

Ayhan Işık and Nubar Terziyan share a scene

Apparently, Işık’s family was concerned, terrified, and even infuriated that the notice could have made people think Işık was Armenian. They responded with a public display of racism in a counter-notice in Hürriyet:

“Important correction: Our dearest Ayhan Işık has nothing to do with the notice undersigned as ‘your uncle’. (…) We regretfully announce as we see it necessary. -His family.”

30 years later, Berç Alyanakziya, the son of Terziyan, gave an interview to Hürriyet in 2009 about the tension between his father and Işık’s wife following his death. According to Hürriyet,

“Events that happened right after he placed a death notice for Işık in the daily Hürriyet made him more sorrowful. Işık’s wife, Gülşen, reacted negatively toward Terziyan, who wrote below the notice ‘your father Nubar,’ as Işık called him. The reason was that the real surname of Işık was Işıyan, which had been kept a secret. Because the name Işıyan reminds one of an Armenian name, he changed it to Işık.

“Terziyan’s son Berç Alyanakziya said the following about the reason for the wife’s reaction: ‘Everyone thought that Ayhan Işık was Armenian because of his real surname, Işıyan. When my father placed this notice and wrote ‘your father Nubar,’ people thought that they were close relatives and Işık was an Armenian, too.”

Because of this negative reaction, on June 21, Terziyan placed another notice in the paper in which he disclaimed his former notice.

But according to Professor Fatma Müge Göçek, Işıyan was indeed Armenian. She wrote in her 2014 book Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present, and Collective Violence against the Armenians, 1789-2009:

“Such silencing also occurred in the case of another famous actor, Ayhan Işık, who was also of Armenian origin but carefully silenced his ethnic identity.”

One of the precautions many Armenians in Turkey take against racist attacks is to adopt a Turkish name to use in their social and job-related interactions with Turks. One was Kirkor Cezveciyan, an Armenian superstar of Turkish cinema. He was registered with his real name on his official identification card, but used a Turkish name for the screen: Kenan Pars. The journalist Nayat Karaköse wrote in 2008 after Pars’s death:

“Pars was only one of the many Armenians who changed their names… he was one of the hundreds of Armenians with two business cards. Some Armenians−particularly men−possess two business cards in Turkey. They have both an Armenian name and a Turkish one they later adopted. Armenianness is visible only within the [Armenian] community; it is not visible in public sphere. Particularly 20 or 30 years ago, this ‘invisible’ Armenian phenomenon was even more widespread.”

Kenan Pars (Kirkor Cezveciyan) with child actress Zeynep Değirmencioğlu, also known as ‘Ayşecik’

In an interview, Pars said that because he was a non-Muslim, he was not given guns while doing his compulsory military service in the city of Balikesir. Instead, he was given tools to dig.

Hürriyet noted a reality that speaks volumes about the level of racism and bigotry against indigenous peoples in Turkey: “Most Armenian and Greek artists changed their names to Turkish names for the screen upon request of producers.” Adile Naşit, one of the greatest actresses in Turkish cinema, was only one of them.

Adile Nasit’s family: grandmother Küçük Virjin, uncle Niko, mother Amelya and brother Selim Naşit. (Photo: Hurriyet)

Known for her joyous and remarkable laughter, her family movies and her TV show in which she told children tales and stories, she was known by Turks as “mother Hafize”– after a character she performed in one of her movies. But the “mother” of Turkish people was hiding something: her Greek and Armenian roots.

Naşit was the granddaughter of a well-known Armenian dancer, who was born in 1870 and known as Küçük Virjin. According to the official website of the Women’s Museum Istanbul, her husband, Yorgi, who was Greek, as well as her two sons− Niko and Andre−were all musicians. Her daughter, Amalia, also became a well-known canto dancer and theatre actress in the late Ottoman era.

Her granddaughter, Adela, Amalia’s daughter, was born in the Turkish Republic, which has been hostile to Greeks and Armenians. She adopted a Turkish name, “Adile,” became “Adile Naşit,” and never mentioned her real Greek and Armenian roots during her career.

The scholar Gönül Dönmez-Colin writes in her 2008 book Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance, and Belonging:

“The one-nation policy of the Turkish Republic established in 1923 made life difficult for all minorities. Many converted to Islam and kept their identity secret all their lives.

Nubar Terziyan

“Like the Kurds and other ethnic minorities, non-Muslims have also been invisible in Turkish cinema. Several ethnic minority personalities made their mark in the industry, but often their identity had to be masked… Nubar Terziyan (Alyanak) remains an important character actor in Turkish cinema with his lovable ‘uncle’ image in over 400 films. Although he never hid his Armenian identity, very few people knew that Kenan Pars, who played the bad man in more than 500 films, was actually born Kirkor Cezveciyan. Sami Hazinses, who devoted 45 years to Turkish cinema, had to hide his Armenian identity (Samuel Uluç) all his life for fear of reprisals; his secret was discovered only at his funeral when the procession had to be transferred from the mosque to the church.”

One could be the most peace-loving, law-abiding, and hard-working citizen of Turkey. One could even be unlimitedly talented, and have the best looks and work ethic. But sadly, one’s non-Turkish roots are still a “challenge” in one’s social life and career.

For one to have a safe life and a successful career in Turkey, he or she has to be Turkish and a Muslim. Turkishness and Islam are believed by much of the Turkish public to be intertwined. But if minority citizens still have the courage to keep their non-Turkish names and non-Islamic faith, they still know that they had better not be very outspoken about these things. Non-Muslims in Turkey – through real-life “experiences” − are always “taught” to know their place.

The Turkish state has demonized Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Jews, Kurds, and other minority citizens to such an extent that it has made many of them carry their ethnic roots like a burden on their shoulders. It has turned their identities into giant faults—even “crimes.” That is what prevented these very talented people from proudly expressing and being who they really were.


Uzay Bulut

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. Why you don’t mention Monakyan she ran a whole house in istanbul for many years and every year she made so much money that she broke tax records she was Armenian and she didn’t change her name ????

  2. thank you very much for this beautiful article (and personally nubar terziyan and adile naşit are among best actors for me), of course one article is not enough to cover many armenian and greek actors and cinema workers who did not only act but were also among the builders of cinema in turkey. many of them kept their real names hidden, and this was not only the case for well known actors, many armenian or greek people gave turkish names to their children, considering their well being in schools, in army, or in any social relation. A name ending with -yan or -poulos is still an issue for many people here in turkey, but only for some people. for the others (and they’re not just a few people, believe me), hearing a very exquisite piece of music or watching a really good movie means everything, whether the actors/directors/composers are armenian, greek, kurdish, bulgarian, japanese,columbian, etc… and maybe i should mention this: i’m currently teaching at a fine arts faculty in turkey and there are many talented people among my cinema students, armenian, greek, kurdish, turkish, russian, or i don’t know what their origins are. but they’re coming, and they’re going to make wonderful movies. and they will make these movies through their unique experiences and imaginations. they currently do their best despite all political obstacles, they’ll do more and better, i know. without feeling the need to hide their names and origins i hope… thanks again :)

    • You do realise all Turkish citizens are Turkish regardless of heritage ? The current ‘ Turks ‘ are mixed themselves

  3. Still same in Turkey, some of them uses real name others not or some of them’s father or mother is Armenian, Greek or Jews they prefer to not say anything about them. But lots of them uses their name, talking about their ancestors they are rock star, actor, actrist. If you want to change something you have to do something.Every 24.th april anniversry when you see People on The streets or squaers with cictim’s photos most of them Turkish, in istanbul.

  4. We have loved Nubar Terziyan as well as Ayhan Işık and Adile Naşit regardless their ethnicity. Addition, most Turkish people used to know their roots and they were not Turkish originated. All those issues you raised here could be discussed of course. But, I wonder if there is any one, any celebrity Turk, hidden or not, lived and earned their lives in Armenia.

    • A ‘celebrity turk’, you must be kidding. None exists, they are hidden Armenian, Greek, Assyrian or other ethnicities. Look at yourself in the mirror, do you resemble a Mongol?

  5. Ali there is no Turkish minority in Armenia. There were Azeris but they left safely after their brothers started massacring Armenians in Azerbaijan so your propaganda is senseless and does not work. Today the mentality is the same in Turkey as 40-50-60 years ago. We still hear today non hidden threats of genocide directed at Kurds this time. Times change but Turks do not change, only their victims identity change. Syrian refugees replaced Armenian and Greeks as scapegoats.

    • No its not true, there was Turkish population(not Azeris, Ottoman Turks) in todays armenia, even erivan’s half population was turkish for centuries. Armenians executed ethnic cleansing on them. Today still there is no Turkish or Azeri population in armenia. But there in Turkey we still have Armenian. And they live in very good condition. I have armenian neighbours, do you have just one even in any moment of your life?

    • Hey,don’t change the subject.Syrian refugees have nothing to do with Armenians.We didn’t invite them to Turkey but they’re all doing well in Turkey.

    • That’s so true! Just the identity of the victims chance, Turkey stays the same !!! Brutal,fascist!!! That’s the reality of the country!

  6. Thank you for your work. I had partial knowledge about the situation. However, Turkish celebrities also changed their name for a very long time. Cüneyt Arkın and Tarik Akan stands two colossal examples.

    Moreover, your conclusion seems exaggerated. Everyone suffers due to their origin in a more or less homogeneous society. However, there are many non-Turkish celebrities proud of their origin and still liked by large crowds. Hayko Cepkin is a good example. Can Bonomo is another one. He even represented Turkey in Eurovision song contest. Alen Makaryan is one of the leaders of most infleuntial soccer team supporters group, Çarşı.

    I am not denying that situation for non-Turkish people in Turkey is excellent, however until the current ruling party it was not a crime, it was just an extra burden to overcome, no different being a woman in a male dominated business world.

    • You seem confused … Turkish citizen are Turkish regardless of their heritage . The ‘ Turkish ‘ people are mixed

  7. Armenians have become turkish throughout history.Kurds circassians and greeks also have done so. But who cares about it. No one. Personally i absolutely dont care whether i am turkish or not. Enjoy the world before death comes to you. Nice ladies.

  8. While you cannot tell me 5 Turkish originated singer, actor or actresses who are loved by Armenians in Armenia, and have many fans, WE, Turks do know their ethnicities even if they hide or proudly say.There are still many singers, actors and celebirites use their Armenian names and they say that they are Armenian-Turkish. They have lots of fans.We accept them as ou family. They are our brothers and sisters. No matter what you say or try to manipulate. Check some of them :Rober Hatemo, Hayko Cepkin. They are Armenian-Turkish. And there are Sefarad jews: Can Bonomo, Sami Levi… Those are some popular ones I remeber. You can find more. We love the ones who love us. We see as family the ones who see us as family. No matter what their name, ethnic background or religion we have accepted them. We only don’t accept and haters and traitors. The Journalism level: Very Manipulative, Hatred and Sided.

    • Lets not mention the likes of Hasan Tahsin ( Osman Nevres) Halide Edip Adivar, Idil Biret, Linet nowadays who has a Sephardic Mother from Bursa Layla Ozgecan we also have a young Israeli Singer in Sapir Saban a descent of a Sephardic Turkish Family moved to Israel and won The Voice Israel by singing in Turkish all the way and supported by Shlomi Shabbat another Turkish Sephardic Israeli singer.lets not mention those off a Sephardic mother like Vecihi Hurkus, Metin Akpinar..And you know the most annoying and also upsetting thing is? we are called Shabettaist and Traitors..

  9. Even Armenian admit that they killed 20.000 innocent Turk people. Even they say “Compare to 1.5ml, 20.000 Turks get killed doesn’t matter.”. If you killed innocents too how it can be called genocide? What else you want to wait that Turks to do? Watching their innocent children and women get killed by Asala(Armenian Gangsters)? It was a self-defense. It was a war. It was both sided massacare. I am not Turk or Muslim iam live in Turkey and i don’t have any problems with both side. I am so sad that two beautiful (Turks and Armenians) races fighting with each other about 100 years. I have also lost my family at Balkan Wars, they killed my family for only money. I know how can be get massacared feel like. I can’t enjoy any genocide or masscare. All i try to say unfortinalty both side was had faults. They should stop playing innocents and stop being nemesis which is horrible. I hope i can see the peace. Also i love all this actors and actress (espically Adile Nasit). Their race doesn’t matter.

    • Just one question: How come Armenians in Iran freely and independently declare their family names without any fear of getting downgraded?? but in Turkey you declare your Armenian surname you’ll get a big kick in your backside?? am I correct??

    • Armenians killed 20.000 is a there bigger lie than this … ????
      did they have guns to kill … ????
      Please awake and be fair …
      We had enough problems from so-called savage Turks …
      Go and do your DNA …and know your origin …

  10. Turkey is a very fascist country and doesn’t respect any other ethnicities unfortunately!! If you are one of them you are safe, you are ok! How they treat the Kurds, Armenians, Alevis Is the reality of the country. White Turks love telling stories about modern Turkey etc. They just sing lullabies not the reality!!

  11. Even the comments from the Turkish fellas here demonstrate their ignorance about all the atrocities their ancestors committed.

    They were ‘Turks’ based on your distorted definition? Sure. The race definition as the rest of the world knows agrees with you, if you’re born in Asia minor, you’re Turkish!

    They also killed 20.000 ‘civilian’ Turks (totally not looters) so you got the right to retaliate by exterminating a whole race off the earth? Right. All the foreign volunteers, journalists and even your fellow partners in crime like Dr. Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter surely agree on that.

    All the Armenian artists, well-knowns of your country are free to express their ethnicity? Sure. Ayhan Isik definitely died while sun-bathing. Hrant Dink was asking for it. The ones you know are definitely the only ones!

    It wasn’t 1M to 1.5M but much less based on your ottoman records? Sure! Like none of them hid their origins from your merciful state officials, looters or didn’t even identified themselves as ‘Turks’ just to save the day. Why would they do that, right? Sure, all the Armenians gladly admitted they were not Muslims or not Turkish while you were head counting the subjects of your holy empire. Also, it’s great that you first define your own Turkishness and then have the counts based on that. Because it’s totally fine if it’s your own, right?

    Let me tell you a secret. Do you know why you people hate those cities like Trabzon or Adana, the most troubled cities in Turkey still today? Could it be that those cities are where you settled your sociopathic looters, executioners on ‘abandoned’ Armenian properties? Look up on Baku. Maybe you’ll find correlations.

  12. I wish Turkey changes the logo that is saying (ne mutlu turkim diyene) I would like to see this changed to (nemutlu vatandasim diyene) this way all be included in one nation as equal in all aspect of life. Also it will give a chance to any minorities to serve in the army and have high ranking officer, as any Turkish citizen.

  13. The Turks who wrote comments on this site are either ignorant or trying to hide the truth. Non muslim citizens in Turkey were discriminated, threatened, persecuted since that country became a republic in 1923. Today there are 60 thousand Armenians, 14 thousand jews and 2 thousand Greeks in Turkey which has a total population of 83 million. It’s not even one thousandth of the population. Turks don’t teach their children the truth about their history. Instead they brainwash their children with racism and propaganda. The brainwashing continues all their lives. Very few Turks have the courage to tell the truth. I know; I was born in Turkey and lived until I was 27.

  14. He was a Sephardic Jew like 90% of the Families moved to Izmir from Saloniki. There is no Armenian descent arrived from Saloniki to Turkish territories. Following the Balkan War remaining Sephardic Jews were in fact forced to move to Turkey in exchange with Greek population in Turkey. Even today Saloniki is where Greek Jews are mostly based. In terms of The Family name most of the Sephardic Jews were obliged to Change their Surnames after the Republic with Ataturks Surname revolution. Some managed to keep theirs intact because of the surname contained a Turkish word like MORchaim. MOR is a Turkish word which allowed the family to keep their origin name.But some of those werent as fortune. In Istanbul and Izmir Jews are still in contact with each other due to the Synagogues in both Cities are still open but in Ankara despite the oldest and still useable Shrine is the Synagogue (app 900 yrs old) Ankaras Sephardic population Nowadays known as Muslims and all carry Turkish names and Surnames..I know them They know me but we dont know each others Identity. Deceased are buried in Muslim Cemeteries.

    Here i gave you a little background info i hope it helps..

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