ISSUES CONCERNING TO APOSTATE ARMENIANS IN TURKEY
While speaking about apostate Armenians one often comes across the disputable question of defining their present status and at the same time faces multilevel problems. The heterodox Armenians of Turkey are on different levels of assimilation and not all of them have a clear Armenian ethnic characteristic and they may conditionally be divided into two groups:
- Ethnically clean Armenians, who have preserved national and religious (Christian) traditions, holidays, different elements of ceremonies, the language has been forgotten but they still have a little extent of Armenian self-consciousness, though hidden. They secretly aspire to preserve all these and pass them on their descendants. This group is conditionally called cripto Armenians.
- Descendants of Armenians, the ancestors of which were Islamized: most of them know and even accept this fact: however, being detached of the Armenian surrounding, in comparison with cripto Armenians, they did not preserve much of the elements of national-religion traditions and are not only Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish speaking but have also become Kurdish and Turkish culturally. Among this group, for example, are not preserved internal marriages, which has resulted their ethnic assimilation. This very group may also include people, who have some percentage of Armenian origin, who had Armenian grandfathers or grandmothers and still remember them:
All these groups may conditionally be called “heterodox Armenians” being well aware of considerable differences among them.
It should be perceived that most of the apostate Armenians inhabited in today’s Turkey adopted Islam under the threat of death. The Islamized Armenians living in Turkey have been mainly formed of the following groups:
- Armenians who have outwardly adopted Islam at the period of the Armenian Genocide.
- Armenian women and girls kidnapped during the Genocide who later were married with Turks and Kurds.
- Armenian children adapted during the Genocide.
- A little number of people who found shelter in the houses of their neighbors and other people.
- Limited number of Armenian handicraftsmen and unique specialists who were Islamized with the authorities’ knowledge.1
The most important thing connecting all these people is that they accepted Islam under the threat of death. These people are spiritually and psychologically distorted as they live in fear, have two identities for internal and external worlds. The specialists of the field study different psychological problems among the survivors of the Genocide; however the problem of Armenians who have lost their face is still to be studied.
To give a right estimation to ethnic and religion elements of self-consciousness among the Turkish Armenians who survived and are on different levels of assimilation, it is obligatory and very important to be well aware and take into consideration the surrounding where our forcedly and sometimes outwardly Islamized kinsmen live. In Turkey, where it is extremely dangerous to be Armenian or not Muslim, it is very difficult to preserve anything Armenian, especially in the backward eastern parts of the country. That’s to say, before “blaming” the apostate Armenians and putting any criteria of their being or not being Armenian, one should take into consideration all these.
One of the convincing proofs of preserving different levels of Armenian self-consciousness is the fact that should there be a chance, the Armenians, who have almost considerably been assimilated, will return or make an attempt to return to their roots. The striking example of it is the officially reported number of the ones who returned to their religion. At that, Armenians belonging to different generations return to the religion of their forefathers, which has come to prove about the memory they preserve up to our days. To make it all better grounded, let us present some episodes in connection with Turkish apostate Armenians.
So, in April of the previous year the “France 24” TV channel prepared quite a big reporting devoted to the cripto Armenians in Turkey. Besides different specialists, in the reporting is also presented a family of cripto Armenians, one of the children of which, living in Istanbul, has adopted the religion of his grandfathers – Christianity. Even more, he married a girl living in Armenia and sent his son to an Armenian school and at present tries to learn Armenian himself. His relatives, who are inhabited in one of the villages located in the district of Adyaman, can not display themselves that openly because of their surrounding. They confess that they are being chased up till now both in their surrounding and state institutions, for examples in schools and elsewhere. It is very interesting the confession of the family’s grandma, that in spite of the fact that they go to the church which has been converted into Mosque and utter Mohammedan prayer there, they turn to Jesus Christ in their prayers.
In the November issue of 2007 the Turkish journal “Yeni Actuel” one can find stories about Armenians or people with Armenian roots who were Islamized in different parts of Turkey. We’ll cite a few of them here. Kyakhta inhabited Beqir Jantekin is one of those who freely speaks about his origin and readopted Christianity. In summer 2007 he christened his children in the Armenian church located on the Canala Island of the See of Marmara where it is also situated the summer residence of the patriarch of the Armenians in Constantinople. In answer to the journalist’s question how long he has been feeling himself Armenian, Bekir answered: “Even if we don’t know about it, we are forced to know. Everybody says behind me that I’m Armenian, and if so, why shouldn’t I be a Christian. I am what I am.” Yet, the brothers of Bekir Jantekin have preferred to remain Muslims and don’t even hide that they are insulted of their brother, to which he answers that maybe they are right under the conditions they live in Kyakhta.
As for the problem of marriages among Muslims and cripto Armenians, an Armenian living in the same place provides a very important fact according to which the cripto Christian Armenians mainly marry each other. In the very article we come across the idea that there are also people who readopted Christianity but avoid to mention their names as they are afraid to be chased.
In one of the international forums was reported an important fact according to which there are cripto Armenians among Turkish construction workers working in Moscow, who make the sign of the cross over the bread before eating, and if there are foreigners among them at the moment, they just divide it into four parts like a cross. In general, it should be said that the cripto Armenians really use some badges, which are kept in secret. The cripto Armenian mainly recognize each others and there are many facts which have come to prove it.
It is known that as a token of being Armenian is the knowledge of the Armenian language. At the same time, it is obvious how expansive is the problem of the Armenian language among the Armenians all over the world. Speaking about the level of Armenians preserved among the heterodox Armenians, it can be said that they use Armenian words up till now. For example, a tailor living in the city of Van who was cautious enough not to confess about his origin, informed us at present as well people of elder generation living in the village located on the bank of the Vana Lake use Armenian words like հարսիկ, տղա, աղջիկ (daughter-in law, boy, girl) etc.
There is one more important fact: last year in some places of East Armenia an Armenian manual for self-tuition in Turkish was spread among Islamized or cripto Armenians. In Van, Mush and other places many Islamized and cripto Armenians were enthusiastically but a little bit secretly showing us this book which gave them a chance to learn their native language. This is the evidence of desire that many Armenians not inhabited in Armenia have to learn their native language. However, it is not realistic to claim good knowledge of Armenian from cripto or Islamized Armenians in case when in Istanbul the Armenian community doesn’t know the language to the extent to hear the preach in the church in Armenian, it is read in Turkish.
As we have already mentioned in Turkey there is a big number of people with mixed heritage or people with some percentage of Armenin origin, whose problem is quite multilevel. There are people who are proud to say that they also have Armenian origin: for example in the above mentioned issue of “Yeni Actuel” the Mardini inhabitant Aslam Kereltin says that his grandma from the side of Father, Nazo, is Armenian, “during the exile my grandma was 3-4 years old, she came from Bitlis and found shelter among my Turkish relatives. When she grew up my grandpa’s father married her with his son, my grandpa. There are many like her here.”2 However, there are also some people of mixed heritage who, by this reason or that, refute their Armenian origin, and, what is more interesting, according to different sources, there are even members of extremist nationalistic “Gray wolves” organization among then.
As a conclusion, it is worth citing the opinion of the late Hrant Dink, who was well aware of the problems of Islamized Armenians in Turkey, and had made some serious steps in this direction: “among Turks there are thousands who are brave enough to say publicly, publish books and journals about their Armenian origin. In Turkey there is some advancement in this direction, and I should say that this may become one of the biggest and hopeful works of the future Armenian life. If one day Turkey becomes the UN member, I’ll not be mistaken to say that the number of Armenians will increase by two million on the account of the Islamized Armenians living among Turks. It is very important for me to work in this direction and find the ones lost and breathe new life into those dead. It is very important to find such Armenians and return them their Armenian origin.”
1In the article we tried to embrace only the Armenians who changed their religion at the period of the Armenian Genocide, so it doesn’t include the ones Islamized long before them, for example, the Hamshenian Armenians.
2By the way, while speaking about mixed marriages in Turkey, it is worth speaking about present processes, when under the influence of different realities the Armenian community in Istanbul reports rise in the number of mixed marriages. However, at the same time, it is worth mentioning that this occurrence was earlier noticed in the Armenian communities of the Republican Turkey.
Another materials of author
- ABOUT THE EDUCATIONAL PROBLEMS OF TURKEY’S ARMENIANCY[12.07.2012]
- ON MANIFESTATIONS OF SELF-ORGANIZATION OF THE ARMENIANS IN TURKEY[29.05.2012]
- THE ISSUE OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE AND MODERN TENDENCIES OF TURKEY’S POLICY[14.05.2012]
- THE STUDY OF THE ISSUE OF ISLAMIZED ARMENIANS IN TURKEY: PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS[12.04.2012]
- THE ISSUE OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE IN THE TURKISH PARLIAMENT [08.12.2011]
- ON SOME TENDENCIES OF CONTEMPORARY TURKISH HISTORIOGRAPHY[17.11.2011]