Saturday, January 18, 2014

Aghjayan Delivers Talk on ‘Hidden Armenians’ in Ankara (Full Text)

On Jan. 18, writer and activist George Aghjayan delivered a talk in Ankara on Turkey’s “hidden Armenians.” He was speaking during a panel discussion held in memory of Hrant Dink. Below is the full text of his talk. 
The first time I traveled to Turkey was in 1996. I spent three weeks covering the length and breadth of the country, from Istanbul to Van, from Erzurum to Musa Dagh. The land had been calling me for some time, yet the trip was extremely difficult emotionally and physically. Even though I had left many things undone, it took 15 years before I could even begin to put behind the emotional scars from that trip.
It was the re-consecration of the Surp Giragos Church [in Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd] and the conference on the social and economic history of the Diyarbakir province organized by the Hrant Dink Foundation that brought me back in 2011. I found a much different reality in Turkey and have now returned 4 additional times since 2011. I am profoundly thankful to the organizers of this event for providing me yet another opportunity to be here and to reflect on the cruel murder of Hrant Dink.
Hrant observed, “When we talk of 1915, we should not just speak of those who perished, but also of the experiences of those who survived.” Over the almost 20 years now that I have been traveling to Turkey, I have met many Armenians, and I would like to share a few of their stories.
I think of my first trip to Keserig where we met a very old Armenian woman. My uncle, whose family was from Keserig, was asking if she recognized our family name. As the conversation progressed and the crowd around us grew, I remember a man getting very angry with us and screaming, “Why do you ask about the Armenians?” I distinctly remember another man shouting him down, telling him to go away, and kindly offering to show us where the church and other significant places had been. It occurred to me that, quite reasonably, the first of these men represented the descendants of those who committed the genocide. If not literally, surely in spirit, those who deny the genocide and reveal their racism today are linked to the criminals of the past. The second man, in turn, represented those whose humanity demanded that they rescue Armenians.
I think of the visit to my grandmother’s village of Uzunova where one of the leading men revealed that both his grandmothers were Armenian. My own grandmother was a young girl when she was taken as a slave to a Muslim family. Her father murdered, her mother and two sisters sent on the death march never to be seen or heard from again, she survived six years in servitude before her sole surviving sister rescued her.
When I met this man, I felt the bond of two sons of the village—his grandmothers were taken and never escaped, while mine was rescued. We were two sides of the same coin.
I think of our wonderful friend Armen who has bravely embraced his Armenian and Christian heritage, and his brothers who have remained Muslim. They open their home time and time again to Armenians visiting their village, and share their knowledge of the history of the region. This family, like so many others,  has seen the crimes against both Armenians and Kurds…crimes of hate and racism.
I think of Asiya from Chungush, about whom my friend, Chris Bohjalian, so eloquently wrote in the Washington Post. On one visit to Chungush, as we were about to drive away, her son-in-law tapped on the window of our van. Upon rolling down the window, he indicated that his mother-in-law was Armenian. Not knowing exactly who or why this man had approached us, we began to drive away. He stopped us again by banging on the window, this time with greater anxiety. As the window was being rolled down, he thrust his phone to my friend Khatchig Mouradian, and on the phone was a video of Asiya telling the names of her Armenian relatives. We would meet Asiya that day.
I think of entering a village near Moks, where I knew Armenian were still living in the recent past. On the main road to the village, we stopped a man who was walking by and asked if he knew of any Armenians living there. He said there was an elderly Armenian woman who was very sick and homebound. He indicated this woman’s son was working in the field just up ahead of us. So we drove on and eventually came upon a man working in the field. However, when we inquired about his mother, he indicated she was too ill to talk to anyone and was not Armenian in any case. His explanation for the confusion was that the other man had something against him and that is why he had claimed that his elderly mother was Armenian.
So, you see, those who descend from the remaining Armenians deal with their heritage in very different ways. The reception they have received from the Armenian community and their Muslim neighbors has been equally varied.
I recall the genocide survivor memoir titled, In the Shadow of the Fortress. It is a fascinating account from the village of Hussenig of what it was like for those who survived the genocide in hiding. The author recounts how after each round of deportation, there would be a period of calm followed by pronouncements that it was now safe for the Armenians to come out of hiding. After a period of time, the Armenians who naively believed such promises would be rounded up and marched off. This happened time and time again. Similarly, many of those who hide their identity today have survived over the decades by remaining silent, by not believing that the climate had in fact changed. Throughout the years, they have learned that those who believe in change and reveal themselves ultimately suffer persecution.
The Islamized Armenians must be welcomed back to their Armenian heritage. Not as second-class citizens, and definitely not to experience a new kind of discrimination. Every single Islamized Armenian is a precious miracle of the survival of identity and is the key to the return of the Armenian presence to these lands. Armenian culture and heritage was born of this land, and after a thousand years of assimilation and purposeful destruction, we demand the right of its return.
Today, there is a window of opportunity that has opened a crack. It is our challenge—those of us here today and others who are like-minded—to open the window wider, and permanently. If we fail, we may never have another opportunity. That is what the criminals are counting on.

9 Comments on Aghjayan Delivers Talk on ‘Hidden Armenians’ in Ankara (Full Text)

  1. Unger George, Amazingly well done story. Felt as if I was there with you. Keep the Faith.
    Unger Steve Elmasian
  2. Those hidden Armenians who whish to be considered Armenian, even though prefering to stay as Muslims, should be welcomed with open arms. Rejection of this group of people as Armenian on religious grounds should be condemned in strongest terms. In a revived West-Armenian presence in Turkey there should be no room for such bigotry.
  3. Fantastic article – gives hope that there still is an Armenia presence on the ground in Western Armenia. This presence needs to be nurtured, ever so thoughtfully, to someday once again see a strong Armenian culture in this land.
  4. Well stated! We definitely should welcome those who have survived in hiding.. They have lived a double life.. Tin fear and isolation… Ain’t fun nor is it easy…we need to have a heart for them…to support them in any way we can.
    They need to be assimilated, integrated, loved and welcomed to be part of the world wide Armenian Family..
    We will be a richer nation with their inclusion..
  5. avatar harry mardirossian // January 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm // Reply
    I like to make a correlation between OUR Islamized Armenian heritage and OUR architectural heritage in Western Armenia.
    Why is it that the Armenian Church leadership and its clergy take full claim to the islamized churches, but not care about living souls of islamized Armenians?
    Are they not one and the same?
    Which is more important?
  6. avatar Peter B. Kallanian // January 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm // Reply
    George, your title of writer and activist is well a propos. it amazes Aunt Vev and me to see you so active for the cause. You are to be congratulated and we are so proud of you. We often wonder how you are able to do all these things besides taking care of the family and your work.
    Bravo George, you are in our hearts and prayers.
    Uncle Peter
    the family and your work
  7. avatar CHARLES DER KAZARIAN // January 18, 2014 at 4:54 pm // Reply
    Great article! Congratulations to George on his continuing good work.
  8. Turkey’s Hidden Armenians forcefully Islamized, but they are not Turkified. Turkish Ottoman’s bloody civilization could not take away Armenian spirit from them.
  9. No matter how we all feel but there is no such a thing as Armenian Muslim , Muslim religion is not accepted in our history or culture , sorry but these Muslims should live as turks .

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