ISTANBUL: Hidden Armenians in Turkey expose their identities

Hurriyet, Turkey
June 24 2011

Hidden Armenians in Turkey expose their identities

Friday, June 24, 2011
DÝYARBAKIR – Hürriyet Daily News

The stories of Armenians who had concealed their identities for
decades have begun surfacing over recent years as Turkey continues
treading its path toward democratization. Many of them live under
their Sunni – Muslim or Kurdish – Alevi identities, although they
still define themselves ethnically as Armenians.

“Race, identity and religion are distinct affairs. I’ve been raised as
a Sunni-Muslim, and live as one, but I deny neither my past nor my
culture. Religion is not important, but I want to know my language,”
Gaffur Türkay, a prominent Diyarbakýr Armenian who identifies as a
Sunni Muslim, told the Hürriyet Daily News last week.

Türkay was 15 when he learned that his real surname is Ohanyan. His
father was a pilgrim, and Türkay grew up with Sunni-Muslim culture.
Muslim Armenians in the southeastern province of Diyarbakýr recognize
each other, he said.

“The perception of Islam [in Diyarbakýr] is very important,” he said.
“[The people in Diyarbakýr] can tolerate you up to a certain point
when you say you are Armenian. Things change, however, when you touch
upon Islam.”

Türkay added that Christian Armenians look down upon Muslim Armenians.

“[They behave] as if we had a choice in the matter. The Armenian
identity must bond around race, not religion. Religion can be chosen,
but not race,” he said.

Yusuf Halaçoðlu, the former president of the Turkish Historical
Society, or TTK, said the situation in Diyarbakýr could be seen in
other parts of the country. “There are hidden Armenians not just in
Diyarbakýr but all across Turkey, and now they are also revealing
their identities,” he told the Daily News over the phone. Halaçoðlu
was removed from his post at the TTK following public response to his
remarks claiming that Kurds living in Turkey were actually Turcomans
and that Kurdish – Alevis were of Armenian descent.

“My remarks were falsely conveyed to the public,” Kalaçoðlu said. “I
shared this information with the deceased Hrant Dink as well. I tried
to highlight under which identities those Armenians who supposedly
died in 1915 still continue to exist,” he said, adding that he
possessed records of Armenians who concealed their identities.

“This is information emanating from records [contained] in the United
States archives. I have records [that indicate] the villages and
locations they reside in, and the names of the clans they live under,”
said Halaçoðlu.

Ýsmet Þahin, a Hemþin researcher and politician, said that, despite a
grain of truth in Halaçoðlu’s comments, his remarks were intended to
insult Armenians,

Islamicized Armenians who live in the provinces of Artvin and Rize in
Turkey’s eastern Black Sea region define themselves as Hemþins and
speak a dialect of the Armenian language. Hamshenite Armenians still
maintain their Christian traditions, even though they define
themselves as Muslims, according to Þahin.

His research indicated that a large portion of hidden Armenians in
Turkey live under the Kurdish – Alevi identity, Þahin added.

“The numbers of Armenians who changed their identities [can be found
in Turkey’s] state archives,” he over the phone. Turkey’s state
archives contain many documents about this subject, Þahin further
noted and added that Halaçoðlu had access to this information as well.

“There were elements of truism in [Halaçoðlu’s] remarks, academically
speaking,” Kazým Gündoðan, a researcher and documentarian, told the
Daily News in a phone interview, but “[Halaçoðlu] treated this subject
matter as political material.” Gündoðan’s family lives under the
Kurdish – Alevi identity in the southeastern province of Tunceli,
formerly known as Dersim.

“Despite the fact that [covert Armenians in Tunceli] define themselves
as Kurdish – Alevis, they have connections with the churches in
Istanbul. They pray out in nature,” added Gündüz who said he conducted
his research by appealing to witnesses.

From: A. Papazian

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