Bedrosyan Sheds Light on Hidden Armenians of Turkey

By Jirair Tutunjian

TORONTO — Islamized, Turkified, Kurdified and Hamshen Armenians have peaked the interest of Armenians, particularly since the late Hrant Dink stated that there are millions of hidden or lost Armenians in Anatolia. Subsequently, Dink’s revelation expanded the Armenian campaign for the return of Armenian lands and properties to include Armenians who were forcibly taken away from the Armenian nation.

Raffi Bedrosyan, a Toronto engineer, musician, journalist, and activist, who frequently visits Turkey and was deeply involved in the recovery and reconstruction of Surp Giragos Cathedral in Diyarbakir, delivered a speech about the dual topics — people and property — at the Tekeyan Cultural Centre on June 12.

Bedrosyan’s talk was peppered with amazing — and often unknown to the audience — facts and stats;

•There are more than 1 million hidden Armenians in Turkey; nearly half as many Armenians as in Republic of Armenia.

•General Karabekir Turkified 60,000 Armenian orphan boys and enlisted the healthiest among them in the army. These orphan soldiers were raised as Armenian-hating Turkish racists who were among the leaders of the young officers who brought down the government of Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes and executed the two Turkish leaders in 1961.

•Enslaved Armenian girls were sold for as little at 10 “ghroosh” (piasters). Girls who came from wealthy families fetched a higher price at the slave bazaar because buyers speculated that someday they could inherit the wealth of their Armenian slaves’ slain families. They were tattooed on their foreheads and bodies to identify them as Armenian slaves.

•About 25,000 Armenians sought sanctuary in Alevi-inhabited Dersim. Twenty years later, during the Alevi Revolt there, Sabiha Gokcen, the first Turkish female military pilot, was among the Turkish forces which bombed Dersim and thus inadvertently killed her fellow Armenians (Gokcen was an orphan whose name was Khatoon Sebiljian. She was adopted by Ataturk who gave her the Turkish name. It’s believed that Dink’s revelation of Gokcen’s origins led to his assassination by Turkish nationalists.)

•Diyarbakir experienced the highest percentage of deaths during the Genocide. About 97 percent of the city’s Armenians were slain in their hometown.

•About one-third of Kurdish families have Armenian grandmothers. Now their grandchildren are asking about their roots and writing books and articles about their origins.

•Before the Genocide there were about 4,000 Armenian churches (Apostolic, Catholic and Protestant) and more than 800 Apostolic schools across the Ottoman Empire. Most were razed in 1915 and some which survived were destroyed in the 1950s and the 1960s. Some Armenian churches were used by Turkish army cannons for target practice. A significant number of the churches dated from the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries. Of the many which still stand most are stables and warehouses.

•In Aintab, St. Mary’s Armenian Cathedral was sold by Ataturk to a Turkish industrialist in 1930. The price? 425 liras. It became a factory and is now a community center. Its architects were the famous Balyans of Istanbul.

•Kars, an economically depressed city across from the Republic of Armenia, boasts a half-wrecked hut which is priced at a cool $3 million because the owner has learned that it was the home of Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents.

•The Sanasarian Building in Istanbul, which supported the Sanasarian School in Garin (Erzerum) before the Genocide, became one of the most notorious torture prisons in Turkey in the ‘70S and ‘80S. The school was the site of Ataturk’s First Congress.

•One-third of the budget to reconstruct Surp Giragos Cathedral was contributed by the Diyarbakir municipality.

•Four thousand people attended the opening of the cathedral, although there are no Christians left in the area.

•Since the opening of the cathedral (2012) hundreds of local people — hidden Armenians — have come forward to be taught Armenian at the cathedral. Many of the Islamized Armenians have since been baptized there or got married.

•Outside Istanbul there are only five functioning Armenian churches (from the pre-Genocide 4,000) in Turkey.

Bedrosyan’s talk was accompanied by a slide show of the various Armenian churches and monasteries, including the famed Surp Varaka Vank. The historic monastery, where Khrimian Hayrig was abbot in the 1860s, is now owned by an Armenophobe journalist and TV personality. Negotiations are underway, said Bedrosyan, to purchase the badly damaged monastery.

•Throughout Anatolia, Armenian historic sites are identified as Turkic, Georgian, Urartian and even Russian, although Armenian inscriptions and alphabet are clearly legible on any of them.

•Some years ago Turkish guides would tell tourists that the magnificent Istanbul palaces built by the members of the Balyan Family were the work of the Italian architect Baliani. Now they admit the true origin of the architects.

Bedrosyan also talked about the three waves of emigration/conversion which conflated to become today’s Hamshens in the south, east, and northern shores of the Black Seas. He said the Hamshen name derives from a Medieval prince called Ham who took his people away from the Seljuk-ravaged Armenia and headed northeast, close to the southern shores of the Black Sea. The “shen” part of Hamshen derives from the Armenian word for building.

He also told a fascinating story about how, in the 1980s, many Hamshens in Turkey learned that they were Armenian and not an obscure Turkish tribe from Central Asia, as they had been told by the Turkish government. The revelation occurred thanks to an ASALA fighter on trial in Turkey. During his trial, the fighter gave testimony only in Armenian. Hamshens watching the trial on television understood what the fighter was saying and thus realized that the language they spoke was Armenian and not a Turkic dialect. With that realization came their awakening to their Armenian identity.

Bedrosyan said the solution to Armenian Cause lies in Turkey. To signal its good intentions towards Armenia and Armenians, Ankara should:

Open the border and call it Hrant Dink Gate

Grant citizenship to the descendants of the Genocide survivors

Clean up Turkish textbooks and tell the truth

Return and restore 2,000 Armenian churches

Return Ararat and Ani as symbolic apology

Open Ottoman property deeds, liquidation, deportation records.

Bedrosyan, who was born and raised in Istanbul, said the return of Armenian properties in Turkey has become his mission in life. The master of ceremonies was Kevork Tutunjian, chairman of Tekeyan Cultural Centre of Toronto. Bedrosyan’s speech included a slide show featuring rare photos of Varaka Vank, Charents’ home, immense groups of Armenian orphans, Armenian ‘slave’ girls with tattoos on their faces…