Don’t Mention the Genocide – Hidden Armenians in Turkey
In two years Armenians will commemorate the centenary of the attempted extermination of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. While Turkey’s gross denial of the genocide will likely continue, a part of the Turkish population is starting to reveal their true -Armenian- identity.
It is hard to estimate how many Turks are actually secret Armenians – descendants of survivors of the Armenian genocide. Estimates range from a few thousand to over a million. Many are still afraid of the consequences of unveiling who they are. Many of them grew up thinking they were Turkish Muslims because not even their parents dared to speak about the big secret. Some have even lost track of their family roots and don’t know about their true identity. They mostly live in Eastern Turkey, where they lead modest and secretive lives.
The Armenian Genocide belongs to the most brutal and inhumane atrocities committed in the 20th century. It is also the second most studied genocide after the Holocaust. The Armenians, a Christian people, had systematically been discriminated against for centuries of Ottoman rule. Unlike historians, who almost unanimously agree on the fact that the deliberate killing of up to 1.5 Million Armenians was in fact genocide, Turkish politics speak a different language.
Even nowadays anyone who claims that the “events of 1915”, as Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan likes to call them, were genocide can be prosecuted under article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. Internationally, the topic regularly causes tensions. Franco-Turkish relations, for instance, suffered heavily in 2011 when France passed a bill in Parliament that made denial of the Armenian genocide illegal. Practices show that foreign governments are susceptible to their Turkish and Armenian minorities, respectively. So far only 21 sovereign states officially recognise the genocide.
Meanwhile things are starting to change for the hidden Armenians in Turkey, at least in some regions. In Diyarbakir in South East Anatolia the local authorities contributed the restoration of the historic Armenian Church. Here, the secret Armenians have finally found each other and can share their family histories. They even meet in groups to learn Armenian, the Caucasian language of their forefathers.
Thousands of other Armenians in Turkey remain hidden. Whether or not Turkey will come to terms with its past in the near future remains doubtful. But EU membership, which is back on the agenda, can provide a real possibility to work up those issues.
Image: Harout Arabian