Muslim Armenians say they are left in between “in a purgatory,” saying they are accepted by neither Turkey nor the Armenian Patriarch and community.
Gathering at a conference titled “Islamized Armenians” held at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, members of the community gave details about their lives, mostly spent hiding their identities in the eastern and southeastern provinces of Turkey.
“They ask what we have gone through and I answer, ‘What haven’t we gone through?’ All through our lives we have been in purgatory,” said one of the participants, identified as Sadık from Adıyaman.
The feeling of not being accepted by different cultures in society has defined their lives, Sadık added. “I was staying at a boarding school, and the other kids called me ‘infidel.’ I didn’t know what this meant, I just thought they didn’t like me,” he said.
Berfin, a 23-year-old who is studying the question of Muslim Armenians for her Master’s degree at Oxford University, said her identity was also problematic abroad.
“When I applied to a student dormitory in France, they asked me for a baptism document, and they did not accept me when I couldn’t provide one. Yes, Christian Armenians have had huge problems, too, but they went on to live their identities in one way or another. We have had to live on through 100 years of silent desperation,” Berfin said.
Another participant, only identified as H.T., said Muslim Armenians were trying to practice Christian practices in their homes but were trying to behave as Muslims outside.
“We said, ‘Living is resisting,’ and so we stayed on our feet. Whatever we did, we were called infidels. Now the Christian Armenians don’t accept us either, so we are left in between,” H.T. said, adding that they were still trying to hide their identities today.
Responding to a question on renowned Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was killed in Istanbul in 2007, H.T. said, “Yes, we fear.”
One of Dink’s lawyers, Cem Halavurt, also attended the conference. He said that he personally did not fear revealing his identity, but also thought the Armenian Patriarch and other Istanbul Armenians were right to act with prudence.
“There is still a taboo of missionaries in this country. Even the slightest step by the Patriarch could be seen as a missionary act,” Halavurt said.