Hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens living in Istanbul and in eastern Anatolia are concealing their Armenian roots, an Argentine journalist of Armenian origin has said.
Avedis Hadjian, a reporter for La Nacion, one of the biggest newspapers in Argentina, said there was a significant community of a “mysterious minority known as secret Armenians” that have converted to Sunni Islam or Alevism in an effort to blend into society.
Hadjian said no one knew the precise number of “secret Armenians” in the country since a majority of them are afraid to reveal their true identity.
“A secret Armenian in Palu [in the eastern province of Elazığ] told me that that ‘Turkey is still a dangerous place for Armenians,’” he said, adding the secret Armenians typically chose to eschew contact with members of the Armenian community that are especially active in Istanbul.
Some of them reject their identity even though they know and accept that their grandfather or grandmother was an Armenian, while others hide it from their children, Hadjian said.
Many of the secret Armenians live difficult lives, he said, recounting the story of Rafael Altıncı, “the last Armenian” of the northern province of Amasya, who was brought up as a Christian. Altıncı, who studied in the same Armenian secondary school as slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, later converted to Islam and raised his daughter as a Turk despite considering himself an Armenian.
Another “secret Armenian,” Mehmet Arkan, a lawyer in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, told Hadjian that he did not know his roots until he was 7 years old.
“He fought with a Kurdish child and returned home telling his father that he had been called ‘Armenian.’ That’s when his father mentioned that, as a matter of fact, they were Armenians but that he could not tell it outside the home,” the journalist said.
‘It is less dangerous to live as an Armenian [now] compared to 10 years ago in Diyarbakır,’ says Arkan, noting that Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality had paid for the restoration of the historical Surp Giragos Armenian Church in the old city.
Hadjian also noted the story of the Ogassian family, which lived in the Bagin village in Palu before emigrating to the United States following the events of 1915. But one of their little children, Kirkor, stayed in the village after perhaps being abducted by a Kurdish family.
Kirkor later married another orphan of Armenian origin and converted to Islam. After a number of years, however, their relatives made contact with them. Nowadays, Kirkor and his wife have a son who is an imam in the town of Harput, while their nephew is the archbishop of the Armenian church in New York, Hadjian said.