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Feb 20 2013


The presence of "secret" Armenians in Anatolia has become the subject
of a news report in the Argentine press. In an article titled "The
Footprints of Secret Armenians in Turkey," Argentine journalist Avedis
Hadjian writes that people of Armenian origin, estimated to number
hundreds of thousands, continue to live in Anatolia and Istanbul under
false identities. Hadjian's research begins in Istanbul's Kurtulus
neighborhood and then takes him to Amasya, Diyarbakir, Batman, Tunceli
and Mus.

Turkish or Kurdish identity

According to the report, those who have been hiding their real
identity for almost a century reside mostly in Turkey's eastern
regions. They have embraced the Sunni or Alawite sects of Islam and
live with Turkish or Kurdish identities.

Still, a tiny community living in villages in the Sason district of
Batman province preserves their Christianity. Stressing that no one
really knows the exact number of crypto-Armenians, Hadjian says he has
seen that many of them are scared to acknowledge their Armenian
identity. He quotes a crypto-Armenian in Palu: "Turkey is still a
dangerous place for Armenians."

The crypto-Armenians who live under various guises do not socialize
with those who live openly as Armenians, and evade contact with
strangers. According to Hadjian, some reject their identities even
though they accept their parents or grandparents were Armenian and
their Turkish and Kurdish neighbors still call them "Armenians" or
"infidels." Others acknowledge their real identity but say they keep
it secret from their offspring.

To church in winter, to mosque in summer

Hadjian says that identifying crypto-Armenians is not easy, recounting
several examples. The last Armenian in Amasya, Rafel Altinci, for
instance, was brought up as a Christian and graduated from the same
school as Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist who was killed. He then
converted to Islam, married a Turkish woman and raised his daughter as
a Muslim. Only recently has he begun to acknowledge that he is an
Armenian. Jazo Uzal, a villager from the province of Mus, goes to
church in Istanbul, where he spends the winters, but when he returns
home during the summer he observes the Muslim rites of worship,
including fasting.

In Diyarbakir, lawyer Mehmet Arkan says he became aware of his
family's Armenian identity at the age of seven. "Until 10 years ago,
we used to conceal our identity from everybody, but being an Armenian
in Diyarbakir is no longer dangerous," Arkan says, pointing to the
restoration of the Surp Giragos Church in the city. He explains he
does not feel less Armenian for being a Sunni and performing Muslim

In some cases, secret Armenians have been transformed in surprising
ways. The Ogasyan clan from Bagin village in Palu, for instance,
survived the "events" of 1915 and emigrated to the United States,
settling in Rhode Island. But before their departure, a Kurdish tribal
chief abducted the family's youngest son Kirkor to use him as a
laborer in his fields. The chief then married off the underage Kirkor
to an orphan named Zerman. The couple settled in a village in Palu,
converted to Islam and adopted Turkish names. They even went on a Hajj
pilgrimage to Mecca together.

Years later, relatives in the U.S. got in touch with Kirkor and
Zerman. Today the couple's grandson is an imam in Harput, while their
second-generation nephew Oshayan Cloloyan is the archbishop of the
Armenian Church in New York.

Little girl in Raman Mountains

Hadjian writes about the presence of crypto-Armenians also in Tunceli
and its environs, and recounts an encounter he had in Sason. The
journalist describes a girl aged 6 or 7 in a group of Armenians
heading to the Raman Mountains on pilgrimage. Due to the force of the
wind, the white sack on the girl's back turns around to reveal the
Armenian cross. The journalist approaches the girl to take a picture.

She hides her face behind her scarf, and when asked whether she is
Armenian or has Armenian relatives, she answers: "We are Muslims."

Read the original in Turkish in Radikal at

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