ON THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF SAROYAN VISIT TO BITLIS – STREET RENAMED IN HIS HONOR
Ara Sarafian (Gomidas Institute) and Hüseyin Olan (Bitlis co-Mayor) in Sapkor district of Bitlis, June 2014
Bitlis town council has approved the renaming of five streets in this historic town in south-eastern Turkey. Among the names is “William Saroyan Street,” after the great American-Armenian writer whose ancestors came from Bitlis before 1915. Saroyan was born in Fresno but felt strong ties to his ancestral home. He visited Bitlis in 1964 and 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of that visit.
One of the champions of renaming William Saroyan Street is Barzan Şerefhanoğlu, whose grandfather, Adil Şerefhanoğlu, was the mayor of Bitlis when Saroyan visited the city. Adil Şerefhanoğlu showed great respect to Saroyan and paid a high price for it. After Saroyan’s departure, he was harassed by the authorities who wanted to punish him.
William Saroyan Street will now be the main street of the Sapkor district of the city, where the Saroyan family home was located. This district looks over the citadel in the city below. Many of the houses in this district still bear the datesof their construction in Armenian, Ottoman and Western numerals.
The Gomidas Institute congratulated the co-mayors of Bitlis, Nevin Daşdemir Dağkıran and Hüseyin Olan, as well as all members of Bitlis town council who approved the name changes unanimously.
Bitlis co-mayors Nevin Daşdemir Dağkıran and Hüseyin Olan
“This was a sensitive decision,” said Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute. “The people of Bitlis have expressed their pride in one of their own Armenian sons. Such sentiments could not have been expressed even a few years ago, when all positive sentiments regarding Armenians and Kurds were proscribed by the Turkish state. We have come a long way in Turkey, but there is still a long way to go.”
The other names adopted by Bitlis town council celebrate Bediüzzaman Said-i Kürdi, Kemal Fevzi, Şerefhan, and Ferhat Tepe.
Armenian khachkar left by the wayside in Bitlis.
GI project “Orphaned Relics” aims to save such cultural treasures as a matter of priority.
The renaming of William Saroyan Street is partly the result of a bridge-building operation the Gomidas Institute initiated in 2013 – before the current co-mayors and town council were even elected. The Institute’s efforts resulted in increased contacts, a public exhibition dedicated to the Armenians of Bitlis before 1915 – an exhibition which was shown in Bitlis and Fresno, California – as well as other projects still underway.*
The last church still standing in Bitlis today. Help us salvage it for posterity.
The Gomidas Institute’s work in Bitlis has been possible with the help of the Turkish Human Rights’ Association (IHD), the Bitlis Bar Association, the Armenian StudiesProgram at California State University (Fresno), as well as private individuals. For more information or support please contact email@example.com
* One of these projects, Orphaned Relics, seeks to collect and preserve the few remaining Armenian cultural artifacts scattered in Bitlis and surrounding areas. Please support this effort if you can.