“Reduce my branches, burn my leaves, however you will never touch my roots.”
Nothing was extra evident in my thoughts this previous week than this lovely quotation by Vache Thomassian. I was lucky to attend a public lecture sponsored by NAASR and AGBU New England. The speaker was Raffi Bedrosyan from Canada, and his subject was the emergence of “Hidden Armenians” in western Armenia. Raffi was launched by George Aghjayan, a revered group leader and himself a trailblazer within the space of Armenian genealogy. Mr. Bedrosyan, a civil engineer by coaching and a well known concert pianist, has dedicated his life to helping the lots of and now hundreds of descendants of these “who have been left behind” and have been raised as Kurds or Turks, however retained and handed on to the succeeding era their Armenian id. This can be a fascinating present occasion that shakes the inspiration of much of our traditional considering. Before we explore the implications of this new reality, it is very important acknowledge how blessed we’re to have individuals similar to Raffi and George who’ve taken on conventional challenges with modern methods for the good thing about actually hundreds of Armenians to build a stronger id. George’s work has helped numerous rebuild broken family timber and discover new connections, while Raffi has assisted in hundreds of our brethren of their emergence from the shadows.
Through the Armenian Genocide hundreds of orphaned youngsters have been stolen by the Turkish government and positioned in Turkish state orphanages. Their evil intent continued with these youngsters who mother and father have been murdered. Though a few of these youngsters have been freed by Armenians and missionaries, most remained beneath Turkish management. Their objective was to forcibly convert these youngsters to Islam, increase them as Turks and marry them off to Turkish spouses. They blended into obscurity emerging with a pressured id. One of the largest contingents was underneath the command of the vicious Common Kazim Karabekir, the commander of the Japanese front (western Armenia). Of the 60,000 orphans he managed, four,000 males have been chosen and educated as brutal Turkish troops. The women have been bought as slaves, married off or served households. These and others who have been forcibly converted to Turks and Kurds are the idea for the miracle referred to as “the hidden Armenians.” Extremely, these survivors privately retained their id and passed it discreetly to succeeding generations. This was no small activity. The Republic of Turkey has retained its racist core from the Ottoman Empire towards the Armenian individuals. The hidden Armenians reside on our stolen historic lands. The setting within the “japanese provinces” is extra dangerous as ultra-nationalists and the army function within the rural areas. Bedrosyan has been a pacesetter in supporting the emergence of the descendants of those that have been unaccounted for throughout and after the genocide.
Soorp Giragos Church, Diyarbekir, 2018 (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Nevit Dilmen)
Contemplate the miracle in Diyarbekir (Dikranagerd). Raffi was one of the driving forces behind the restoration of the historic Soorp Giragos church. The church basis led the trouble to boost funds regionally and from the diaspora to renovate and deconsecrated the church in 2011. It began to serve as a magnet for local hidden Armenians, and every gathering attracted more individuals. Raffi shared a story that that they had prepared 300 choregs for a celebration, and 600 individuals arrived. The subsequent time they made 600 choregs and over 1000 of our brethren shared within the joy. In the few brief years of the revival, they have started Armenian language courses, built a communications help community and arranged trips to Armenia.
The native Kurdish-dominated municipal authorities has been very supportive. The base has grown to different areas by means of social media. All of this got here to a crashing halt in 2016 with the Turkish army campaign towards the Kurdish PKK which heavily impacted the civilian populations. The Turks used the expropriation regulation to confiscate St. Giragos and a number of other other native properties. The Turkish army used the church as a command middle, however confirmed little respect for the church. After vacating, the church was left heavily broken and desecrated. The church foundation fought in the Turkish courts to regain management and have been ultimately profitable. They’re now within the strategy of reconstructing to reopen the complicated. Raffi has given a couple of live shows within the church to have fun its miraculous revitalization as a group gathering place. I am positive he’ll give another one to have fun their superb resiliency. When the army assaults stopped, all activities, the language classes and trips to Armenia ceased. An inspiring signal of their willpower is clear in the fact that Raffi has organized for these brave individuals to continue their language research online by way of the AGBU Digital School. This can be a story that displays one of the best of our core values.
We should always never underestimate the braveness of these Armenians. Because the genocide, Turkey has by no means been a welcoming setting for Armenians and other Christians. Institutional discrimination stays. The inspiration of racism of their society is reflected in the fact that the word “Armenian” is used by Turks to insult others. A number of years ago, then President Gul, was publicly reported to be part Armenian. It turned an attempt by his political rivals to discredit him. In addition to the ethnicity id, it’s harmful for these individuals to desert the Islamic religion and convert again to Armenian Christianity. There’s additionally the danger to their extended family if they are “outed” as Armenians. When contemplating these realities, it’s an astonishing story once we study of the hundreds who’ve come ahead ultimately to reclaim their id. As Raffi has pointed out, this unimaginable reality carries the burden of two questions for our scattered nation: What is an Armenian and who will get to determine? The implications of the emergence of “hidden Armenians” present new challenges—a few of which have challenged the inspiration of the definition of our id. We will select to ignore these descendants of the final indigenous survivors. This is the only response and, for my part, probably the most inappropriate.
The church ties the definition of an Armenian to ethnicity and non secular affiliation. Is it potential for an Armenian not to be a Christian?
For a second, think about that some of these now third and fourth generations may be descendants of a relative who was assumed to have perished within the genocide, however truly survived and was forcibly converted. Would you flip your back on a relative who simply has developed in a special setting? Difficult questions that may increase our considering…if we permit that entry. Most affordable individuals will reply the query of “what is an Armenian” with an opinion of self-identity. In different phrases, should you contemplate your self an Armenian, then that becomes your actuality. That is notably necessary within the diaspora where selection comes into play. The question of “who decides” is extra complicated. The church ties the definition of an Armenian to ethnicity and non secular affiliation. Is it attainable for an Armenian not to be a Christian? Earlier than we scoff at the question, contemplate that we have now ethnic Armenians who’ve embraced Buddhism or atheism. Is that any totally different?
There isn’t any easy reply. What I do know is that these are essential questions for our nation to embrace. In the present day, the church won’t lend any actual help to this matter until these Armenians are prepared to transform to Christianity. Some have, however many, for reasons previously said, want to join with ethnicity, however not the Christian faith.
How will we within the diaspora and in Armenia react to this? Will we prolong and open our arms to welcome them into the household and respect the constraints they reside with or will we permit this unimaginable alternative to move? Why is this an unimaginable alternative? From 1915 to 1923, the Turks executed a policy to exterminate Armenians from our conventional homeland. They failed. Not solely did survivors construct a strong diaspora, but the dream is now a reality. The land we call western Armenia, from which we have been brutally evicted, has hundreds of Armenians hidden among the many Kurds and Turks, who’re discovering their Armenian id. What was thought to have been absent of indigenous Armenians, we now understand to have hundreds in numerous levels of id. In our quest for lost western Armenia, we have now three factors of connection: our personal lineage, our physical monuments (churches and properties) and eventually the people who stay on the land. For decades, we have now suspected that survivors have been hidden, however not solely misplaced. That has now been confirmed.
The questions stay. Is it applicable for the church to remain aloof from this opportunity until they convert? If the church is the vanguard of schooling and love, then should they not prolong a hand? At a minimal, shouldn’t the church take a look at this as an funding for the longer term? As people and organizations, we now have a window to help in their connection. As Bedrosyan has said, a church akin to St. Giragos, operates as a “magnet” for many who have been hidden but want a protected connection. As more emerge in western Armenia, there could also be opportunities to create other “magnets.” That is virtually too astonishing to internalize. We are really dwelling in very fascinating occasions. Armenia has been free for 28 years (which is ten occasions longer than the First Republic which was the primary period of nationhood since 1375). Regardless of the marketing campaign of extermination, denial and racism, some roots have survived in western Armenia. They are beginning to bear fruit. We must determine if we’ll gently help the timber blossom. After 100 years, we know the light is all the time stronger than darkness.