Fears of Turkey’s ‘invisible’ Armenians

By Sarah Rainsford,  BBC News, Istanbul

The head of the Armenian Orthodox church is in the middle of a controversial visit to Istanbul. Karekin II has in the past angered Turks by accusing them of committing genocide against Armenians at the time of World War I. Turkey denies the charges of genocide.

I thought it was a perfectly simple question.  I had gone backstage to interview the conductor of an ethnic Armenian church choir after a rousing performance at Istanbul University.

As the choristers packed up their manuscripts, we chatted for a while about the music and the conductor was all smiles.

Then I asked his opinion on the conference his choir was singing at – the snappily labelled “Symposium on New Approaches to Turkish-Armenian relations”.

I wondered if he thought the event could help mend fences. Within seconds, he was edging away from me, apparently deeply uncomfortable.

“I don’t want to talk about politics,” he pleaded, “we just came for the music!”

It was a telling insight.

Closed borders

Turkey and Armenia are neighbours who might as well be a million miles apart. Diplomatic relations have been frozen for over a decade; their mutual border is closed.

Part of the reason is Turkey’s support for the Azeris in their conflict with Armenia. But the direct dispute is over a matter of history: The death of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in eastern Turkey during the dying days of the Ottoman empire.

Armenia wants those deaths recognised as genocide. Turkey refuses to accept that term. For Armenia and its vast and powerful diaspora, getting recognition from Ankara is a mission so important, it is almost a way of life. But here inside Turkey, ethnic Armenians have chosen an uncomfortable silence over confrontation.

I visited Anush and her brother Vartan in a leafy middle class suburb of Istanbul. Their apartment was typical of the area, but with the odd design twists, like knotted dried flowers on the table that reminded me of my trips to the Caucasus.

“Turks still ask me where I come from,” Vartan told me, as his sister brought in the tea. “They seem to have no idea there used to be hundreds of thousands of us here.”

Uneasy existence

Anush and Vartan are just two of some 60,000 ethnic Armenians who still live in Turkey – a land their ancestors have inhabited for almost 2,000 years. It is an uneasy co-existence.

We’ve lived with violence ever since I was born,” Anush told me. “Graffiti on our churches, abuse on the streets. I still think twice in some areas before I say my name openly.” For previous generations life was even tougher.

Anush’s parents barely speak Armenian, because their parents worried they would stand out and when Armenian militants began assassinating Turkish diplomats in the 1970s, Turkish Armenian families here made themselves more invisible still.

It is hardly surprising they do not normally voice an opinion on what happened in 1915. Anush and Vartan are a rare exception and, even so, I have had to change their names.

We know exactly what happened, Vartan told me.

He said his Armenian great grandparents were forcibly deported south, accused of siding with Russian troops against the Turks. They handed their children over to Turkish neighbours for safety and never returned.

There is a similar tragedy behind every Armenian door here, but the local patriarch has banned his community from discussing it – if they want to keep their jobs in Armenian churches and schools.

“It’s fear,” Anush told me simply.

There have been some early signs of change here. Last year a university in Istanbul hosted the first discussion of the genocide claims in Turkey ever to question the official line. It was hugely controversial but it happened.

And now international pressure on Ankara to re-examine its position is increasing. Vartan welcomes that but he senses a rise in aggressive, nationalist feeling in Turkey in response.

“If other countries force this issue, it will be terrible for the Armenian people here,” Vartan told me quietly.

“If you plunge a man into boiling water, he will burn,” he said, “but if you increase the heat gently, he could get used to it.”


Unlike the Kurds, Turkey’s Armenian population is an officially recognised minority with certain rights and privileges. But despite that – and despite their silence – Turkish Armenians seem like pseudo-citizens.

I began to understand the price people like that choirmaster pay to live in peace in Turkey

Anush told me that in one school text book Armenians are still described as separatists with an eye on Turkish land. History books carry the official view of 1915, of course, with the Armenians exiled as traitors.

And even now, in Armenian schools here, ethnic Armenians are banned from teaching certain “strategic” subjects – geography, sociology, morality, history.

As we talked into the warm evening, and glasses of tea gave way to Armenian cognac, I began to understand the price people like that choir master pay to live in peace in Turkey.

To many Armenians abroad their silence is a sort of treachery. For Anush, Vartan and the others it is about protecting a fragile peace.  But it is all built on the shakiest of foundations.

“I am positive. I do have hopes for Turkey,” Anush told me as I put on my shoes to go.

“But I don’t remember ever feeling truly comfortable living here. Always at the back of my mind is the thought that one day I may be forced to leave.”


1 Response to “Fears of Turkey’s ‘invisible’ Armenians”

  1. 1 oguztolga March 31, 2011 at 6:51 am

    Liarmenian allegation is the Big Lie of the century?

    They are just as convinced that it is a lie as Liarmenians are convinced it is true.

    The killings of 1915 were the result of a massive armed uprising by the Lirmenians, instigated by the Liarmenian terror gangs of Dashnaks and Hunchaks, among others.

    Not only did Liarmenians commit mass murder of defenseless villagers, they sabotaged the Ottoman war effort and collaborated with the invading Russian armies.

    Russian soldiers are not known for their quality of mercy, but even they were aghast at the atrocities committed by the rampaging Liarmenians – so much so that the Russian commander on the scene gave an ultimatum to his superiors back home : Allow me to pull the rampaging Liarmenians to the back of the lines or I resign my command.

    The government took action to protect the population from the Liarmenians and to prevent them from aiding the Russian invaders.

    It ordered a relocation of the Liarmenians away from the war zone.
    Yes, some died during the relocation.
    There wasn’t enough, food, enough clothing, medicine.

    There was disease.

    There were attacks by Kurdish bands who were seeking revenge for earlier atrocities against the Kurds committed by Liarmenians.
    But there was no genocide.

    I think the rest of the Ottoman population could be a little excused for not feeling too much sympathy for the Liarmenians, for they were starving as well, and they had not even committed treason like the Liarmenians had.

    I submit to you if the Liarmenians of this country did to the United States today, what the Liarmenians did to Ottoman Turkey back then, tomorrow we would not be speaking of an “Liarmenian diaspora”.

    And the U.S. government would not even bother with a relocation.

    At the same time, many other Ottomans died of the same causes.

    The Ottoman soldiers fighting at Gallipoli had to subside on a daily ration of a handful of flour.
    Yes, many Liarmenians who were innocent died, but Liarmenians killed innocents Turks and Kurds as well, and they did it first.

    Liarmenians fired the first shot.

    They drew first blood. Once you fire that first shot, you forfeit your life.

    You cannot fire that first shot and then bellyache for the next hundred years that the other guy fired back with a volley.

    That’s called war – not genocide.

    This was a civil war started by Liarmenians and instigated by Machiavellian Liarmenian terrorists.

    As someone said, any civil war, including our own, will look like genocide if you only count the dead of one side.

    How about one of those genocide “experts” of yours start tallying the numbers murdered by the Liarmenian side?

    The Holocaust comparison is the height of obscenity.

    It is an insult to the Holocaust victims and to the nation of the Turks.

    Jews of Germany committed none of the above-mentioned crimes against the German state or Germans.

    Nor did the Jews commit any of those crimes against any other European country in which they were murdered.

    Armenians of Ottoman Turkey committed those crimes and much more.

    To boot, Shimon Peres of Israel, when he was foreign minister of that country, rejected the Liarmenian allegations as “meaningless”.

    He said nothing similar to the Holocaust happened to the Liarmenians all said were lies and manufactured tales.

    Last month(March)we have sent this email 360.000.000 times to the world:))with 200.000 Sukru Server Aya’s book summary freee:))hahahahaha ahahahaahahahahaha ahahah

    Keep playing with your shit….in pigshit

    .. hahahahah Liarmenians have 36485 days left on the earth… They have been cursed for their lies and they are counting the days of the vanishing point by natural reasons..


    1.Hitler’s speach was a lie.Nurenberg trials took it under record.

    2.Vereshagin’s 1840s painting of skulls was used as Liarmenian skulls

    3.Liarmenian population in 1914 and 1922 according to the USA records was 2.200.000 and 3.300.000 after war

    4.Mr.Morgenthau’s diary was completelt written by his Liarmenian Secretery

    5.Bue Book has been written for propoganda only

    6.40 days in Moses Mountain aswell

    7.All have been written by Toynbee were manufactured for propoganda against the Ottomans.

    8.The crying Liarmenian boy and the Turkish soldier fake photo

    9.Mustafa Kemal and Liarmenian boy under his leg fake photo

    10.Mr.Kacaznuni’s book of confessions about non-existing Disney Genocide tale

    11.Yerevan Museum has no even a single original document in there

    12.Closed Liarmenian arcieves are still closed

    13.Joint commission for the Liarmenian genocide is a strong fear of Mr.Liar sarkissian 14.There are no mass graves in Der Zor Syria

    15.There are no

    mass graves in Anatolia no eyewithnesses no documents nothing.

    16.Talat Pasha’s telegram has been written 25 years after his dead by a Liarmenian liar

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