Islamized Armenians Discover Their Roots

Telephone interview conducted by Hamo Moskofian with Alice Aliye Alt, 'Mother' of Hamshen Armenians in Germany, Beirut – Frankfurt-Canada, 28 May 2010
 
“Didn’t you know that there were always Moslem Armenians?”

Telephone interview conducted by Hamo Moskofian with Alice Aliye Alt, 'Mother' of Hamshen Armenians in Germany, Beirut – Frankfurt-Canada, 28 May 2010
 
“Didn’t you know that there were always Moslem Armenians?”


Hamo Moskofian: Since your book “Hamshen Armenians in the Mirror of History” was published by the Goethe University of Frankfurt, you have become a spokesperson for the movement of Hamshen Armenian self-recognition in that country and their return to their roots. As we know, hundreds of thousands of Hamshen Armenians, who had lived on their ancestral lands in Western Armenia for millennia, were forced to convert to Islam and now live mostly in north-eastern Turkey. How did the movement of Hamshen Armenians to return to their roots start?

Alice Aliye Alt: We knew since our childhood that once we had been 'gyavour-Armenians.' My father, the owner of a restaurant in Rize, was a Hamshen Armenian who had married a Laz woman, whose family were his neighbors on the coast of the Black Sea. As a young and educated girl, I came to study and work in West Germany, which 'imported', in the '60s, thousands of cheap-labour workers from Turkey.

I married a German citizen, from whom I 'inherited' his family name. My real Hamshen family name is Gosdan. After the death of my husband, I studied psychology at the University of Frankfurt, graduating as a specialist in working with minorities–mainly Turks, Kurds, convert Armenians. It's then that I realized that most of them were Hamshen Armenians who continued to live as 'disguised' or 'secret' citizens of Turkey, later of Germany. They were slowly discovering their real identity.

My contacts with the Union of Armenians in Frankfurt, and my personal research led me to my real identity. We were also 'secret' Armenians! I educated my children Deniz and Yasmine that they are Armenian and that they are survivors of a horrible genocide. Deniz, one of the most respected of New Generation painters in Germany, participated and even organized his personal exhibitions, devoted to the Genocide of Armenians. After taking a close look at my son's paintings, his professor at the Frankfurt Fine Arts Academy, said, “I think you are not a Turk; you are Armenian!”

Many of my dearest friends, members of the enlightenend Turkish intelligentsia, helped in our struggle to discover and establish our identity, and in the recognition of the known and unknown chapters of the Genocide of Armenians. Also our German and Greek humanist friends in Germany and elsewhere, were always at our side. I cannot tell the same about most of the huge Armenian community here, who until recently, were suspicious of us.

HM: How do the converts you have met feel about being Armenian, decades after living as Turks, Kurds, Zaza, Kizilbash or simply as followers of Islam?

AAA: As a psychologist and a convert Armenian who was baptized with the help of Archbishop Karekin Bekjian of Koln, the primate of the Armenian Church of Germany, I observe that decades of fear inherited from generation to generation, horrors of massacres and genocide, living a double identity and suddenly discovering their Armenian origins, has sometimes tragic impact on some individuals who subsequently experience serious mental disorders.

I think, based mostly on my experience working with my patients of Turkish nationality, nearly all Armenians, survivors of genocides, sometimes need serious psychological intervention. Recently, my Hamshen grandmother, in horror, asked me, “Aliye, are we once more going to become Armenian?”

HM: What's the reaction of your Turkish neighbors when they learn that you are Armenian?

AAA: Most of them respect and trust me because life in a Turkish family, often divided between Turkey and Germany–sometimes with several wives–is horrible. Recently, when I met near my house the imam of the Turkish mosque of Hottersheim and his wife, she asked me, “They say that you are Armenian. How is it that your name is Aliye?” The imam told his wife, with a smile, “Didn’t you know that there were always Moslem Armenians?”

So, it seems that, after centuries of persecution and insults, convert Armenians are considered by many Diasporan Turks as “one of them”, specially Turks who were born and educated in Germany.

Thank you, Hamo, for opening to our family and to relatives the window to Armenia and Armenians.

 
30 comments
  1. Islamized Armenians

    Armenians, particularly in Europe, should provide all kinds of assistance to encourage these "lost" Armenians regain their identity. Armenians in Europe should hold informational meetings for these Islamized Armenians, provide them with books, brochures, speakers. If these Armenians are left to their own devices, their children will become Europeanized and we would lose them forever. They are specially precious to the Armenian nation because of  the lost-and-found aspect and because of their command of European language, skills and citizenship they can be of great help to the Armenian nation.
    1. Reply to Vramshabouh
      Dear Reader from Canada,

      I thank you for your comment and wish you that your suggestions become a reality.We have so much to do in helping the sons and daughters of our nation,the survivors of Genocide and massacres.

      Hamo Moskofian, Beirut

      1. Parev Hamo, Urax em vor
        Parev Hamo,
        Urax em vor lsetsi vor hima Beirut es.
        Meg meg e-mailov xosir hets. Facebook al unim. STEVEN HOVAGIMIAN

        1. Reply to Stepan
          Dear Stepan,

          Thanks for your kind note and I am very happy to contact you once more.You are doing a Great Patriotic Work thru your AMGA TV Programs in Los Angeles.

          Harganknerov
          Hamo Moskofian

  2. “Hamshen Armenians in the Mirror of History”

    Dear Hamo,

    I very much enjoy your articles and keep up the good work.

    Where can I find Aliye’s book of ‘Hamshen Armenians in the Mirror of History’? Is it in German or English?

    Thanking you in advance,

    Vartan

    1. Reply to Vartan Simonian
      Dear Vartan!

      Are You a relative of Simon or Hovnan Simonian? They too were writing on Islamized Armenians. Anyhow, thank you for your kind appreciation and I will ask today Aliye Alt if any copies of her book in German, Greek or Turkish could be found.

      I’ll get in touch with you once I confirm.

      Yours Faithfully
      Hamo Moskofian
      Beirut

  3. Thank you
    Dear Mr. Moskofian,

    Thank you for your valuable article. We are a small group researching on Hemshin/Hamshen for 5 years now and we have posted all our information on our website: http://www.hemshin.org

    Aliye Alt’s book along with other valuable books which are not easily accessible are all scanned and posted.

    Again thank you for the article and for posting our short video. Please let us know if we can be of any help.

    In Hamsheni language we say: Tun kezi soy putaha aghparig
     

    V

  4. Very timely and interesting.

    Very timely and interesting. Some day there will be a sea of Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and other minorities who will gradually awaken and cause the oppressors a lot of trouble. The truth comes out eventually.
    1. Reply to Hayaser
      Thank You Very much Khmbabed, the Pillar of the Armenian community in Vienna! You also dedicated most of your life for the service of the Armenian Nation!

      Respects,
      Hamo Moskofian

  5. Thank you

    Sireli Hamo,

    Thank you so much for your valuable information about our lost and found Armenian sisters and brothers. It was very sad to read how they were hiding from their true identity but it was so pleasing to learn that once again they are being discovered at this time…

    We will not be lost thanks to your help because you are making these stories available for us to learn about them. 

  6. Islamized Armenians of Turkey

     

    I am very encouraged with the activities of the Hamshentsis (Hamshenites) discovering their roots. Unfortunately, the huge number of similarly converted Armenians in Cilicia and Turkish Kurdistan are still in denial of their Armenianness, due  mostly to their fear. Last summer I met my oldest paternal uncle in Cilicia. I am trying to establish a relationship with my first cousins, but I have to take their concerns into consideration. If you have not already seen the documentary "Whispering Memories and Talking Pictures", I’d be honoured if you get a chance to do so.
     
    In addition, is your book available in English? How can I get a copy?. An Imam I know in the US says his background is Hamshen; he is a Laz from Trabizon. Also, at least two Turrkish university students have approached me if I could help trace their family backgrounds from Sis and Adana. Their immediate families are strongly against digging the past.   

    Great work!

    Best Regards,

    Ghazaros   

    1. New Examples
      Dear Ghazaros,

      I am very happy to hear that you also are providing new examples about Islamized or "kurdified" Armenians! I am sure that people would appreciate it if you could send more information about them.

      I confirm that it is not easy today to live in double identity in Turkey where massacres can occur anytime…

      Regarding Aliye Alt’s book there is no English version,  but some friends will help to have it in future.

      Respects,

      Hamo Moskofian, Beirut

    2. Book on Hamshen Armenians/Hemshin

      Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but I would like to point the book I edited on the topic, published three years ago: "The Hemshin: History, Society and Identity in the Highlands of Northeast Turkey" (London: Routledge, 2007)

      It is available at online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

      To my knowledge, it is the only book in English on the topic of the Hemshin, or Islamicized Armenians of Hamshen:

      Also, could you please put me in contact with the Turkish Imam of Hemshin origin?

      1. Dear Hovann
        Dear Hovann,

        All Hamshen people in Germany know you…The Imam of Hattersheim promised to give a special interview for keghart in September, when I will be once more here. Don’t lose hope at all! The Convert Armenians and Zaza movement for identity is in Renaissance here and Western Armenia, as I saw it this time around.

        Respects,

        Hamo Moskofian – Frankfurt

        1. Is this the same?
          Hi Hamo,

          Is this the same person as the Imam in the United States Ghazaros is talking about, or is it another Imam?

          Best,
          Hovann

  7. As a Turk

    As a Turk who respects all nations, especially neighbours who have the same Anatolian culture, love, fury, music etc.

    I recently found out that a sizable portion of my maternal relatives are voluntarily converted Armenians from Akbez, Cilicia, while the rest of my non-convert relatives had gone to Beirut. My great-grandfather from my maternal side was an Armenian Ottoman land registry officer in Aleppo. Although I am Turkish and Moslem, I would like to find my relatives in Beirut, to discover what has been lost of our family’s memory.

    1. Islamized Armenians
      Dear Faruk,
      To contact your relatives in Beirut, you have to provide your name, email address, their names. Perhaps a Keghart subscriber would recognize them. At one time there were more than 150,000 Armenians in Lebanon. The number is less now because of emigration. You can also trace them through Church records–birth, weddings, funerals, etc. Your best bet is to contact the Cilicia Catholicate in Antelias, Lebanon, a suburb of Beirut. Google them for their address. Good luck.

    2. From an Armenian to a Turk

      From an Armenian to a Turk

      My late father-in-law, Mehran (Hovsepian) was born Altebarmakian in a town he called Ereyle in the province of Konya in Turkey. He was born in 1914 and his family was not subjected to deportation thanks to his father’s – Hovsep’s – business partners who were Turks. His younger sister was born around 1917 in the same town.

      However, his father died not much later due to illness. In early 1920’s, my father-in-law’s mother realizing they are the only or one of the few Armenian families remaining in Ereyle moved the family to Lattakia Syria to be close to her sister’s family. It is in Lattakia that my mostly Turkish speaking father-in-law was taught Armenian, under the tutelage of a famous Armenian writer, Armen Anoush. My father-in-law thus grew up in Lattakia and lived in Beirut as well.

      While they were in Beirut, the Turkish family who were my father-in-laws’ father’s business partners made an effort and came to Beirut to look for them and tracked down my father-in-law’s family consisting of his mother, brother and sister for a reunion for old time’s sake. Thus my wife’s paternal grandfather is buried in Ereyle – Turkey. I have always been curious as to where Ereyle is in the district Konya. Ereyle may be what my father-in-law remembers the name of the city or town he was born in as he left at a young age. I will appreciate if you would find out about Ereyle or a town with similar sounding in Konya and let me know of its whereabouts.

      Google has not been of help to me in this regard.

      Thank you

      1. Reply to Vahe about their hometown in Turkey

        Dear Vahe,
        Ereyle is now called "Konya Ereğli" in Turkish. It is a two-hour drive from Konya. A very nice, green town with a populatin of 100,000..

    3. Biological Connection (To Faruk)
      Dear Faruk,

      Considering your biological connection to Armenians, have you considered if you have any Armenian blood running through your veins? If so, you first need to accept the undeniable truth. Contrary to your statement, there were no "voluntarily converted Armenians". The only reason your converted relatives survived in Turkey was because they accepted forced conversion to Islam. The alternative was to be deported, exiled or killed. Your non-converted relatives were most likely among those few who survived the death marches into the Syrian desert.

      My maternal grandfather was also from Akbez. When he returned home after serving seven years in the Ottoman military and being wounded fighting the British in Chanakkale (Gallipoli) during WWI, he found that the Turks had killed his entire family (wife and children). So much for gratitude!!!

      I have a family tree book covering almost all inhabitants of Akbez of that era. It is not a complete list but there is significant coverage. If you have the exact name of your great-grandmother and other relatives, I will try and see if her family tree is included in the book. You also have to give me the names of her parents or siblings so that I can make the connections.

      1. Hi Ara, Does your book
        Hi Ara,

        Does your book mention a Tosounian family?. My paternal grandmother was a genocide survivor Eybez. I have never heard anything about her parents; I am not sure if they survived. I remember that she had a sister and at least two brothers. I only remember her sister’s name, Vartouhi and her name was Mariam. I know that she was about 12 years old during the genocide. I have been trying to find out about Eybez for a long time.
        1. Hello Maral, Sorry for my delay

          Hello Maral,

          Sorry for my delay in responding to you but I have been frantically looking for the Eybez Family Tree book to respond to you and I cannot find it. I feel terrible. I don’t know what happened to it. But I assure you the book exists. I have gone online to contact the Compatriotic Union of Eybez and cannot find any traces of them. I am making some other inquiries to see if someone can help us find the book as I am equally interested in finding a new copy of it. If I find it I will definitely contact you.

          Sorry for disappointing you…

          Ara

      2. Hear my story

        I don’t feel too much Armenian blood in my veins, but I feel great distress for what Armenians have suffered. Armenian culture, songs, memories, sorrow really affect and overwhelm me. I would like to see Armenians here again as neighbours, friends, colleagues. Again, in Akbez, again in Kayseri, again in Maraş. I understand how an Armenian may feel, but also how Turks feel, but there is no need to discuss this here.

        I told that I voluntarily converted, because it was really so. You need to listen the whole story before drawing your conclusion.

        There was a rich Armenian family in Akbez (now a town in Hatay province, Turkey) in the 1800s. He had many sons and daughters, but one of his children was different. His name was (with a big probability) Avadis. He was born in 1854. He liked to play with Turkish children and befriend them. Even as a child, he liked the imam of the town, and took lessons from him along with his Muslim friends. His father advised him, warned him, threatened and finally beat him, but Avadis disobeyed, remaining close to his Muslim friends. As a young boy, he converted and renamed himself Hüseyin Nusret.

        His father sent him to Armenian schools, where he studied hard and came back an educated man. He started to work in Ottoman Land Registry Office in Aleppo. His family managed to marry him to an Armenian girl, but he was still Muslim in heart and in practice. Before the big troubles began in Cilicia ("Gavurdağı" in Turkish), the family decided to move to Beirut, as far as I know. He refused to go and stayed in Akbez.

        His wife migrated with the family, leaving her husband and two little sons. His Turkish friends soon got him to marry a Muslim woman. He fathered many children from his second wife. His children also married with Muslims, so the entire family is Muslim now. But his youngest child, a girl named Turanda chose to run away with an Armenian boy to Beirut, where they married and had a number of children. They were quite wealthy.

        My grandmother used to say that (I wasn’t born yet) in Akbez Armenians and Muslims often clashed. When the Ottomans were in power, Armenians were attacked. When the French occupied, Turks were humiliated. Finally, all the Armenians in Akbez (or Eybez, the old name) were told to leave the town overnight and those who stayed behind were massacred. My Armenian grandmother was a devoted Muslim. She even went to Mecca as a pilgrim, but as the daughter of an Armenian convert, she was teased many times in her later life.

        I am one of the grandchildren of Avadis, or Hüseyin Nusret. I would appreciate if you searched for him in this book about Akbez. I am sure we can find traces of him and his family.

         
        1. Positive Message
          I am a Turk (Laz, Kurdish, Sabbatean and Bulgarian to be more specific). I first surfed Keghart.com looking for a DNA study that I had seen a couple years ago which showed the percentage of Turks who were descended from converted Armenians (It’s surprisingly high).

          I just wanted to say that not all us deny the Genocide perpetrated on your people, and that the number of people who accept it, without trying to justify evil, in Turkey is growing day by day. There is reasonable probability, though I don’t know for sure, that my forefathers were involved in the perpetration of that crime, and for that I would like to apologize. I hope that someday we can start to see all that we have in common and learn to like each other once again.

          1. Dear Kaan, Your message is moving
            Dear Kaan,

            Your message is moving. I hardly can keep my eyes dry. I am a second generation counting from the Genocide. My father was born during the massacres. Even though neither my father nor I witnessed the tortures and inhuman brutalities we felt pain. My children too feel it.

            What I would like people like you and others in Turkey to realize is that by ignoring what happened, by telling that it was a century ago, by pretending that the pain has gone away, the crucial issue of restitution and reparations will not be buried.

            We will come someday and we will claim what  is our lawful ancestral rights. Only then the wounds will heal. Words alone will not soothe us, but will help people in Turkey realize what Genocide can do, open up and hopefully some day say, "Here, come, this was your land, take it and let’s be friends."

            Thank you.

    4. Akbez

      Merhaba,

      Ben Akbezliyim. Akbez ermenileriyle ilgili araştırma yapıyorum. Lütfen bana yazarmısınız.

      Hoşçakalın.

      Not: Mümkünse türkçe yazarmısınız.

  8. If it will interest you

     
    Up until last year, my 11th pilgrimage to RA,  there was a news weekly published by the Hamshentsi(s) in Yerevan and the name of the paper was "Hamshentsiner".

    I sent them a few e-mails, but received no response.

    May be they went out of print or else were not well disposed to have an "intruder".I wonder. Hope they continue to publish though.

    Does anyone online know of it?

  9. More Research

    Chirol,you need to do a little more resaech on the matter: The Turks had a great deal to fear from Armenians, many of whom served in the Ottoman army. I saw a great (Armenian-funded) documentary about it on PBS. This has no relevance to the Jews during WWII.

    For the record: I’m half-English, half-Turkish. Note the order. What happened was what we would now call genocide. The Turks tried to wipe out as many Armenians as they could with forced marches or outright murder. Richard, Tex and Peter all have axes to grind. Go and grind them somewhere with more trees.Chris Swanson: I agree with Elambend that Turkey seems childish and backwards in not owning up to the mass murder committed by its people. However, the Armenian issue is a matter of faith among Turks. It happened right at the Turkish Republic’s birth. Turks are still coping with the loss of their empires, but not doing it well. Do it well, admit all of your mistakes and current weaknesses and people will pile on the opprobrium, as people now do to the English. Despite their bad faith, the Turks at least still have a national myth of greatness. In the UK, we’ve abandoned everything great we ever achieved, cast it away. Is this better? I don’t know, Chirol. I would love to know more about legitimate land claims in eastern Turkey (whatever that means). Do you think you could come up with an unbiased account of them? I don’t. Sorry.

    For the record: it was genocide, by the modern definition. Does it matter now? The Turks are as guilty as the Armenians of failing to let go. You’ll say, That’s terrible, millions lost their lives, and maybe so. But it’s time for the Armenians to forget it and for the Turks to forget it, too. It was a long time ago and it does no one any service to keep harping on about it.  Why the US Congress wants to bring the matter up again is beyond me. The effort required on each side will be equal. The Turkish state will not admit to genocide, despite the evidence. The Armenians will not pipe down despite the genocide affecting the current descendants not one iota. Relations suffer in the meantime. It could go on forever and it wouldn’t really matter. To be absolutely realistic about this, Armenia has to give Turkey a reason to care. It’s difficult to think of one.

  10. Parev Bolis-en

    Parev Sireliner,

    Yes Bolis-en guh krem tsez. Eem ındaniks vor Cilicia goghmen yen (Adana) Azadyan guh gochvin, orovhedev orenagan maganunneruh pokhvadz yen Turkiayi mech 1925-in, yevaylın. Eem undanikis maganunu verafzvads eh Azatoglu'yi.

    Sad tsavali eh ints hamar tartsyal badmel te eerents Adana'yi kughin mech medzhayrs–Vahan Azadyan–yev  yegpayruh Harutyun Azadyan vorp tartsaz yen. Kisheruan mı mech arants mayri yev hayri yergu manoug minagnin jamportadz yen minchev Gesaria. Esdibuads yen irents pun annunneru degh Sadık yev Ibrahim annuneruh kordzadzelu yev Gasario mech degavoruadz yen. Parepaghdapar irents Haygagan koyutiunuh chen gorsuntsustadz yev amusnstasadz yen Hayuhinerov yev irents Hay anunneruh kordzadzelov irents Hay undanikneruh gazmadz yen.

    Mishd guh hisheyin irents hayrı Bogos Azadyan, irents undaniki antamnerı Harutyun Azadyan, Hagop Azadyan (yev shad mı ourish Azadyanner), yev guh badmeyin teh Fransa gam Ameriga pokhatrvads ein irents sireli ındanikuh. Tjpahdapar yergukn al mahatsan heru irents undaniken.

    Yes bidi khıntrei tser poloren te artyok deghegutiun unesogh ga AZADYAN ((Azadian) undanike Adana'yen (Cilicia) vor gardzem gabrin Fransa gam Ameriga.

    Hazarnerov shnorhagalutunner ser polorin.

    Selin Azadyan

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