Lost-and-found Armenians Need Our Help

Keghart.com team editorial, 7 June 2010

In the early to late ’70s some Diaspora Armenian students studying in Yerevan, having established a patriotic and private group called Khempag, engaged in the study of various aspects of life in Armenia and Armenians in Diaspora. They were particularly dissatisfied with the accepted interpretations of historical events and policies that had contributed to shaping Soviet and Diaspora Armenian societies. Their efforts culminated in the establishment, for Diaspora students, of a historical society named after Movses Khorenatsi. Members of the group included Marxists, Ramgavars, Hunchaks, ARF and ASALA sympathizers, and Chezoks. At its peak the group boasted a membership representing close to 10% of the Diasporan student body.
 

Keghart.com team editorial, 7 June 2010

In the early to late ’70s some Diaspora Armenian students studying in Yerevan, having established a patriotic and private group called Khempag, engaged in the study of various aspects of life in Armenia and Armenians in Diaspora. They were particularly dissatisfied with the accepted interpretations of historical events and policies that had contributed to shaping Soviet and Diaspora Armenian societies. Their efforts culminated in the establishment, for Diaspora students, of a historical society named after Movses Khorenatsi. Members of the group included Marxists, Ramgavars, Hunchaks, ARF and ASALA sympathizers, and Chezoks. At its peak the group boasted a membership representing close to 10% of the Diasporan student body.
 

The task of the group was not limited to research but included an action plan that primarily was gauged to disseminate the notion of demands versus recognition with respect to the Genocide of Armenians. Furthermore, through a variety of student activities it strived to cultivate an atmosphere of political and intellectual tolerance and provide a contextual experience of co-operation that could be transported to Spyurk.

There were anecdotal reports at the time that many orphans of the Genocide and their descendants had converted to Islam to avoid Turkish or Kurdish persecution. These forced converts would occasionally confide their roots to strangers, it was rumoured. A sizeable portion of these individuals apparently lived in Kurdish areas and some had joined the recently formed militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Others had left Turkey for Europe, taking advantage of the demand for cheap labour in Germany and in other European countries.

The members of Khempag were interested to know more about these crypto-Armenians, and possibly establish some contacts. One of the members was entrusted to travel to Turkey, particularly to the Kurdish areas and file a report. Listening to detailed descriptions that were brought back it became evident that earlier reports were not fiction. In village after village many old and young people had come forward to tell their stories, that they or their parents were of Armenian origin, that they had “adopted” Islam, had changed their way of life, their language, and married Turks or Kurds to survive.

Over the past forty years some Hamshen Armenians and crypto-Armenians from Kurdish areas and elsewhere in Turkey have migrated to Europe, establishing communities, particularly in Germany. For a variety of complex reasons, which are beyond the scope of this editorial, they, by and large, have remained isolated from mainstream Armenian life. One wonders whether an important contributory element to this isolation has been the unwelcoming attitude of mainstream Armenians themselves. Is it without cause that Alice Aliye Alt, a resident of Germany, who has converted to Christianity and has tried to raise her children as Armenians, and whose artist son has presented an art exposition about the Genocide, recently made unflattering remarks about the absence of a welcoming embrace by Armenian communities?

She stated, “Many of my dearest friends, members of the enlightened 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."

Having witnessed the uncaring attitude of native Armenians of Armenia towards their compatriots after the repatriation in the ’40s, the disrespect of Indian-Armenians towards their own relatives who had migrated from Persia to India later in history, the critical approach of established Armenian communities towards newcomers in a variety of countries, it is not unreasonable to think that what Mrs. Alt says corresponds to reality. Armenians like to speak of unity; they write articles; compose songs, and shout at the top of their lungs about unity. Yet, when the opportunity is presented to help re-integrate lost Armenians who yearn to rejoin the Armenian ‘family’, we fail miserably. That’s what the past forty years tell us about the odyssey of the Hamshenites and other crypto-Armenians who have settled in Europe.

Will Armenian organizations, cultural and otherwise, come to their senses and help our brethren who are caught in the vise of an identity crisis? Armenians look at secret Armenians as Turks while Turks treat them as gavoor Armenians. Their dignity should be respected with utmost care. Their desire to become Armenian again should be welcomed. They are in need of a variety of services, foremost all specialties that deal with rehabilitation. They should not be looked at as “potentials” who can “populate” and inflate the number of membership of this or that organization. The approach should not be utilitarian but humanitarian.

As observed by a Keghart.com reader, “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 languages, skills and citizenship they can be of great help to the Armenian nation."

13 comments
  1. “I cannot tell the same about…”

    "I cannot tell the same about most of the huge Armenian community here, who until recently were suspicious of us."…
    On the contrary, about 25 years ago, an important community of Armenians from turkish Kurdistan immigrated to Marseilles, thanks to Bishop Shnork Kaloustian, and they have been perfecly wellcome. From that family 400 has grown up to 1500… they are contributing to dynamize the diaspora (thanks to Ankara’s Policy).
    1. Dear Armenian_Hay
      Dear Armenian_Hay,

      Wasn’t this humanitarian act in mid-sixties following an earthquake in Turkey? Please clarify.

      Respectfully,

      Noubar

      1. Parev, I think Hamo
        Parev,

        I think Hamo has given the answer you are expecting from me.
        I didn’t know the whole story (earthquake), he does better than me!
        I heard that Mr. Hranth Guzelian from Marseilles had helped the Bishop.
        The Bishop would have been beaten even jailed in (sezde) Modern Turkey…
         
        Fraternal Regards

        Vartan

    2. Lost Armenians

      Dear reader from Marseille!

      I read your comment about Keghart’s courageous Editorial.

      I have been in Marseille many times and organized together with FAAE 24 APRIL many conferences in Southern France’s "Armenia" with Senators, Mayors, Relegious and Political leaders participating. In 2003 an International Conference dedicated to the Armenian Genocide was held in Valence. Aliye Alice Alt was in attendance, also her artist son Denis, half Hamshen and half-German. He presented his paintings on the Genocide. Unfortunately, very few participants at these gatherings had heard about Islamized Armenians…

      The editorial to my understanding refers to converts who live in semi-isolated life in Europe. They have migrated from Turkey over the past forty to fifty years. They are the ones who need special attention!

      The ones that settled in Marseille that you refer to were mostly survivors of 1966 VARTO horrible earthquake. Some of the photos were viewed at a recent Harry Koundakjian Exhibition (an international journalist working with Associated Press for about 50 years). At the time of the earthquake many orphans were brought to the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople by Archbishop-Patriarch Shnork Kaloustian and then the Catholic Armenian survivors were sent to Western Europe including France. I met one fellow called Mamgoun from Mamikonian family of Daron Vaspourakan.

      Hamo Moskofian, Beirut

    1. By whom?

      Zohrab,

      Who do you think should take action? – political organizations, students, diasporan Armenians, a new entity perhaps or some other suggestion?

      Maybe keghart.com can post this question as a poll so we get some feedback.

      1. By Whom?

        We don’t have shortage of Armenian organizations. Here in Fresno we used have 55 organizations.

        Keep in mind that lots of donation is needed. We have to knock every door.

        1. Not efficient

          I am assuming that those 55 organizations were Armenian.  Do you think that is efficient?

          They would dilute the donations and probably not much would be acheived.

  2. Crypto-Armenians

    If only 5% of the efforts allocated for Genocide recognition were spent on welcoming and integrating our islamized Armenians…..

  3. Why so late?

    It is interesting to hear that students in Yerevan were already thinking about Armenian demands as opposed to only Genocide recognition back in the 70s. One wonders why Armenian organizations were late in catching up with the students. That’s about thirty years. Was it because of geopolitical reasons or timidity of the Armenians to take bolder steps. Could it be that powers to be through their proxies prevented Armenians to take a leap?
    1. Is it a fact?

      I couldn’t remember the events of the ’70s but your comment is very interesting and I would like to know the answer.  However where did you "hear" about the students…?  is it a fact or just assumption?

      1. Based on the editorial
        Dear Zoodhye,

        The reference is to the editorial that mentions the activities of students from Diaspora in Yerevan in the 70s. Moreover, ASALA which was formed by young people was openly confronting Turkey and demanding lands. Probably it was a premature undertaking, and according to some an "adventurist" act, but it helped the Armenian Cause getting front and centre. Of course, it is open to discussion whether the violence itself is justified or not. In the eyes of the youth they were freedom fighters.
    2. Lost and found Armenians
      Dear Shavarsh,

      I have heard/read that one reason for the delay in making demands from Turkey was strategic. Armenian organizations wanted to obtain the acknowledgment of world public opinion and of major nations that Turkey did commit a genocide of Armenians before we made our justified demands from Turkey. Turkey knows full well that the Young Turks and Kemal did commit a genocide but refuses to recognize its crime mainly because it fears that once it admits its crime it will be forced to concede to reparations, compensation, restitution.

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