Two million Turks have Armenian grandmothers but they are supposed to believe that the genocide never happened
In 2003, the Armenian newspaper Agos, whose editor Hrant Dink was assassinated outside his office in 2007, reported that the Turkish government was secretly coding minorities in registers: Greeks were one, according to the paper. Armenians were two. Jews were three. Korucu recalled how the director of the Turkish Historical Society threatened minorities in 2007. “Don’t make me angry. I have a list of converts I can reveal down to their streets and homes.” The director later became a politician in the rightist Nationalist Action Party.
Ethnic Armenian columnist Hayko Bagdat placed this in a story he told the Al-Monitor website – including an individual family tale which might be humorous if it was not so charged with tragedy. “During the 1915 genocide, along with mass conversions, there were also thousands of children in exile…The society is not yet ready to deal with this reality.” Imagine, Bagdat said, that Lutfi Dogan, who had served as Turkey’s director of religious affairs, was the brother of someone who was the Armenian patriarch, Sinozk Kalustyan.
“Kalustyan, who returned to Turkey from Beirut in 1961, was remembered as a saint in the Turkish Armenian Patriarchate and as someone who had served in the most difficult times after 1915. During the genocide, his mother sent the children away and converted to Islam. Later she married [a man called] Dogan, who was of high social standing, and had two girls and a boy. The boy was Lutfi Dogan. When the mother, who was then with the Nationalist Action Party…died, his uncle came in priest garb from Beirut to attend the funeral. Nobody could say anything.”
This predicament was eloquently conveyed in Fethiye Cetin’s memoir of her grandmother, a respected Muslim housewife in the small Turkish town of Maden, who revealed to her granddaughter that she was Armenian. Most of the men in her village were slaughtered, Seher (her real Armenian name was Heranus) said. A Turkish gendarme had adopted her. Fethiye Cetin, a human rights lawyer who acted for the soon-to-be-murdered Hrant Dink, posted her grandmother’s death announcement in Dink’s paper, Argos: “Heranus lost her entire family and never saw them again,” she wrote. “She was given a new name, to live in a new family. She forgot her mother tongue and her religion…she never ever forgot her name, her village, her mother, her father…She lived until the age of 95.” Relatives in America read the death notice and Heranus’ sister – still alive – called Cetin in Istanbul. A family reunited.
Perhaps two million Turks have Armenian grandmothers. But they are supposed to believe that the genocide never happened.