Crypto-Armenians (Armenian: ծպտյալ հայեր tsptyal hayer; Turkish: Kripto Ermeniler) or Hidden Armenians (Gizli Ermeniler) is an umbrella term to describe people in Turkey "of full or partial ethnic Armenian origin who generally conceal their Armenian identity from wider Turkish society." They are mostly descendants of Armenians who were Islamized "under the threat of physical extermination" during the Armenian Genocide.
Turkish journalist Erhan Başyurt[a] describes Crypto-Armenians as "families (and in some cases, entire villages or neighbourhoods) [...] who converted to Islam to escape the deportations and death marches [of 1915], but continued their hidden lives as Armenians, marrying among themselves and, in some cases, clandestinely reverting to Christianity." According to the European Commission 2012 report on Turkey, a "number of crypto-Armenians have started to use their original names and religion." The Economist suggests that the number of Turks who reveal their Armenian background is growing.
The eastern parts of the Armenian Highlands, the traditional homeland of the Armenian people, came under Ottoman (Turkish) control in the 16th century. Armenians remained an overwhelming majority of the area's population until the 17th century, however, their number gradually decreased and by the early 20th century they constituted up to 38% of the population of Western Armenia, designed at the time as the Six vilayets. Turks and Kurds made up a significant part of the population.
In 1915 and the following years, the Armenians living in their ancestral lands in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated by the Young Turk government in the Armenian Genocide. During the genocide, between 100,000 and 200,000 Armenian women were taken into harems by Muslim husbands and children were converted, forced into slavery, or kidnapped and raised as Turks and Kurds. When relief workers and surviving Armenians started to search for and claim back these Armenian orphans after World War I, only a small percentage were found and reunited, while many others continued to live as Muslims. Additionally, there were cases of entire families converting to Islam to survive the genocide.
"After converting to Islam, many of the crypto-Armenians said they still faced unfair treatment: their land was often confiscated, the men were humiliated with "circumcision checks" in the army and some were tortured." Between the 1930s and 1980s, the Turkish government conducted a secret investigation of Crypto-Armenians.
The term "Crypto-Armenians" appears as early as 1956.
Since the 1960s, there have been cases of Islamized Armenian families converting back to Christianity and changing their names. Some have suggested that the 2010 mass in Akdamar Island's Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross—first time after the genocide—encouraged Crypto-Armenians to reveal their origin. Since Armenians in Turkey are all defined as belonging to the Armenian Church, if the newcomers are rejected by the Patriarchate, they become double outcasts, not only from their previous Muslim Turkish/Kurdish community, but also from the Armenian community, as they cannot get married, baptized, or buried by the church and cannot send their children to Armenian schools. If they have made a conscious decision to identify themselves as Armenian, regardless of whether they stay Muslim or atheist or anything else, they face risks and outright danger. Relationships get even more complicated as there are now many families with one branch carrying on life as Muslim Turks/Kurds, another branch as Muslim Armenian, and a third branch as Christian Armenian.
In 2009, the British MP Bob Spink tabled an early day motion entitled "Independent Inquiry into The Armenian Genocide" that stated that the House of Commons "is concerned about the welfare of thousands of Crypto-Armenians in Turkey."
Various scholars and authors have estimated the number of individuals of full or partial Armenian descent living in Turkey. The range of the estimates is great due to different criteria used. Most of these numbers do no make a distinction between Crypto-Armenians and Islamized Armenians. According to journalist Erhan Başyurt the main difference between the two groups is their self-identity. Islamized Armenian, in his words, are "children women who were saved by Muslim families and have continued their lives among them", while Crypto-Armenians "continued their hidden lives as Armenians."
|30,000–40,000||Tessa Hofmann, German scholar of Armenian studies||"Muslim 'crypto-Armenians' ... who have adapted to the Kurdish or Turkish majority"||2002|
|100,000||Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople||"at least 100,000 Armenian converts to Islam"||2007|
|100,000||Erhan Başyurt, Turkish journalist||additional 40,000 to 60,000 Islamized Armenians||2006|
|100,000||Salim Cöhce, History Professor at the İnönü University||2005|
|300,000||Hrant Dink, Turkish-Armenian journalist||2005|
|300,000||Yervand Baret Manuk, Turkish-Armenian Armenologist||additional 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 Islamized Armenians||2010|
|500,000||Yusuf Halaçoğlu, Turkish historian||2009|
|700,000||Karen Khanlaryan, Iranian Armenian journalist and MP||700,000 Crypto-Armenians and 1,300,000 Islamized Armenians||2005|
|3,000,000–5,000,000||Aziz Dagcı, the President of the NGO "Union of Social Solidarity
and Culture for Bitlis, Batman, Van, Mush and Sasun Armenians"
|4,000,000||Haykazun Alvrtsyan, Armenian political analyst||"about four million Islamized Armenians; one and a half to two million of them are crypto-Armenians"||2013|
|4,000,000–5,000,000||Sarkis Seropyan, the editor of the Armenian section of Agos||Islamized Armenians, more than half of which "confess that their ancestors have been Armenian"||2013|
Through the 20th century, an unknown number of Armenians living in the mountainous region of Dersim have been Islamized. During the Armenian Genocide, many of the Armenians in the region were saved by their Kurdish neighbors. According to Mihran Prgiç Gültekin, the head of the Union of Dersim Armenians, around 75% of the population of Dersim are "converted Armenians." He reported in 2012 that over 200 families in Dersim have declared their Armenian descent, but others are afraid to do so. In April 2013, Aram Ateşyan, the acting Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, stated that 90% of Dersim's population is of Armenian origin.
- Fethiye Çetin (b. 1950 in Maden, Elâzığ Province), lawyer, writer and human rights activist
- Ahmet Abakay (b. 1950 in Divriği), journalist
- Müslüm Gürses (1953–2013), popular arabesk singer and actor
- Yaşar Kurt (b. 1968), rock singer
- Başyurt is the author of Armenian Adoptees: Hidden Lives (Ermeni Evlatlıklar, Saklı Kalmış Hayatlar), a book on Crypto-Armenian published in 2006.
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