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Hidden Armenians (Turkish: Gizli Ermeniler) or crypto-Armenians (Armenian: ծպտեալ հայեր tsptyal hayer; Turkish: Kripto Ermeniler) is an "umbrella term to describe Turkish people of full or partial ethnic Armenian origin who generally conceal their Armenian identity from wider Turkish society." They are mostly descendants of Ottoman Armenians who, at least outwardly, were Islamized (and turkified or kurdified) "under the threat of physical extermination" during the Armenian Genocide.[better source needed]
Turkish journalist Erhan Başyurt[a] describes hidden 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.
Armenians are originally from the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia. The western parts of what is sometimes called the Armenian Highlands or "Historic Armenia" came under the Ottoman Empire's control in the 16th century with the Peace of Amasya. 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. The Ittihadists who perpetrated the genocide did not have the same understanding of race and nationality as the Nazis and nationality could be changed by religious conversion to Islam. Likewise, Protestant and Catholic Armenians could be exempted from deportation. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen explains that perpetrators differ in how they treat the targeted groups children: "In some instances, owing to the perpetrators' social theory, they treat children of groups targeted because of ethnicity or nationality radically differently from their parents. The Turks conceiving of their existential enemies the Armenians not entirely coherently, an unstable agglomeration of a national/ethnic/religious-based hatred, nevertheless had a decidedly nonracist view of them." He explains that the Turks adopted an formal policy of "leave the girls and children to be Islamized". Although many children were killed, some were spared and allowed to live as Turks. Genocide historian Norman Naimark writes:
"Thousands of Armenian children were raised as Muslims and Turks, while women and girls were routinely converted, taken into harems, and married to Turkish, Kurdish and Circassian husbands. In the period 1918-1922, some of these women and children, encouraged by the Western powers and anti-Ittihadist Ottoman officials, reconnected with their Armenian families and communities. But women seventeen or over or those married to Muslims could choose to stay with their new families, and many did. Under the French occupation, many Armenian children were turned over by Turkish families to the Armenian community, but, wrote one Armenian officer, 'many of them want to go back'"
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 hidden Armenians.
The term "Crypto-Armenians" appears as early as 1956.
In 2010, Mass was held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Aghtamar (called Akdamar Kilisesi in Turkish) for the first time in 95 years. After a million dollar restoration, the church was reopened as a museum in 2007. 2010 marked the first Christian prayer service at Aghtamar since the genocide. In September 2010, 2,000 Armenians attended a mass at the Cathedral.
When the Surp Giragos Church was reopened in 2011, dozens of Armenians who had been raised Muslim participated in a baptism ceremony at the restored Church. The names of those who participated in the baptism ceremony, conducted by Deputy Patriarch Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, were not released publicly for security reasons. Turkish-Armenians who wish to convert must first file for a formal "change of religion" at court. They then go to the Church where they learn about the foundational teachings of the Christian faith. When it is decided that the applicant has understood these teachings, they are permitted to prepare for the baptism ceremony.
In 2012, Agos reported that the head of the Dersim Armenians Faith and Ancestry Assistance Organization (Dersimli Ermeniler İnanç ve Soyal Yardımlaşma Derneği) has said that hidden Armenians have nothing to fear in the present day.
As of 2015[update] There are twenty Armenian schools in Istanbul. Armenian and Muslim families live in mixed neighborhoods. In the past Armenian was only spoken at home, but some Armenians living in Istanbul report that they now speak Armenian openly in the streets.
One of the first books to draw international attention to hidden Armenians was My Grandmother: An Armenian-Turkish Memoir written by Armenian-Turkish writer Fethiye Çetin. Along with Çetin, Ayse Gul Altinay, Gerard Libaridian, and Maureen Freely co-edited an anthology of testimonies of Islamized Armenians called The Grandchildren.
Avedis Hadjian's Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey is an exhaustive survey of the Islamicized or hidden Armenians who live in the former Armenian provinces of Turkey as well as other parts of the country.
Tunceli (Dersim) Armenians
Through the 20th century, an unknown number of Armenians living in the mountainous region of Tunceli (Dersim) had converted to Alevism. 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 Tunceli 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 Tunceli's population is of Armenian origin.[better source needed]
Prior to the genocide Diyarbakir (now sometimes called the unofficial capital of Turkish Kurdistan) was an Armenian town. There are still some surviving Church towers in the now predominantly Muslim city, but most of the Churches are in a dilapidated condition. In the past Christian Armenians had to remain hidden but the situation has improved. The Armenian community has restored one of the Churches and Armenian language lessons are available.
- Fethiye Çetin (b. 1950 in Maden, Elâzığ Province), lawyer, writer and human rights activist
- Ahmet Abakay (b. 1950 in Divriği), journalist
- Yaşar Kurt (b. 1968), rock singer
- Ruhi Su (1912-1985), musician
- Müslüm Gürses (1953 – 2013), musician
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 not make a distinction between hidden 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 of women who were saved by Muslim families and have continued their lives among them", while hidden 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 from Malatia||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 hidden Armenians and 1,300,000 Islamized Armenians||2005|
|3,000,000||Haykazun Alvrtsyan, Armenian researcher||"In Germany alone, there were 300,000 Muslim Armenians. He insisted that today in the Eastern part of Turkey, in various areas of historic Armenia there live at least 2.5 million Muslim Armenians, half of which are hiding."||2014|
|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"
|4,000,000–5,000,000||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|
- Başyurt is the author of Armenian Adoptees: Hidden Lives (Ermeni Evlatlıklar, Saklı Kalmış Hayatlar), a book on Crypto-Armenians published in 2006.
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Although today's inhabitants of Geben hesitate to call themselves Armenians, a growing number of "crypto-Armenians" (people forced to change identity) do just that.
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- Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah (2010). Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (1st ed.). New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 9781586489007.
- Altınay & Turkyilmaz 2011, p. 25.
- Cheviron, Nicholas (24 April 2013). "Turkey's Muslim Armenians come out of hiding". Agence France-Presse. Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
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Letters which have reached relatives in America at various times indicate that at least some of the Armenian Islamized persons are in fact "crypto-Armenians", in public completely loyal and nationalistic Turks, but privately waiting for the day...
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Patriarch Mesrob II: Heute leben ungefähr 80.000 christliche Armenier in der Türkei. Mindestens 100.000 weitere Armenier seien zum Islam konvertiert.
- Basyurt, Erhan (26 December 2005). "Anneannem bir Ermeni'ymiş! [My Grandmother is Armenian]". Aksiyon (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
300 bin rakamının abartılı olduğunu düşünmüyorum. Bence daha da fazladır. Ama, bu konu maalesef akademik bir çabaya dönüşmemiş. Keşke akademisyen olsaydım ve sırf bu konu üzerinde bir çalışma yapsaydım.
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Մահմետական հայերու համար 1–2 միլիոն, գաղտնի հայերու համար 300 հազարէն 1 միլիոն թիւերը կը տրուին: Բնականաբար այս թիւերը գիտական եւ ստոյգ չեն:
- "500 Bi̇n Kri̇pto Ermeni̇ Var". Odatv (in Turkish). 23 September 2009. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
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- Mkrtchyan, Gayane (28 October 2014). "The "Armenian Question": Specialist says political changes bring chance for reclaiming ethnic roots for Armenians in Turkey". ArmeniaNow. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015.
- Danielyan, Diana (1 July 2011). "Հնարավո՞ր է արթացնել Թուրքիայի մուսուլմանացած հայերին [Is the awakening of Islamized Armenians in Turkey possible?]". Azg Daily. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
Դաղչը զարմանալի թիվ է մատնանշում. տարբեր հաշվարկների համաձայնՙ Թուրքիայում 3–5 մլն մուսուլմանացած հայեր կան:
- Danielyan, Diana (1 July 2011). ""Azg": Is the awakening of Islamized Armenians in Turkey possible?". Hayern Aysor. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
Dagch says according to different calculations, there are 3–5 million Islamized Armenians in Turkey
- "More than half of 4–5 million Islamized Armenians confess that their ancestors have been Armenian". Public Radio of Armenia. 5 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
- Hadjian, Avedis (2018). Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781788311991
- Melkonyan, Ruben (2008). "The Problem of Islamized Armenians in Turkey" (PDF). Yerevan: Noravank Foundation.
- Melkonyan, Ruben (2009). Իսլամացված հայերի խնդիրների շուրջ [On the Issues of Islamized Armenians] (in Armenian). Yerevan: Noravank Foundation.
- Altınay, Ayşe Gül; Turkyilmaz, Yektan (2011). "Unraveling layers of gendered silencing: Converted Armenian survivors of the 1915 catastrophe". In Singer, Amy; Neumann, Christoph K.; Somel, Selcuk Aksin. Untold Histories of the Middle East: Recovering Voices from the 19th and 20th Centuries. SOAS/Routledge Studies on the Middle East. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 9780203845363.
- Altınay, Ayşe Gül; Çetin, Fethiye (2014). The Grandchildren: The Hidden Legacy of 'Lost' Armenians in Turkey. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1412853910.