“There is something that we have forgotten…” Funeral service for activist of Armenian origin killed during terrorist attack in Ankara was held today

Serdar Ben, an Armenian of Dersim was one of the 120 (128 according to unofficial data) people who died after the two bombings that took place during a peace demonstration in Ankara on October 10. His funeral service was held this morning, and the Requiem Service was performed in the Alevi Mejet of Gaz in Istanbul.

Serdar Ben’s brother, Hasan Ben is more popular in Turkey. He died during the clashes between Turkish soldiers and armed members the Kurdish movement thirty years ago. I’m leaving the political issues and religious affiliation of Serdar Ben and his brother, how they accepted their Armenian origin, what Hasan had to do with the Kurdish soldiers thirty years ago, Serdar’s presence at the demonstration in Ankara and other issues aside…

Of course, since Serdar isn’t a representative of the Christian community, he is not “officially” considered an Armenian in Turkey, and our community, according to official data, didn’t suffer any losses during this terrorist attack. It is not clear as to how many of the more than 100 victims could have been of Armenian descent. People might not have known about Serdar Ben’s Armenian descent, but I’ll also overlook that.

The news made me think more about the following issues:

When we hear news about Turkey, few of us view that as information that is also related to the Armenians, and yes, the Armenians of Turkey. In general, everything linked to Turkey, but not directly linked to the Genocide doesn’t concern us Armenians because no matter how much we Armenians have realized that there are still Armenians in Turkey, in our conscience, that is a territory that has been entirely emptied of the Armenians and a territory with which we lost our connection exactly a century ago.

In reality, we know there are converted Armenians. Some of us accept them, but they only exist in the context of the Genocide. Do we really support them? I’m asking this by leaving aside sentimentality, the visits to Western Armenia and the films devoted to Islamized Armenians. Do we really want to get to know them or not? This is the question.

Turkey is in a war. Turkish soldiers and Kurdish soldiers are dying, civic activists are being arrested, and homes, fields and mountains are being burnt. At first sight, this doesn’t concern us Armenians. Moreover, our two enemies “are eating each other up”, and it seems as though Judgment Day has come. Perhaps the malediction heard from our old Armenian women being deported to Deir ez-Zor exactly 100 years ago is coming true…

But…

There is something that we have forgotten

Yes, during the Genocide, our grandparents, in despair, left many orphans on the road. Some of them stayed alive and lived somewhere, somehow and with someone, were exploited, or protected. They lived. They lived with the identity of a Kurd, Turk, Arab or an Armenian. How do we picture them when we refer to them as “hidden Armenians”? Do we picture them hidden underneath a tree or stone as they were hidden during the years of the Genocide, or are they invisible? Perhaps they are an inert and isolated mass that has absolutely nothing to do with the Turkish society, doesn’t have political views and doesn’t participate in the events taking place in that country.

But their children go to school, they receive treatment at Turkish hospitals, they serve the Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Lazers and all the citizens of that country in different sectors. In this war, they could have been among the Kurds under pressure and they could have been among the Turkish soldiers.

After hearing the news about the death of Serdar Ben, the first thing that I remembered were the bitter stories that the Turkish-Armenian boy, who was born and raised in Istanbul, told me about his military service on the Turkish-Iraqi border. Just listening to those stories is very hard without undergoing psychological suffering. Just imagine a young man, whose parents traveled from Sasun to Istanbul barefoot, and knowing about that young man’s Armenian identity, they assigned him to attack the Kurdish camps in Hakkari and personally followed the process, and that took many months.

There are many similar stories. After listening to each of them, you realize one thing-in reality, we Armenians (in Armenia and in the Diaspora) don’t know enough about the amount and weight of the issues facing the Armenians of Turkey. What’s more, to this day, we don’t view them as a part of the Armenian nation. For us, they are still the symbol and evidence of the genocide in Turkey, a sample that can be displayed at a museum. “Ohh, there are still Armenians there. Ohh, really? How touching!” We print some articles, prepare several touching and mainly exaggerated reports, post some photos of us with “Kurdified” Armenians of Western Armenia, shed some tears, there is a little pathos, make some patriotic “comments” on Facebook, and that’s it.

What were they doing before the “discovery” of us and them? Who were they communicating with? With whom were they sharing their joy and pain? To whom were they getting married to? Who was persecuting or protecting them? Were they full, or hungry? They have been and still exist in all parts, but at the same time, they don’t appear in society. For instance, Serdar Ben was “blind” (that’s how the Turks dishonor the Kurds) among the Turks, among the “Flla” (Armenian, Christian in Kurdisih), “tatchkatsats” among the Armenians, etc.

At the end of the day, even if we accept them, when we talk about the “Armenia-Artsakh-Diaspora” trinity, the Armenians of Turkey don’t fit in any one of these three.

They might not be hired in Mush, not be granted a loan in Izmir, be beaten in the Turkish army for being “of Armenian descent” and be called “Turks” in Armenia behind their backs, just like it happened during the Sasun-Moscow, Samatia-Yerevan matches during the latest Pan-Armenian Games and during other games.

In reality, Armenian from Armenia or Diaspora Armenian or not, for us Armenians, it is first and foremost hard to view an Armenian or a person of Armenian descent as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. Yes, he is an Armenian, but one can see the Turkish half-moon and star on his passport. Yes, he is an Armenian who may be a civil servant in Turkey and a soldier in the Turkish army…An Armenian who participates in the presidential or parliamentary elections; an Armenian who is obliged to sing the Turkish national anthem in school, and in addition, an Armenian who might be able to represent Turkey at any international competition, etc. He is an Armenian citizen of Turkey, meaning he is underneath a flag that makes every Armenian feel bad when he or she sees it. It will take us a long time to be able to view this group of Armenians just as they are. We will try to shut an eye on everything that we shouldn’t talk about or understand.

And the most important thing is that, like in other countries, there are good and bad Armenians, patriotic Armenians and traitors, as well as active and indifferent Armenians in Turkey as well. Some go to church, but they hang the picture of Ataturk from their balconies. Some say the Namaz five times, but get married to Armenians. Some do everything they can to make sure their children never forget what their forefathers experienced and tell the same stories to their children, and some get frustrated and say “What happened is in the past, why do we need to constantly look to the past?” Some are pro-government, others are pro-Kurdish, and others are Armenian nationalists, which are even hard to find in the most conservative Armenian communities of the Diaspora. Some are Christians, others are Muslims, Alevis or atheists. Getting to know them will require time, patience and nerves.

Nobody will listen, the world is busy. It’s a war…

The ongoing war in Turkey and all these developments imply global changes not only for the Kurds or Turks, but also the Armenia community of Turkey. Whereas the Armenians who remained in Western Armenia feel a war when they hear the sound of bombings and smell the gas that is thrown at them by the police, things are a little different in the Armenian community of Istanbul. There are more and more attacks on churches and the Patriarchate, writings on the walls of Armenian schools and at cemeteries expressing nationalism, a reminder about ASALA from the President and more. Let’s also not forget the two attacks on the St. Kirakos Church of Tigranakert and the screams of “You were all born from an Armenian” by police officers who opened fire at the Kurds in Jizre.

Of course, the Armenians of Istanbul slowly moving to Europe might accelerate the decline of the Armenian community of Istanbul. At first sight, this is good. They will be far away from Turkey, free from religious pressures and will save themselves from Turkification. But…the fact is that this mass will assimilate ten times faster in Europe than in Turkey. Hrant Dink had written about this process that is gaining momentum ten years ago and was right when he mentioned that, unfortunately, communities in free countries integrate into the given society more quickly and simply assimilate after two or three generations, unlike the mass of people living in a more closed community among the Muslims where they always know and won’t forget about their “difference”, that is, being Armenian.

Yes, perhaps at first sight it seemed to us that we Armenians have nothing to do with this Turkish-Kurdish war, but we must know very well that any war in Turkey, be it domestic or outside of its borders, is also a good opportunity for the authorities to kill every Armenian.

That’s how the Genocide was perpetrated during the years of WWI. That’s how the Armenian community of Turkey was weakened during WWII, and that’s how the assaults against the Western Armenians were organized this time. Nobody will listen, the world is busy. Even if they do listen, they know what to say, and that is the following: “It’s a war, it happens, the Armenians weren’t the only ones who suffered.”

Sofia Hakobyan

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