Watertown program to explore legacy of ‘Lost’ Armenians in Turkey

On Tuesday evening, Jan. 27, two authors from Istanbul will discuss efforts in recent years to uncover the silence about Islamized Armenians in Turkey, the Armenian Weekly reports. 

At a reception at the Watertown Public Library, attorney Fethiye Cetin and sociologist Ayse Gul Altinay, co-authors of The Grandchildren: The Hidden Legacy of ‘Lost’ Armenians in Turkey, will present their book, which was released in an English translation last summer. They will be joined by historian Gerard Libaridian, who contributed an introduction to the English edition of the book.

The program is co-sponsored by the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA), Amnesty International, Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, World in Watertown, and the Watertown Free Public Library.

Fethiye Cetin is a human rights activist who spent years in prison following the 1980 military coup in Turkey. As an attorney, she has mounted a legal effort to find those responsible for the planning of the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007.

Ayse Gul Altinay received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University and has been teaching anthropology, cultural studies, and gender studies at Sabanci University in Istanbul since 2001. She is the author of The Myth of the Military-Nation: Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey.

“Lost” Armenians refers to the fact that, during and after the 1915 genocide, countless Armenian women and children were taken into Muslim households and converted to Islam. In most cases, they subsequently did not discuss their Armenian past, and their children and grandchildren grew up largely ignorant of this aspect of their identity. Over the years, these “hidden” Armenians became outwardly indistinguishable from their Turkish and Muslim neighbors.

The first step in breaking the silence about these Armenians came in 2004, when Cetin created a sensation in Turkey with the publication of her book My Grandmother, in which she recounted the story of discovering the hidden Armenian identity of her grandmother.

In the decade following that groundbreaking publication, hundreds of others approached Cetin with similar stories of discovering their Armenian roots. Several of them have since published books and articles about their experiences and have sought to find Armenian relatives.

Along with her colleague Ayse Gul Altinay, Cetin conducted in-depth interviews with many of these “hidden” or “lost” Armenians; 25 of these interviews have been published in The Grandchildren.

The book thus elucidates an important historical aspect of the Armenian Genocide, as well as its continuing effects on survivors and their families. This is a subject largely overlooked not only by Turkish journalists and historians, but by Armenians as well.

The authors characterize this process of uncovering the hidden legacy of “lost” Armenians as a necessary part of the larger movement in Turkey to reveal the past in order to democratize present-day society. They also point out that hidden identities can be found today in many other nations and peoples.

“As we delve into the past,” Altinay writes, we should not remain ”blind to the many other forms of suffering taking place today.” It is important to guard against “creating new silences, while breaking the silences of the past.”

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