I recently read news
about the last declarations of the Armenian patriarch of Turkey, (2 news from Collectif Van, in French, one is the translation of H. Sassounian’s article
in California Courrier of the 7th of june).
I thought it was time to write what I’ve noticed about the Armenians of Turkey as I am myself from Turkey and experienced both “in & out” points of view about them. Vast subject, and often weird, but let’s try.
1st thing that come to my mind is a French expression meaning highly delicate & uncomfortable position : “le cul entre deux chaises” (literally translated : bottom between 2 chairs).
IN Turkey of course, they are daily torn between their identity to live in, and the threaten represented by this very same identity; between a natural love for the land they live on since long and the risk this very same land is to them, regardless to the legitimacy of their presence there… etc To shorten the list : permanent fight on the wire (or blade) of the razor - another French expression.
So prudence is a natural aspect of them and this is why any high and strong claim is so remarkable there, especially those days where craziness has reached new tops again.
I had no particular memories of Turkey except when I went back there, aged 10, for a family wedding. Although my parents were like back at a home “sweet” home there, I didn’t fell at ease AT ALL. I understood some Turkish language and could speak a few when necessary, and as I communicated easily with people, parents kept reminding us “don’t say you’re Armenian” as the most natural thing to be done there. This was difficult because people always asked why we left Turkey if we were Turkish and not French etc. And often I couldn’t help telling that we were Armenians, but then my interlocutors didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about, and it was despairing to try explaining it ! Far from being a drama, today I think it’s maybe simply my accent that didn’t help them to understand me ! lol
Anyway, this return to a “homeland” so unknown and strange, is a rather weird and unpleasant experience for me.
Apart from that, Armenian community of Turkey has most of the strong Armenian characteristics (like in other countries I guess) : very organized for sure, particularly traditional, extreme solidarity (in comparison 1000 times much more fraternal and generous than what I saw in France), and yet remarkably successful in this rather “hostile” context. Oh forgot to tell, they’re also very much “Armenian” in being so arrogant and proud of themselves, believing that they are the bests - in private of course, they can also be diplomacy champion with their chameleon capacities :o)
I often noticed the more welcoming reactions of my relatives when they discover that one or another Armenian they know is from Turkey, the ultimate jackpot being when they come from the same region of Turkey, Haaaa Kastamontsi !! lol
Bah, it’s human after all ! Life can be so much crushing for individuals that there’s no harm in being a little pretentious : if we don’t raise up ourselves sometimes, no one would do it for us !
So this is how I see Armenians of Turkey : in spite of their risky situation they manage to succeed in life, remain Armenians, be happy and enjoy life as much as they can, but discrete.
Discrete, looks like it’s also how other Armenians qualify them, to speak politically correct.
I learnt it recently, in a little party given by France-Arménie for celebrating the big special number
of the magazine on Armenia they launched this year (Année de l’Arménie oblige).
As I’d arrived late, I stood with the last ones remaining after eating, and was introduced to some other colleagues of the magazine. Amongst them was another Armenian from Turkey who particularly contributed to the special work. One of the magazine’s responsible was then surprised that amongst the few persons that we were, 2 born in Turkey were present, and that seem exceptional to her. I asked why, and all the others became a little embarrassed in explaining that Armenians of Turkey are generally less present or “visible”, that they stood much more discrete in Armenian cause and activities. Uhum…
Not that it’s not true, as for me I have not followed everything Armenian in my arounds until few years ago (I began getting more involved after 22 while I was ending university) and only when I appreciated to do it. Until then I must confess that I rather stood far away from what seem to be a closed world, and not very welcoming the ones who weren’t like them or thinking like them.
Plus, with all the noise made against Turkish attitude, I also felt ashamed of being from there and didn’t feel helped by the others on that. Was like the biggest shame to have… and as my name is not a –ian finishing one, it was hard to hide it (you know the story of Atatürk ‘standardization’ of names, for mine : it kept the Armenian radical Hacik pronounced Khatchik in Turkish, but inherited the Turkish –oglu ending meaning “son of”, becoming Hacikoglu and nearly completing the voyels collection of our name).
15 years ago, the main speaker of Parisian haygagan radio aypfm,
Hagop Balian, not to name it, was even famous for regularly badly criticize the Armenians of Turkey. Things are not so obvious against them now, but ambiguous attitude has some traces still. I assisted few months ago, to a conference given by Claire Mouradian (remarkable historian
) on the Armenian diaspora of France. She mentioned each international Armenian communities showing how they evolved in comparison with what happened to the French one… and not even once she mentioned the Armenians of Turkey. Why ?
Even the last movie of Guediguian, “le voyage en Arménie” that I really appreciated despite of it, once showed a shocking critic against Armenians of Turkey (basically the character that was an Armenian from Turkey was only deserving contempt, simply because born in Turkey!).
Why ? It’s like being twice guilty, and targeted (for turks, and for other Armenians)
I can’t clearly explain it, but there’s something toward them that remains taboo and it’s unfair ! Despite its pejorative consonance, I get used to my name (of course!) and somehow I am even proud of it because it’s a symbol of a specific history. I don't approve this “internal critic” : after all Armenians of Turkey are basically the very few ones that have remained on their ancestral land. This is also the land where we come from, no one would deny that today’s Armenia is a little remaining part of our original territory, and where do you think the other parts are today ? For sure Armenians of Turkey share (like others in their respective countries) some characteristics of their living land, Turkey, and that can be hard to swallow but is it worth those kind of prejudices ?
Another conference took place in march, about Armenian literature and publishing, reuniting 4 Armenian publishers : Krikor Beledian Armenian writer in France, Sargis Khatchents publisher from Armenia "Sargis Khatchents Aibbengim" Publishing House, Haroutioun Kurkdjian learning books writer and publisher from Greece, and the last one from Turkey Rober Koptas of Aras Publishing
. Anahid Ter Minassian made a few translations cause most of the time they use the common language of Armenian :o)
Very interesting conference by the way (nice open-minded vision of how should evolve Armenian literature). When Rober Koptas spoke, he somehow surprised the assembly, when he said how they translated Armenian writers in Turkish. In front of some weird (unclear) critical questions, he was lead to explain a basic fact : Armenians in Turkey don’t consider themselves a diaspora, they feel at home there, although Turkish Government is working so hard on marginalizing them. They are the ones that didn’t leave the “homeland” in 1915, consider it a chance or not, this is their history, and their fate doesn't appear shiny as time passes.
This said, stay cool, I’m not saying that I’m despised here in France because of my origins, fortunately there are a majority of reasonable people. But as a French citizen, Armenian rooted person, born in Turkey, I had the opportunity to notice those things and took the occasion to mention them here. Only hope it contributes to mutual understanding.
I must also confess that personally meeting with Turkish here may induce a sort of mistrust. It’s understandable I think, but it’s a reaction we must also go beyond of, for simple human reasons. Even if super-armenians we are, let’s keep human qualities ;o)
The End (ouf!)