Various processes have been taking place for a long time among forcibly Islamized Armenians and their descendants living in Western Armenia, which directly and indirectly testify to the preservation of certain layers of national self-awareness and memory decades later. Especially with the development of the “identity crisis” debates, the stories of Islamized Armenians are being reported and disseminated in the press, statements are being published in which people are searching for their roots, for their lost relatives. The Constantinople newspaper “Agos” is full of such statements, and as Hrant Dink recognized, “Many people in Turkey today are lost in the maze of identity.”

It is interesting and at the same time natural that the search process is more prevalent among Islamized Armenians and their descendants. All this is a direct consequence of the Genocide against Armenians, because the Genocide itself divided people’s ancestors and led them to different destinies. Moreover, today there are also mixed races of a certain Armenian origin, among whom the phenomenon of “identity crisis” can be observed. Created in 2006, the program “I’m looking for my relative” is a sign of the growing development of the identity issue in Western Armenia.  The program was conceived and organized by the “Hatik” and “New Awakening” youth groups of the local Armenian association in Constantinople. This initiative aims to help people find their missing relatives through public announcements.  However, it is worth noting that this phenomenon is not new for a globally dispersed nation like Armenians. Still in the second half of the 1960s, a similar program called “Search for relatives” was organized in the weekly newspaper “Voice of the Fatherland” in Soviet Armenia.

Speaking about the formation of the program, Armenian journalist Aris Nalci told “Agos” newspaper that one of the initial goals was to search for lost relatives and roots.

“At that time, we were able to post 500 advertisements on the streets of Constantinople, and even a tourist from England found his relatives by chance through these advertisements,” Aris Nalci said. According to Nalcı, they want to expand the geography of the program, taking it outside Istanbul, to Europe, Lebanon and other parts of Western Armenia. By intensifying all means and contacts, they have succeeded and, as Nalcı says, the project has taken on an international dimension. It is now widespread in Berlin, Cologne, Paris, Beirut, in short, in places with large Armenian populations. More than 5,000 announcements were distributed in French, German and Arabic. A website has also been created in several languages where people can make announcements and call their relatives. The creation and expansion of the program naturally has a certain public demand and can be an interesting and revealing indicator for understanding the processes taking place in Western Armenia among people who have been forcibly Islamized or who have a certain part of Armenian origin.  It is quite significant that the program is being implemented among Armenians and has a snowball effect, spreading not only in the Turkish state but also among Armenians living in different parts of the world. The facts show that there are many people with Armenian grandparents who either know the truth about their families or are afraid to talk about it.

These are people who are experiencing an “identity crisis” after learning about their true identity, which has been hidden and kept secret for decades. And finally, we think it is not necessary to quote in translation one of the many statements published on the website, but at the same time note that the number of similar statements is growing and this could become a separate and interesting study material, equipped with both documentary and ethnographic elements. 

“I was born in Maden, Elazig. I know that my mother was Armenian and she had to leave her whole family during the black days in 1915. My mother told me that the survivors of her family live in Marseille and the USA. I know that she was from the village of Tadim in Elazig and that her name was Yeghisapert Tumasyan. Other than that, I have no other information. My mother died in 1978, carrying the longing of her mother, father and siblings in her heart. Every time I remember my mother, I feel very sad that she died missing her family in my heart. I want to find my mother’s relatives. Please help me in this matter. Ekrem Ü.”

To be continued…

Ashkhen Virabyan

Western Armenia TV journalist-analyst