The conquerors who occupied the Armenian Plateau in different periods adopted a policy of assimilation of Armenians, and one of the main methods of its implementation was forced conversion. At the time of the Turkish penetration into the region and the creation of state units, the indigenous non-Muslim population was in the majority and the conquerors had the task of changing the image and creating an Islamic majority. For this, the forced Islamization of indigenous populations became a cornerstone policy. Armenians, one of the main non-Muslim nations of the Ottoman Empire, were regularly subjected to forced Islamization, which at different times had different volumes. It is known that thousands of Armenians were forced to convert to Islam during the genocide against Armenians in 1915-23.

It can be said that Armenian women and girls were the number one target of abduction and Islamization during the genocide. By kidnapping them, Muslims were able to get rid of the heavy financial burden of the bride price paid in marriages and also to replenish their harems. Many of the facts about the Islamized Armenian women came to light later, when the Ottoman Empire, defeated in the First World War, was forced to take steps to return Armenian women held in Muslim homes.

Westernarmeniatv presents a series of stories of Muslimized women who have struggled for years not to lose their Armenian identity

There is no doubt that the lives of many Armenian women after their marriages to Muslims are full of traumas, and an interview conducted by Uğur Üngör, a Turkish researcher living in Europe, during his field research reveals a remarkable and striking fact.  A Kurdish politician from Van told Üngör that his grandmother was Armenian. The politician then added the following: “I could never understand why the sad and depressed woman cursed her own family and called them ‘Kurdish bastards’.”

As a result of the forced Islamization of Armenian women during the Genocide, a stratum of society of Armenian origin has emerged in Turkey today, including Armenian grandmothers. Hrant Dink said on this occasion: 

“Today, when you walk around Western Armenia, almost everywhere you will find a few families who say, “My grandfather and grandmother were Armenians”. 

You may come across people who have Armenian grandmothers.

Today, the fact that there are Armenian grandmothers in Turkey is so widespread that it has become the subject of modern Turkish non-fiction literature. The stories of Armenian women who survived the genocide and were converted to Islam, which have been on the social, scientific and political agenda of Western Armenia in recent years, are part of the genre of oral history that has become widespread in the last two to three years. 

According to ethnographer Harutyun Marutyan, oral narratives give voice to the voiceless and despised members of society. 

Even the decades-long policy of denial and oblivion in occupied Western Armenia has not succeeded in completely erasing various memories of the Armenian Genocide from public memory, and today they still emerge and sometimes shape Turkish public discourse. As Turkish literary critic Omer Turkesh points out, “The past has haunted Turkish society for a long time.”

Researcher Michael Skhudson describes attempts to forget the past as follows: “The past is, in a sense, and under certain circumstances, quite resistant to attempts to overcome it.”

 H. Marutyan’s assessment of forgetting the past largely characterizes what is happening in Turkish society today:

 “The past becomes part of us and shapes us, influencing our consciousness regardless of our will.”

Analyzing the memories of Armenian genocide survivors leads experts to conclude that they are largely “a memory of the collective and personal trauma caused by the genocide”. Women and children who were taken away from their Armenian families or ripped from their families, who changed their religion, language, and living environment, and who experienced the deprivations of massacres and exile, naturally experienced many traumas that accompanied them for years.

To be continued…

Ashken Virabyan

journalist-analyst Westernarmeniatv