The forced Islamization and Turkification of the children of non-Muslim nations has deep roots in the Ottoman Empire. Evidence shows that this policy was practiced until the fall of the Ottoman Empire. 

Children have always been seen as convenient targets for conversion because by Islamizing them at an early age, it would be easier to erase their as yet unformed national and religious self-consciousness. Devshirme, the so-called “blood tax”, which was widespread in the Ottoman Empire and practiced for centuries, was also based on this logic. During the child recruitment period, young boys from the non-Muslim population of the empire were recruited, given religious and military training and formed janissary regiments.

During the years of the genocide against Armenians, cases of mass Islamization of Armenian children by the state and Muslim society were recorded. Moreover, there was actually an agreement between the state and society based on mutual interests. The great Armenian lover and humanist Fridtjof Nansen, referring to the forced conversion of Armenians, says: “The number of children who converted to Islam and were circumcised was very high, especially those who were caught by the authorities.”

During the years of the massacres of Armenians, the forced Islamization and assimilation of Armenian children was carried out on two levels: by the state and by the general population:

 a) Children were taken to state Turkish orphanages to be Islamized and Turkified,

b) Armenian children were distributed by the state through its own structures and methods to Muslim families for Islamization and Turkification.

Regarding the forced Islamization of Armenian children during the years of the Armenian massacres, it is rightly noted that for the Turks, these children were seen as a sought-after resource to enrich the ethnic genetic profile of the Turkish people. Thus, the girls were to become victims of Turkish and Kurdish harems and enrich their genetic pool by giving birth to children, while the Armenian boys were to be raised as Turkish Muslims after their conversion. Turkish authors try to present the policy of Islamization of Armenian children mainly in the context of humanism. Indeed, in historian İbrahim Atnur’s book, it is explained that the Ottoman government, realizing that children faced many difficulties in exile, resorted to “two methods for the care and education of Armenian children ”. One of these methods was to place the children in Turkish orphanages and the other was to distribute them to Muslim families. The Turkish author tries to justify the fact that they were distributed to Muslim families with the following absurd argument: “Of course, it was not possible to place all the children in orphanages during the war, so this method was chosen.”

However, Atnur notes that there was no ethnic or religious discrimination against Armenian children in Turkish orphanages. But in addition to all this, she was unable to ignore the explicit orders given by Ottoman leaders to Turkify Armenian children. One such example is the letter written by Enver, the Ottoman Minister of War, addressed to Talaat, the Minister of Interior, in which he specifically requested that Armenian orphans be sent to Turkish orphanages.

Written on May 9, 1916, the letter states the following:

“If you place the converted and non-converted Armenian orphans in our orphanages, I am ready to cover the necessary expenses from the military budget.”

Another member of the Ottoman government, the Minister of Education, sent an encrypted telegram to the Mardin governorship on June 1, 1916, stating that only Islamized Armenian children should be admitted to the Mardin orphanage. Undeniable facts about the state policy of Turkification of Armenian children are presented in the Ottoman archives. For example, in the document dated July 10, 1915, the following instruction is given: “Distribute the orphaned Armenian children who have been converted to Islam to wealthy Muslim families, especially in villages and towns where there are no Armenians, and if the number of children is large, give them to Muslim families who are trying to make a living and pay them 30 kurus a month. The data on the number and location of these children should then be listed and sent to the center. It is emphasized that these children are handed over to these families on condition that they receive a Muslim education.”

To be continued…


Ashkhen Virabyan westernarmeniatv