The Ottoman authorities distributed to Muslims not only Armenian orphans, but also those whose parents were still alive. For example, during the exile of Armenians from Marzvan, Amasya and Tokat, the government officials separated the children from the caravans and ordered their exiled parents to continue their journey. Then they advertised among the Muslim population of the surrounding villages to take the Armenian child of their choice.

H Hovakimyan transmits that the forced Islamization of Armenians in the vilayet of Trabzon also spread mainly to children. “With the displacement and extermination of Armenians, forced Islamization also took place, which was only a means to maintain physical existence. Many people were prepared to accept Islamism, but it was not applied to the elders, but only to the younger ones.” It should be noted that despite the state of war, the Turkish government tried to give Armenian orphans to Turkish orphanages. The interest of the Ottoman rulers in taking Armenian children to Turkish orphanages was due to their desire to Islamize and assimilate them, as European, American and missionary orphanages were also operating in the territory of the Ottoman Empire at that time.

Jemal Pasha, one of the leaders of the Young Turks, was particularly active in the issue of Turkification of Armenian orphans. On his initiative, an orphanage was founded in the Jesuit monastery “Ayin-Tura” in Lebanon, where they gathered about 1200 Armenian children for the purpose of Islamization and Turkification. Cemal Pasha invited the famous pan-Turkish writer Halide Edip to give Islamic and Turkish education to Armenian children.

We find valuable information about the Ayin Tura orphanage and the Turkification of Armenian orphans from Toros Tadevosyan, the former “san” of this orphanage, in a letter to the famous historian John Kirakosyan in 1983.

The author of the letter is one of the 1200 Armenian children who were gathered in the orphanage “Ayin-Tura” by the order of Jemal Pasha. tells Tadevosyan. “Immediately after we were brought there, they turned us into Turks, changed our names, divided us into classes. Guest teachers from Constantinople started training with us. They strictly forbade us to speak Armenian. Special class captains were appointed from among the adults who were ordered to list Armenian speakers for punishment. These elders faithfully carried out their duties. Every evening, when all the children were gathered with the workers of ZARYA and all shouted three times at the same time, at that solemn hour, the list of Armenian speakers of the day was read and the speaker was punished every day until all the children stopped speaking Armenian. Speaking of the education of Armenian children gathered at the orphanage, T. Tadevossian notes:

  “We are brought up by sectarian Turks, we have learned strong national chauvinistic songs, glorifying the past and present of the Turkish nation, and glorifying pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism. More than sixty years have passed, and I still remember the individual quartets of these songs.” It also appears from the genocide survivor’s memoirs that after the defeat, as the Turks fled, they ordered Riza Bey, the orphanage’s pharmacist, to kill all the children in the orphanage by poisoning the food. However, Riza Bey, a Turkic Bulgarian, did not commit this crime, as he later told one of the students of the orphanage, whom he met by chance in Poland.

During the years of the Genocide, the forced Islamization and Turkification of Armenian children also took place throughout Muslim society. The motivation for the “rescue” of Armenian children by Muslims was not humanistic, but self-serving. By abducting and assimilating Armenian children, Turkish and Kurdish peasants, on the one hand, acquired free labor, and on the other hand, the girls especially filled their harems. According to the Islamic-Turkish marriage customs, the boy’s side simply bought the bride by paying a certain amount to her parents. Having acquired Armenian girls, they then married them to their own sons, thus avoiding the heavy burden of paying the marriage “dowry”.

In 2009, the much-discussed book by journalist-researcher Murad Bardakç was published in Turkey, which contains a number of previously unpublished documents, writings and his personal notes from Talaat Pasha’s personal archives.

– In particular, in the book there is a note written in Talaat’s hand, entitled “Armenian Orphans”, where he indicates how many Armenian orphans were separated from Muslim families in which state:

 Karin province: 500

Province of Adana: 90

Diyarbakır Province: 1800

Province of Trabzon: 2292

Province of Sebastia: 1,500

Province of Canik : 561

Marash Province: 25

  It is also assumed that this was not a complete list, but Talaat simply entered the data received from the provinces, which was then filled in.

In conclusion:

  The forced Islamization and Turkification of children from non-Muslim nations had deep roots in the Ottoman Empire. Children were a convenient target for conversion. During the years of the Armenian genocide, the forced Islamization and assimilation of Armenian children was carried out on two levels: by the state and by the general public. The Ottoman authorities took over Turkish state orphanages to Islamize and Turkify Armenian children, and the state, with its own structures and methods, distributed the children to the Muslim population. During the years of the Armenian Genocide, the forced Islamization of Armenian orphans was a state policy and the focus of attention of various high-ranking Turkish leaders. 

In addition, various layers of Muslim society also played an extremely important role in the forced Islamization of Armenian orphans.

Ashkhen Virabian

Journalist-analyst of Western Armenia TV