Turkish Writers about Forcibly Islamized Armenian Women: True Stories That Should be Known
In many works about forcibly islamized Armenian women you will be attracted by the fact that they are respected by their families and the society as well in old age. Nearly in all works they are described as wise, hardworking, neat hostesses. The grandchildren think of the dignity of their grandmothers often and bring a lot of facts. We would like to share a story which, in our opinion, is very entertaining. In Ahmet Onali’s grandmother’s heart (the owner of the Turkish publishing house “Peri”, famous for his opposing views) – a forcibly islamized Armenian named Fete – you can feel boundless love towards books.
“I can say, she was the main in home and even the people from neighbor villages were listening to her. She was from an intelligent family. The education of the children was too important for her. I remember something very well. Once, when I was returning from the school, I dropped my books and copybooks into the mud. The grandmother saw that and called me to tell a story. ‘Our parents left us at the walls, buried gold and money in the soil but took the books with them’.
Maybe tanks to the education of grandmother, Ahmet Onali chose the career of publisher.
Hrant Dink also was speaking about respect towards the forcibly islamized Armenian women:
“Each of them is a legend. They were dervishes of their homes”.
The number of Kurdish authors’ books about the Genocide, basically written in Turkish, such as Yusuf Bakhi, Metin Aktash, Serdar Jani, has recently increased. It should be mentioned that the Armenian grandmothers which are found by their grandchildren, are on the mother’s side, and not by father’s. It is because of patriarchal society and men’s special role in the society. In thousands of documental sources and research papers we meet forcibly islamized Armenian women, grandmothers empowered with exclusively positive features.
In 2000s a list of books appeared in Turkish literature: the main character in them is a forcibly islamized Armenian woman during the Genocide. In 2001, Germany, a documentary novel “My Heart is Happy with You” of Turkish writer Kemal Yalcin was published and the main character was a forcibly islamized Armenian girl.
A crypto-Armenian Sultan Bakirchghli tells the story of her aunt: during the massacres a Kurd kills her husband before her eyes, captures her and marries with her. Two children were born from the killer of his husband, but the horrible things she got through had been bugging her all her life.
“I will never forget it. I know that he killed my husband. I have seen that, he could have killed me as well. God should punish him”.
This demonstrates the feelings and distress of the Armenian women who had to live in the same house with the killers of their families, mentally suffering and traumatized.
In Kemal Yalcin’s another book “The Bride” we read the story of beautiful Siranush who was saved by a rich Kurdish man Nuri. Before becoming his wife, Siranush imposes a condition: Nuri must save ten children from her lineage. Thank to it, the lineage of Barsums is patched up. In Yalcins’ book, Nuri’s youngest son Mehmet Nuri talks about several episodes from mother’s life, which affirm the emotional experience of the Armenian woman:
“My mother’s true name is Siranush. After getting married, she was named Khanum. When we were young, my mother told me and my brothers: ‘Name me Siranush for once’ and when I called her Siranush, she hugged me and could not stop kissing and crying. When I was a child, I was crying with Mother but did not understand why she was crying. Sometimes Mom was speaking to the birds, mountains, ground and flowers. I did not understand the language she was speaking. When I asked her, she said it was the language of her mother, father and brothers, it was the language of the Armenians. The Armenian language was the language of my mother’s tears”.
The story of another hero of the book – Silva from Pazarchik – contains horrible details from her life.
“I had been married for a year, when the deportation started. I was 18. My husband was killed. When the caravan was heading to the Syrian deserts, my current husband Asan kidnaped me and brought to his village. First of all they changed my name. My name was Silva but my husband told me that I would be called Acher. When Asan kidnaped me from the caravan, I was three months pregnant. It was time, and my daughter was born. Asan said: ‘When this girl grows up, she will cause a lot of trouble. Either you will kill her, or I will kill you’. I was begging him for mercy but he was adamant. I was too afraid of death. I wanted to run away, but I had nowhere to go. I did poison my own child. For a long time the image of the child was alive in my mind. It would be better if I had killed myself. Later on my son was born. But I could not hug that boy at all and could not accept Asan as my husband. All my life after my daughter’s death I was suffering”.
The first book on the topic of the forcibly islamized Armenian woman was Irfan Palal’s “The Children of Deportation. My Granny was an Armenian”. This is a historical novel based on a true story, but the real names of the heroes are changed. In this book we can see a peculiar connection between Fatma (the Armenian girl converted to Islam by force) and her grandchild, Demir.
Already at an old age, the grandmother trusts her grandchild the secrets of her life. Despite her age, this woman remembers all the details of her life before the Genocide, remembers the forced displacement, the roads of exile, pogroms, Father’s murder and Mother’s death. She writes:
“The caravan consisted of 80 people. At the end only I left alive. Maybe there were also several girls like me”.
She remembers the moment of the men’s murder, including the death of her father.
“In a while, all the men of the caravan were killed. Two people were holding, while the third was killing. My father was killed the last”.
The moment of separation from her mother has remained in her remembrance forever. After the men’s murder all the women of the caravan were taken to the trees and were rapped.
“Before going to that side, my mother told me something, I don’t remember well, but she whispered something and kissed me. It turned out to be her last kiss. After that I have never seen, have never hugged and have never kissed my mother. The next day she was cold and died”.
Reading the works of this type, you can notice the following fact: the forcibly islamized Armenian girls remember their life in prosperous and safe families, remember the love and care they had and then they remember the opposite – humiliation and oppression. They were keeping in their mind the memories of their carefree childhood and maybe that helped them to withstand the trials.
Fatma was 5-6 years old when, together with a group of children, escaped from death. They reached Urfa and a Muslim family took them as servants. When she was 12 years old, she married with the forty- year-old son of the family, Dervish. In five years Dervish died and Fatma left alone with the children. In a while, because of the argument with the husband’s family, Fatma was kicked out of the house, but the children left there. After that Fatma had to work as a servant and cleaner in order to live somehow. In a while, the husband’s family returns Fatma home and after long discussions Dervish’s elder brother decides to marry with her.
Three children were born in that marriage, but soon Fatma’s second husband died. She leaves alone with five children. She looks for a job and finds a job of cleaner at the school. It is interesting that Fatma was the only working woman in Urfa at those times. Fatma’s children become nationalists and as always the mixed ethnic origins push them to extreme actions. The family’s murder scenes left an indelible mark in their memories and she was afraid of death all her life. That’s why she never went to funerals as it was too difficult for her. This can be simply explained:
“When I know about somebody’s death, my father’s murder scene emerges before my eyes”.
Irfan Palal’s another book “The Weeping Stones. The Death of Asdvadzadzin (Virgin)” generally tells about cultural genocide and destruction of Armenian churches, in this case, the destruction of St. Mariam in Sebastia. The priest Vardges is the main character of the book who has to leave his motherland and go to Istanbul. In the book, the author mentions about the forcibly islamized Armenian girls only once, after the Genocide, in 1950s. One of the heroes of the novel, the driver, mentions:
“Either we should leave this place or become Muslims. Holy father, do you trust Istanbul? Don’t trust, as the state of the people like use is the same there. You would rather convert to Islam and save yourself”.
With this small episode the author raises a very important and serious question: the genocidal policy was continuing even in the Republic of Turkey. However, there is nothing written in the book about it.
In calling attention of the public to the issue of the forcibly islamized Armenian women during the Genocide Fethiye Çetin’s book “My Grandmother” undoubtedly has had an enormous role. This is the most impressive book on this topic. The difference from other books is that it has both documental and art values. Besides, the book became a unique impetus in Turkish literature for going deeper into the Armenian theme and brought new vibrant signs into the public and literature opinion.
Fethiye Çetin is a lawyer and for a long period of time has been Hrant Dink’s lawyer. Because of leftist views Çetin has been many times subjected to harassment and was even arrested after the coup of 1980.
As a young girl, Fethiye’s grandmother (on the mother’s side) tells her how she has lived all her life as a Muslim, but in fact she is an Armenian and her name is Hranoush Qataryan. In 1915 she was kidnaped by a policeman who adopted her and named her Seer. Ten-year-old Hranoush got through the horrible memories of the massacre however kept them in secret to old age.
The grandmother was too bound with one of her grandchildren, Fethiye, and only when she was 70 years old she trusted her the biggest secret of her life. The reason why the grandmother is so bound with her grandchildren maybe is that she sees in them connection with her dead family. The words told Fethiye prove it:
“You are like us, you are like our family”.
As Çetin mentions, the grandmother had very good memory and every time when she was thinking of her Armenian family, the massacre and the exile details, she was suffering from stress. Many other Armenian women with similar fate were in the same state.
“Later I noticed that women with like my grandmother used to speaking themselves”.
Under the influence of these facts, Fethiye Çetin decides to write a book about her grandmother’s life.
The book “My grandmother” provoked excitement among the islamized Armenians of Turkey and in the discussion of the issue of the Genocide. As Çetin mentions, after the publication of the book many people were coming up to her and were asking for forgiveness. This affirms one more time the string influence of literature on the people. Where the scientific and political discussions have no impact, the literature does have impact. In one of the popular Turkish magazines, a young writer Elif Shafak has left a note on the book “My grandmother”:
The next book on the topic of the forcibly islamized Armenian women is the memoir of an ethnic Kurd Yusuf Bagi “A Girl”. That is a novel based on the memories of witnesses. At the beginning of the book the author mentions that all the described events are not a fantasy or fiction, but true facts. Mariam, renamed Fatima, was hiding her sorrow for years and only later found a reliable talker, her grandchild, Yusuf Bagi. Passing through horrible things as a child, Mariam remembers well her homeland- the village Karskab in the Erzurum region, her happy family, her father, mother, two brothers whom she lost.
The author of the book Yusuf Bagi writes:
“Fatima could not share her thoughts with anybody, she trusted only me. And when I started asking question, she did not refuse from answering them”.
However, as she was afraid, she asked me to publish the story only after her death.
She still remembers how her family was preparing to escape. There were cases during the Genocide, when the Armenians were anticipating the danger and were going to run away, to escape, to hide. Sometimes they had to leave their children in order to secure their safety. Mariam tells us how one night she woke up and saw a real stir in the family and realized they were going to escape. Seeing her tears, the parents decided to take her with them, but kept it in secret from the villagers as they decided before that they would not take the children with them. Mariam mentions that the caravan of Armenian refugees was hiding in the afternoon, but in the evening it was keeping walking.
“We were escaping from the authorities and from ordinary people” mentions Mariam. In 15 days they run out of products and water, besides, several Kurds know about Armenian refugees and start following them. The heads of the caravan, including Mariam’s father, make decision to look for products and prevent the threat from Kurds. As soon as they leave, soldiers in civilian clothing surround the caravan. They tie the men’s hands, fall them into a column of fours and order them to move.
In a few days they reach the collection point Mardin where they meet with other Armenians brought there before. They spend several days in awful camp conditions. One morning, the soldiers start separating 60 people, tie them and take them in an unknown direction. It turns out then that they were taken to be killed. Mariam remembers well her family’s murder scene:
“A small group still left in the evening. We were waiting for them. We were consciously going to die. I was young and did not understand, but other people of the caravan knew what was expecting them. We moved away for 500 meters from the collection point. Then we were passed to the hangmen. They had swords in their hands and knives in the waistbands. I still remember the blood on the knives and swords. The hangman who took away our group, was 40 years old, of average height, in trousers and vest, with black thick eyebrows, dark-skinned, with black whiskers and with a turban on the head. That man killed my mom and my two brothers”.
The hangman’s image stayed in Mariam’s remembrance all her life. She was suffering all her life but hid that from everybody, even from her children.
“My brothers were killed with the swords before my eyes. They separated their heads from their bodies and threw them in the pit. Before killing they were asking a question: ‘Will you convert to Islam?’. After the negative answer, the hangman was raising his sword and was accomplishing his awful task. Then they were throwing the head to one side, the body – to another. At that time I was crying, I was taken out of my mother’s hands. They killed my mother and brothers before my eyes. I was shocked. I was shocked and still crying. Not only I was crying. From the hundreds of Armenians, waiting for their death, somebody was crying and somebody was silent”.
It is obvious that the murder scene has left a deep impression on Mariam, as she was repeating it all the time. The little girl was also impressed by the hangmen who were making their job so calmly. This, better than anything, describes the overall picture:
“I was shocked. A horseman came um up to us and told the hangmen there: ‘Good luck!’. They were sitting and laughing as if they were slaughtering livestock. Without fear and shame, they were telling about their actions and were laughing. And all this takes place before eyes of little children who were waiting their turn. While they were speaking to each other, one of them noticed Mariam and asked: ‘What is this little girl doing here?’ The hangman Ibrahim answers: ‘Salih, if you want you can take her with you. I have many children like her in my house. If you don’t want, I will take her’. ‘That is a very beautiful girl, I will take her with me’”.
That’s how a seven-years-old Mariam falls into the hands of hangman Salih, who takes her home converts her to Islam and names her Fatima. But the girl was so shocked that could not sleep in the nights. As she mentioned the murder scenes and the hangman image were appearing in her mind all the time. In a few years, when she saw him, she got through that horror again. However, she told it nobody and was suffering alone.
“Of course I did not tell anybody, I was keeping everything inside. I had nobody to tell my secret. I trusted nobody.”
There is one more scene in the book when Mariam meets the hangman. Once, in neighbor’s house Mariam waits for guests and helps to set the table. Coming to the neighbor’s home she realizes that the same hangman, Ibrahim Gupan is their guest.
“When I was looking at the guest’s face, I remembered the moment he was standing at the edge of the pit. When he started speaking, I remembered the moment he was yelling at my mother. When he was laughing, I remembered him speaking to another hangman Salih and when he started smoking I remembered the moment he decapitated my brother Meliq. And now let’s prepare meal and lavish that butcher”.
The reason why Mariam was keeping all that in secret was the fear of the society:
“I could tell about my sorrow nobody, as if I told I would be eliminated. They would say that Fatima was still an Armenian”.
Telling Yusuf about the sufferings, she was affirming the state when the surrounding could not help her to get rid of that burden.
“Do you know, Yusuf, which is my big pain? I was keeping all this in secret for many years as I could not find a friend whom I would be able to trust. I was trying to forget everything, but it is impossible to forget”.
The series of books about forcibly islamized Armenian women also include a documental book “The Black Shroud”, written by Gunel Tekin. The book consist of several stories of islamized Armenian girls. The subtitle of the book already speaks for itself: “The Drama of the Islamized Armenian Girls”. I would like to speak about some of the stories, included in the book. Especially the story of Varter Tumajanyan from the village Kulvenk, Kharberd region, has attracted me:
“Before the massacre Varter’s older brother leaves for Russia and from there goes to America. At that time, Varter’s family and the whole caravan dies at the shores of the river Khizol. During the deportation, one of the Kurdish soldiers from Dersim, Jafer Tan, saves Varter. They marry, then he changes Varter’s name and names her Zeynab. It is interesting that in a while, Zeynab and her husband move in to Varter’s father’s house. They start watering the gardens and fields, as she was the only heiress of Tumanjyan family. The fact that she was living in father’s house was both comfort and pain for her. On the one side, the house was remembering her of lost family, on the other side it was allowing her not to miss them. She tells her granddaughter Shirin Tan about it later: ‘There were signs of my mother, my father, my brothers in every field, under every tree, at every stream. It seemed, I could see and hear them’”.
When Varter had to leave her father’s home, she suffered one more time. As other heroes, she also was in contact with the Armenian girls like her. As Shirin Tan mentions:
“My mother was in close relations with an Islamized Armenian girl Meleq. Sometimes, during the conversation, they were crying. I never wondered why they were crying”.
Varter Tan was trying to preserve some Christian elements and traditions, hiding them from the children and from her husband. One of those elements was the sign of the cross on the dough for baking bread. However, once noticing that, the husband bet her up and said:
“Daughter of an Armenian, they years have passed but you have not get rid of your Armenian character”.
In 1955, Varter’s brother, who was living in Chicago, finds sister and writes her a letter. These letters become the most precious things of all which connect her with the former family. They start to communicate and the brother invites her to the USA:
“I will pay all the costs, only come. I want to see you before I die”.
However, Varter’s husband did not agree and prohibited her to go to the USA. It was very traumatic for her. Her husband was sure that Varter would not return from the USA, and was afraid of it. After a while her brother died and her connection with the family was interrupted. Her daughter then writes:
“We never could understand her. We never understood her pain. My mother was always lonely and nobody was interested in her pain”.
Reaching the end of her life, she orders the family members:
“I was suffering, my days were black and full of pain. My whole life was a tragedy. When I die, cover me with a black shroud and with a smooth ground”.
The black shroud symbolizes not only Varter’s fate but the fate of all forcibly islamized Armenian girls.
Another hero of the book – Zarure from Ajin, whose name was changed into Meleq – was 7-8 years old during the Genocide. Getting informed about the start of the massacre, her family and other villagers decide to run away. During that Zarure loses her family and with three other girls dwells on a cave. However, in several days Kurds from the nearest villages know about them and pick them up. The new born baby, which was with them, died in that cave.
The governor of the village Gezben – Etem Ozcan- adopts the mother of the dead baby and Zarure. In several days, the villagers inform the military that the Armenians are hiding in the governor’s house. Etem Ozcan was forced to pass them the Armenian woman and assured the military that other girls were his daughters. The military captured the Armenian girl and killed her somewhere near the village. The governor, who saved Zarure, was nice to Zarure. In a few years he married her with a Muslim from the village Ordekli. They had nine children.
In the middle of 1990s it turns out that Zarure’s father is alive, lives in Beirut and for more than ten years has been looking for the daughter. One of the custom officials of the village told him about Zarure.
Zarure and father start corresponding and he invites Zarure to Beirut. Zarure’s husband was dead at that time hence she takes one of the children and leaves for Beirut. There she was informed that her family had been killed and only father was alive. Firstly he left for Syria then for Beirut and created there a new family. Zarure was too inspired by the meeting. She is the happiest woman among other women with this fate, as she managed to find somebody from her family and meet with him.
Another woman, whom I would like to mention is Pire Khatun. They say that despite good living conditions, she never was happy.
“It seemed, all the pain of her heart was reflected on her face”.
Like other women, Pire did not tell anybody the story of her life, and did it just in the twilight of her life. In her case, her granddaughter Sebat became the keeper of her secret.
“My grandmother Pire Khatun loved me very much. I was an orphan since my childhood, my mother died early. Maybe that is the reason she loved me so much. When I grew up, my grandmother was ill, she couldn’t work, then she went blind and could not walk. I was trying to help her. I will never forget the scene how she sits in the corner, calls me and tells about all the suffering and pain she had gone through”.
According to Pire Khatun’s story, after a month from his marriage, the massacre started. She lost her husband, brother, father and all the relatives. She was kidnapped by Khalil Dervej and married with her. As other Armenian girls, the people remember Pire Khatun as a tidy, sympathetic and kind woman.
The stories collected in the book “The Black Shroud” show one more time the role of Kurds in the Genocide of the Armenian people and that role was the following: to kidnap the Armenian girls and to make them convert to Islam. As you can see, all the Armenian women were trying to find their relatives and other islamized girls. Those who managed to find them, were called “happy ones”.
In the novel, published in 2007 “The Fear is my Ruler” the author Filiz Ozdem raises complex psychological issues of the islamized Armenian girl and her son. We can assume that the book is documental, however it is more concentrated on the psychological state of the heroes. This is psychological novel with reliable facts.
The main hero of the book Is Sude, who accidentally knows about her Armenian origins. She starts making research and finds out many interesting facts. After grandfather’s death, Sude’s mother knows that her father was an Armenian and that affects her negatively. The author describes this part in detail:
“Mother came in my room crying.. It turned out we were Armenians. I am 18 years old, my grandfather died recently and if we are Armenians, why did not we know about it before?”
Eighteen-years-old Sude started asking questions, but Mother did not have the answers for them. However, she realized that her grandfather had double life and double identities, and she wanted to find out the second secret identity. After that Sude started looking for her ethnic identity, but her family was against that. Especially Sude’s grandmother was too angry and was repeating that they were Turks, they were Muslims. Sude answers:
“You may think that nothing will change if I know the names of dead people, but they are not just dead people, they are my grandfathers, grandmothers and grand grandmothers”.
Original language – Armenian. Dzayn Hamshenakan Newspaper: July/August & November/December 2017
To be continued...