Vakıflı: The Only Remaining Armenian Village in Turkey
Vakıflı is the only remaining Armenian village in Turkey, located in the Samandag district of Hatay province. Armenians lived there before the Ottoman Empire, and now this village has become a place where their descendants come to visit. Together with My Armenian friends from Moscow and Yerevan we also decided to visit it.
What was the history of that village?
In 1915, the Armenians, who refused to obey the order of the Ottoman authorities to resettle, with the support of the French organized a self-defense at the foot of Mount Musa-Dag. People from the province of Hatay Vakıf, Khidir Bek, Biyyaz and Uezur and other villagers, decided to resisting the massacre, climbed the mountain and started fighting back the Turkish soldiers. They say that about 1,500 Armenians agreed to be deported while about 4500 Armenians from seven villages decided to resist. In the end, after a long struggle, they were rescued: the French cruiser took on about 4,500 rioters. All of them were sent to Port Said in Egypt. For four years, the rescued Armenians had to stay in Egypt, wait out dangerous times, and then return to their villages.
In 1939, Hatay becomes a Turkish province. Since that begins the history of the last Armenian village of Vakıflı. Residents of other villages migrate to Syria, but residents of Vakıflı remain in their village. Gradually, people from neighboring villages settle in it. Today, there are about 150 people in Vakıflı. The total area of the village is 5,500 acres.
For my Armenian friends, that visit to the village is a tribute to their ancestors and a return to the origins. This village is now part of history for them. When we reached the village, we felt the smell of flowers growing on one-story balconies and we were met by people who greeted us with sincerity. Not only the village itself is old, most of its inhabitants are already elderly. The livelihood here is limited to agriculture, so young people prefer to study in Istanbul. Having completed the training, they remain in large cities, realizing that they cannot find work in the village, but they do not forget to come here for the holidays.
The elderly Armenians sitting in the garden near the church of St. Mary notice us and invite us to eat. My friends immediately start a conversation with them in Armenian, while I am sitting and watching them. I do not understand Armenian, but I see joy and happiness in the eyes of elderly Armenian women.
As children, they got through massacres and deportations, faced with many sufferings. Now they sit at the same table with representatives of the younger generation and get to know each other. Undoubtedly, this kind of meeting is not the first time for them, while for us this is the first such meeting. We said goodbye to the women, getting incredible emotions . Then we continued our tour, going first to the church, and then delving into the village.
Every second Sunday of August is considered the most festive day in the village. That day, they celebrate the feast of St. Mary. On that day, people from all over the country and from abroad come to Vakifli. The village is also an example of the introduction of organic agriculture. Village women have created a cooperative that sells the products they produce themselves. Thereby, they help their household and cooperative.
The villagers speak the language of the Armenians in Musa Dag. This language is considered one of the dialects of the Armenian language. It is used by about 20 thousand Armenians from all over the world, but today, unfortunately, it is under the threat of extinction. The younger generation understands this dialect, but cannot speak it.
Before completing the tour of the village, we went to the mountain of Moses, from where we saw the unique landscapes of the village.
My Armenian friends were glad to witness the life of this unique village, but many questions remained in their heads. What will happen to the village after the death of its few elderly residents? Why doesn’t the state make investments in the village so that this place becomes attractive for the young generation? After all, both it and its people deserve more than one or two visits per year...