[caption id="attachment_1258" align="aligncenter" width="569"] A family of Muslim Armenians gather in their home in the Turkish village of Norshen[/caption]
Reporter Avedis Hadjian encountered an uncomfortable scenario when faced with the task of interviewing a small community of Armenian Gypsy men in an Istanbul teahouse. Hadjian states he was unable to give an answer when presented the fearfully delivered questions: "Who are you? This is Turkey. Do you know what Turkey is?" He notes as well that many of the Armenian men could not give an answer either.
Turkey is home to a covert group known as "secret Armenians." This curious minority has been hidden to the public for close to one hundred years, and its population is obscurely estimated to contain a few thousand, to a few million people. An outward appearance suggests that these people are Turkish or Kurdish. However, the ancestors of these people were survivors of the Armenian Genocide, who remained in eastern Anatolia during the early 1900's. Initially, all who remained were forced to convert to Islam. Today some remain devout Muslims, some identify as Alevis (commonly thought to be a derivative of Shia Islam), and others are still loyal to their original Christian roots. Although this latter group must practice their faith in secret. Both gypsy and hidden Armenians share anxiety and unease over revealing their identities, even to fellow Armenians. Turkey is simply a dangerous place to be Armenian.
Deviating from social norms in Turkey can be fatal. In 2007 Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was murdered because of his firm opinions regarding controversial issues like the Armenian Genocide and Turkish hero Ataturk. It is no wonder that both secret and open Gypsy Armenians hesitate to make themselves widely known. Some Armenians refuse this title despite their admittance of their grandparents' Armenian heritage, yet are still labeled as such by Turks or Kurds who refuse to accept the idea of Armenian conversion. Some are open to their neighbors, while others conceal their identities to even their own kin. This creates trouble for children especially. Many learn about the issue from their peers and are relentlessly teased for being Armenian.
One such incident was described after an interview with Mehmet Arkan. He discovered his family was Armenian at the age of seven, after being labeled Armenian at school and returning home in tears. Initially, he was strictly instructed by his parents to keep this a secret. Today however Arkan says his home of Diyarbakir is no longer rampant with harsh racism. Government officials here have restored Christian churches and begun to celebrate its Armenian history.
Most regions don't sport this same developing tolerance, however. The province of Tünceli is home to the majority of Zaza activists, (a branch of Kurdish people who defy Turkey's authority over Armenians.) Tünceli was formerly known as the province of Dersim before the Turkish military violently suppressed a Kurdish uprising. This region today is especially tense: a vast majority of its inhabitants are living under a government which they despise. Also, Tünceli is speculated to have the largest population of secret Armenians, (approximately 2 million according to the previously mentioned reporter Hrant Dink.) Such tumultuous social, political and religious conditions supply daily stress and potential danger to Turks, Kurds, and Armenians alike; especially the latter.