One hundred years of anxiety

As April 24 approaches, some narratives about the tragedy of 1915 have started to appear in Turkish media. On Monday there was a comprehensive interview with historian Umit Kurt from Clark University in the US. From Tuba Tekerek’s interview published in Taraf daily (, I learned that Kurt works with historian Taner Akcam and that he is doing his Ph.D. there.

The interview was about “Muslimized” Armenians and titled “Yuzyillik Tedirginlik” (One hundred years of anxiety). It is most likely that the famous book “One Hundred Years of Solitude” written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whom we lost a few days ago, inspired the title.

Indeed, there is a parallel between the “one hundred years of anxiety” of “Muslimized” Armenians and the “one hundred years of solitude” of our souls, because some parts of our identities and memories were taken captive when the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) decided to eliminate Armenians from Anatolia.

Kurt explained in great detail how these mechanisms of “Muslimization” worked. Armenians were forced to convert to a Muslim identity to be able to escape persecution. However, Kurt also said that there was a census policy implemented by the CUP requiring that these Muslimized Armenians should not represent more than 5-10 percent of those in the region where they were being relocated after being subjected to forced migration. It was like this within the borders of Anatolia as well as in other Ottoman controlled territories like today’s Syria, where so many Armenians lost their lives after being exiled into the desert.

Well, reading all this stuff may be a little bit annoying. These are still abstract stories. But when Kurt started to mention some personal stories then, it really started to hurt.

For example, he shared the following story: There was a brothel set up with Armenian women in Kilis during the forced migration to serve the gendarmeries and military officers. One day, Kurt received an email from a person with the surname Karamanukyan. They were a rich family in the Kilis region at the time of the forced migration. Karamanukyan told Kurt that his grandfather took his sister from this brothel after the truce in 1918. That story really hurts.

He spoke of many shattered families, orphaned children and ruined lives.

Kurt also mentioned something that I heard for the first time. According to him, some Muslim families adopted orphaned Armenian children in order to claim the family properties of those lost in the forced relocation. He did also say that there were also Muslim families who adopted Armenian children for purely humanitarian reasons.

But I am struck by the idea of the existence of such families who could have adopted orphaned children and seized their property and become rich because of these assets.

If one day we can fully, honestly confront this past and all these tragedies that took place in this territory, I believe our relationship with ourselves and with others will be changed forever.

Maybe then we will have completely different identities that will bring an end to the one hundred years solitude of our souls. Maybe then we will be free.