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An Armenian Named Talaat

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  • An Armenian Named Talaat

    An Armenian Named Talaat
    By Khatchig Mouradian
    June 29, 2013

    Talaat is the son of an Armenian Genocide survivor.

    I first met him on a cold January day in Lice (pronounced Leejeh), a
    district near Diyarbakir perched on layer upon layer of violence'first
    against the Armenians, then the Kurds.

    It was a day before my scheduled speech at a conference in Ankara.

    His family gave us a warm welcome. After all, I was friends with
    Talaat's brother, who had recently changed his Muslim name to Armen,
    and was taking Armenian language courses in nearby Diyarbakir.

    I do not remember how long I sat on the sofa in their quaint living
    room, at loss with words, sipping my tea, and thinking about identity,
    while my friends conversed with the family, diluting the awkwardness
    of my silence.

    lice2 An Armenian Named Talaat
    The ruins of an Armenian church, with Lice in the background. (Photo
    by Khatchig Mouradian)

    Talaat's father, Hovsep, was born in 1910 in an Armenian village in
    Lice. His family was butchered during the genocide when he was five,
    but somehow, he survived, and was taken in by a Muslim family, which
    renamed him Bekir.

    Bekir grew up as a devout Muslim, twice doing the pilgrimage to Mecca.
    He had five sons, and even named one of them Talaat' the name of
    Ottoman Turkey's Minister of the Interior at the time of the Armenian
    genocide, and widely seen as the mastermind of this crime.

    And now, Talaat, Armen's brother, was sitting across from me, most
    likely wondering why I had fallen silent after a few minutes of small


    I grew up learning that a genocide survivor was someone who made it:
    escaped the miasma of massacre, disease, and starvation, and rebuilt
    their life either in Soviet Armenia or in the newly emerging Armenian
    communities in foreign lands. These survivors often shared the same
    roof with my generation.

    But my encounters with hundreds of `hidden Armenians' in Turkey, most
    of whom, like me, are children and grandchildren of genocide
    survivors, drove home the realization of how incomplete that
    definition is.

    The tens of thousands of Armenian women and children who converted to
    Islam forcibly, or to escape death, were genocide survivors too.
    Often, they were the siblings of the men and women who escaped, and
    whom we now remember in Armenia or the Diaspora as our dear
    grandmother or grandfather.

    What made one in our eyes a Turk or a Kurd, sometimes an Arab, and the
    other an Armenian Genocide survivor, was fate'or, simply, luck.

    Many of these `hidden Armenians' yearned to meet other, `certified
    Armenians.' Some went out of their way to show documents proving their
    identity, seeking some kind of validation of identity from the latter.
    And many wanted a hug.


    Talaat's grandnephew, barely two years old, was the center of
    everyone's attention that day. His dark, expressive eyes reminded me
    of Armen and Talaat. I wondered what kind of Turkey he would grow up
    in. I wondered what he would learn about the fate of his
    great-grandfather Hovsep who turned into Bekir, and his great uncles
    Armen and Talaat. I wondered what he would name his child: Talaat or

    I hugged Talaat that day. He then asked my Kurdish friend to take a
    picture of the two of us. `What can I do,' he said. `My blood is

    We returned to Diyarbakir that evening to catch my flight to Ankara.
    Within hours, I was scheduled to deliver a talk, and I only had some
    incomplete notes. But I wasn't worried; I knew exactly what I was
    going to say, and what language I was going to say it in.

    That night in Ankara, I wrote down my speech in Turkish. Two friends I
    was staying with, Bilgin and ?ebnem, made sure the language was

    The next morning, as I faced the audience from the podium, I was
    thinking of my grandparents. But mostly, I was thinking of Talaat.

    Author's note: Talaat's story has been gestating in my mind since
    January 2013. I hoped I would be able to write it down after I visited
    him again in May with a group of friends, but all I could come up with
    was the title of the essay. Finally, upon reading news of police
    violence in Lice on June 28, I sat down and wrote it. Perhaps one day,
    Turkey will discover the strata of violent history in that region.

    For the full text of Mouradian's speech in Ankara, click here.

    From: A. Papazian