ARMENIAN VARTO CLAN IN EUROPE

Noyan Tapan
www.nt.am
28.02.2011

During the Armenian Genocide a large Armenian clan, which was called
Varto, after its leader Vardan and which inhabited Sirnak province,
managed to escape the massacres and to shelter in mountains. After
that this group of survived Armenians, isolating themselves from the
rest of the world, began their struggle for survival which had lasted
for several decades. Over that period the self-preservation instinct
impelled them to break Christian prohibition and to breed in and in.

At the same time the members of the kin were fervent Christians. As
it is known, the widow of Hrant Dink, Rakel Dink is also a member
of Varto clan. During the personal meeting with her in May 2009 in
Istanbul we asked her about contradictions between intermarriages and
Christian prohibition, and she answered that the Apostle Paul had an
idea according to which that the sin made under constraint was not a
sin. Then saying that in case of intermarriages there was a major risk
of different diseases she added: "There are no diseased or mentally
retarded people in our kin and we consider it as a grace and sign of
God who have not considered our constraint sin as sin". The Armenian
community in Istanbul learnt about Varto clan only in late 1960s and
by the combined efforts of the then Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul
Shnorhk Galustian and the priest of the Armenian Evangelical Church
Rev. Hrant Guzelian, at first the children of the school age and then
the whole Varto clan moved to Istanbul. Of course, this initiative
of the Armenian priests faced tough reaction of the Turkish special
services which wanted to impede the revival of the splinters of the
survived Armeniancy. However, after living for about a decade in
Istanbul, Varto kin decided to migrate to Europe and today there is
only one representative of that kin living in Turkey - Rakel Dink.

It should be accepted that there are many unrevealed details of
the history of Varto clan, and there is almost no information about
their life in Europe. In this regard the article by Vecihan Ciflioglu,
Turkish Hurriyet Daily News newspaper's correspondent of the Armenian
descent, published in January 2011 is remarkable. The article tells
about the current situation of Varto clan in Europe. As Vercihan
mentioned he had recently spent about a week in Marseille where he met
with different representatives of Varto clan, talked to the old and
young members of the clan, and as a result he wrote rather interesting
article which is translated and brought below with some abridgement.

R.M. The representatives of Varto clan (Vardan in Armenian and Varto in
Kurdish), which used to be one of the biggest clans in South-Western
Anatolia, now live in Marseille and Brussels. The total number of the
members of the kin in Europe is 1200; the languages they speak are
Turkish and Kurdish. The only representative of Varto kin in Turkey
is Rakel Dink. Her father, Siament Aga, possessed thousands of acres
in Silop and Cizre districts of Sirnak province. The kin had moved
to Istanbul in groups by the efforts of the 82nd Armenian Patriarch
of Istanbul Shnork Galustian. Among those who moved were Rakel Dink
and her father Siamet Aga. The later, like other members of the kin,
could not sell his lands and thus, leaving them, moved to Istanbul. In
several years numerous clan tried to leave for the Soviet Armenia, but
later, in mid 1980s they started leaving for Marseille and Brussels. In
Marseille, like in Sirnak, 500 members of the clan live all together
in three settlements founded by them. The members of the clan who
has grown up in France are involved in various fields of activity -
from trade to politics. There are no more cases of intermarriage but
traditions are still preserved and daughters-in-law and sons-in-law
who become related with the clan must accept its rules.

One of the representatives older generation of the clan is Fidel
Pargev Yalic, who is the son of the uncle of Rakel Dink. Pargev Yalic
told that their clan had lived in Sirnak for centuries and added:
"there were times when we were the richest clan in the south-west; we
possessed thousands of acres". Yalic mentioned that in 1915 they had
broken off all the ties with the rest of the world: "We thought that
there was no more Armenian in this world left except us. There were
several hundreds of us and that's why, though the intermarriages are
prohibited in Christianity, we bred in and in, in order to preserve.

Kurdish clans in Sirnak took away all our property; we were flattened
out, besides, we were obliged to pay taxes. We suffered many privations
on behalf of Kurds". Yalic told that from 1915 to 1968 they lived in
a kind of ghetto and only in 1968 they learnt that there were also
other Armenians in Turkey besides them, and this caused unspeakable
excitement. "There was a young man whose name was Orhan Bakir. One
of his parents was Armenian and the other one - Assyrian.

He passed his military service in Istanbul and there he found Armenians
and learnt about the Armenian Patriarchate with which we established
the relations. But for those ties, we might have been living there
isolated till today". Yalcin said they had not had even identity
papers and they had not even known their exact age: "Later identity
papers were given only to the men of our clan, just for military
checkup". The other relative of Rakel Dink - Samvel Yagir added:
"After the establishment of the ties with the Patriarchate they wanted
to take children to Istanbul for educating them. I was in the first
group and Rakel was in the second group. But one judicial problem
has aroused: security services interfered when found out that the
children of the clan are taken to Istanbul in large numbers.

However, the issue, though with difficulties, was settled". Yagir
mentioned that the elders of the kin gathered and took a decision to
live their lands in Sirnak and to move: till 1977 the clan had fully
established in Istanbul. The members of the clan established in Sisli
district in Istanbul where many other Armenians lived. The privations
were left in the past; the Armenian Patriarchate took them under its
wing, but the elders of Varto again decided to change their place
of residence and in 1978 they sent a group to the Soviet Armenia
to study the situation. But the group, after returning to Turkey,
stated that because of the communism it would not be convenient
to live in the Soviet Armenia. Yagir presented the reasons of their
migration to Marseille and Brussels in mid 1980s in the following way:
"One young man from our kin took part in the military coup in 1980 and
then fled to France. When one of us is in danger we all rally round
him. You may call it identity preservation instinct, but, however,
the elders of the clan drafted a secret plan and set out. In two
groups and in different ways we reached Marseille and Brussels. Today,
though we live in different countries, but we are all united and we
are well-informed about each other". The representative of the younger
generation of the clan Karo Yalic (37 years-old) is the only one
from Varto who is involved in politics: several years ago he entered
the party of the incumbent president Nicola Sarkozi and undertook
political activity. No matter how far is the kin from Turkey, the
strong ties with Rakel Dink are preserved. Due to the efforts of Karo
Yalcin a number of events in memory of Hrant Dink were organized in
France and one of the streets in Marseille was called after Dink. The
question whether it was possible that Varto kin would rise a new wave
of migration, Pargev Yalic answered the following way: "We have no
problems in France and Belgium, but our heart is with Armenia, and
maybe one day we will take a decision and all together will move to
Armenia". Translated from Turkish into Armenian by Ruben Melkonyan




From: A. Papazian