“A Window to Another Part of Our History”
Turkish Armenians the topic at St. John’s Anniversary Dinner
By David Luhrssen
(Milwaukee, WI) “What of the Armenians left behind?” Ani Boghikian-Kasparian asked. A lecturer at the University of Michigan—Dearborn, Boghikian-Kasparian was the keynote speaker at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church’s 74th anniversary dinner. Her topic at the Nov. 15 event, “The Oral Histories of Life in Eastern Turkey After the Genocide,” explored the situation of Armenian families and communities that continued to survive in the Turkish Republic.
Boghikian-Kasparian found parallels between the Armenians of post-Genocide Turkey and the Diaspora, noting that the degree of “Armenianness” in both cases is a matter of choice. Although living in their ancestral homeland, the traditional heartland of Armenia, Turkish Armenians have become a minority ethnic-religious group with many ways to assimilate or not, of blending in or disappearing altogether.
Coming to her topic through her husband, who was born in Turkey in Sepastia (Sivas), Boghikian-Kasparian interviewed Armenians from that region as part of her research. “It was a window to another part of our history,” she said. As to how some Armenians survived the Genocide, she explained that some were hidden by friendly non-Armenian neighbors and a few were spared because they had special skills; many women were sold into marriage and forced to convert to Islam. Some descendants of those Turkish Armenians have returned to the Armenian Church and accepted baptism.
In places where larger numbers of Armenians congregate, community rituals such as Vartavar continued to be celebrated. Generally, Turkish Armenians stepped softly, maintaining some level of “Armenianness” without calling attention to themselves. “Many small measures have been taken,” Boghikian-Kasparian said, relating that conditions have improved in recent years, including the establishmsent of Armenian cultural associations. Even the tricolor flag has occasionally been seen in Turkey.
Boghikian-Kasparian’s talk capped a full program in observance of St. John’s anniversary, including a visit by the Vicar General of the Armenian Church’s Eastern Diocese, Very Rev. Simeon Odabashian; the singing of Der Getso by St. John’s pastor, Rev. Fr. Nareg Keutelian accompanied by organist Jan Kopatic; a musical interlude by parishioner Donald Rask; and a power point presentation by Nicole Kashian on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem earlier this year with a group of young Armenian Americans.