Hidden Armenians

Hidden Armenians[1] (Turkish: Gizli Ermeniler) or crypto-Armenians (Armenian: ծպտեալ հայեր tsptyal hayer; Turkish: Kripto Ermeniler)[2] is an umbrella term to describe people in Turkey "of full or partial ethnic Armenian origin who generally conceal their Armenian identity from wider Turkish society."[3] They are mostly descendants of Armenians in Turkey who were Islamized "under the threat of physical extermination" during the Armenian Genocide.[4]

Turkish journalist Erhan Başyurt[lower-alpha 1] describes hidden Armenians as "families (and in some cases, entire villages or neighbourhoods) [...] who converted to Islam to escape the deportations and death marches [of 1915], but continued their hidden lives as Armenians, marrying among themselves and, in some cases, clandestinely reverting to Christianity."[5] According to the European Commission 2012 report on Turkey, a "number of crypto-Armenians have started to use their original names and religion."[6] The Economist suggests that the number of Turks who reveal their Armenian background is growing.[7]


A line of orphaned Armenian boys in military uniforms standing with sticks in Erzurum, September 1919.


The western parts of the Armenian Highlands, the traditional homeland of the Armenian people, came under Ottoman (Turkish) control in the 16th century.[8] Armenians remained an overwhelming majority of the area's population until the 17th century, however, their number gradually decreased and by the early 20th century they constituted up to 38% of the population of Western Armenia, designed at the time as the Six vilayets. Turks and Kurds made up a significant part of the population.[9]

Armenian Genocide

In 1915 and the following years, the Armenians living in their ancestral lands in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated by the Young Turk government in the Armenian Genocide. During the genocide, between 100,000 and 200,000 Armenian women were taken into harems by Muslim husbands and children were converted, forced into slavery, or kidnapped and raised as Turks or Kurds.[10][11] When relief workers and surviving Armenians started to search for and claim back these Armenian orphans after World War I, only a small percentage were found and reunited, while many others continued to live as Muslims. Additionally, there were cases of entire families converting to Islam to survive the genocide.[12]

Republican period

"After converting to Islam, many of the crypto-Armenians said they still faced unfair treatment: their land was often confiscated, the men were humiliated with "circumcision checks" in the army and some were tortured."[13] Between the 1930s and 1980s, the Turkish government conducted a secret investigation of hidden Armenians.[14]

The term "Crypto-Armenians" appears as early as 1956.[15]

Recent developments

Since the 1960s, there have been cases of Islamized Armenian families converting back to Christianity and changing their names.[16][17][18] Some have suggested that the 2010 mass in Akdamar Island's Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross—first time after the genocide—encouraged hidden Armenians to reveal their origin.[19] Since Armenians in Turkey are all defined as belonging to the Armenian Church, if the newcomers are rejected by the Patriarchate, they become double outcasts, not only from their previous Muslim Turkish/Kurdish community, but also from the Armenian community, as they cannot get married, baptized, or buried by the church and cannot send their children to Armenian schools. If they have made a conscious decision to identify themselves as Armenian, regardless of whether they stay Muslim or atheist or anything else, they face risks and outright danger. Relationships get even more complicated as there are now many families with one branch carrying on life as Muslim Turks/Kurds, another branch as Muslim Armenian, and a third branch as Christian Armenian.[20]

In 2009, the British MP Bob Spink tabled an early day motion entitled "Independent Inquiry into The Armenian Genocide" that stated that the House of Commons "is concerned about the welfare of thousands of Crypto-Armenians in Turkey."[21]


Various scholars and authors have estimated the number of individuals of full or partial Armenian descent living in Turkey. The range of the estimates is great due to different criteria used. Most of these numbers do not make a distinction between hidden Armenians and Islamized Armenians. According to journalist Erhan Başyurt the main difference between the two groups is their self-identity. Islamized Armenian, in his words, are "children women who were saved by Muslim families and have continued their lives among them", while hidden Armenians "continued their hidden lives as Armenians."[5]

Number Author Description Year
30,000–40,000 Tessa Hofmann, German scholar of Armenian studies "Muslim 'crypto-Armenians' ... who have adapted to the Kurdish or Turkish majority" 2002[22]
100,000 Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople "at least 100,000 Armenian converts to Islam" 2007[23]
100,000 Erhan Başyurt, Turkish journalist additional 40,000 to 60,000 Islamized Armenians 2006[5]
100,000 Salim Cöhce, History Professor at the İnönü University 2005[24]
300,000 Hrant Dink, Turkish-Armenian journalist 2005[24]
300,000 Yervand Baret Manuk, Turkish-Armenian Armenologist additional 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 Islamized Armenians 2010[25]
500,000 Yusuf Halaçoğlu, Turkish historian 2009[26][27]
700,000 Karen Khanlaryan, Iranian Armenian journalist and MP 700,000 hidden Armenians and 1,300,000 Islamized Armenians 2005[4]
3,000,000 Haykazun Alvrtsyan, Armenian researcher "In Germany alone, there were 300,000 Muslim Armenians. He insisted that today in the Eastern part of Turkey, in various areas of historic Armenia there live at least 2.5 million Muslim Armenians, half of which are hiding." 2014[28]
3,000,000–5,000,000 Aziz Dagcı, the President of the NGO "Union of Social Solidarity
and Culture for Bitlis, Batman, Van, Mush and Sasun Armenians"
Islamized Armenians 2011[29][30]
4,000,000–5,000,000 Sarkis Seropyan, the editor of the Armenian section of Agos Islamized Armenians, more than half of which "confess that their ancestors have been Armenian" 2013[31]


Most Crypto-Armenians reside in eastern provinces of Turkey, where the pre-genocide Armenian population was concentrated.[32][33]

Dersim region, officially known as Tunceli since the 1930s.


Dersim Armenians

Through the 20th century, an unknown number of Armenians living in the mountainous region of Tunceli (Dersim) had converted to Alevism.[34] During the Armenian Genocide, many of the Armenians in the region were saved by their Kurdish neighbors.[35] According to Mihran Prgiç Gültekin, the head of the Union of Dersim Armenians, around 75% of the population of Dersim are "converted Armenians."[36][37] He reported in 2012 that over 200 families in Tunceli have declared their Armenian descent, but others are afraid to do so.[36][38] In April 2013, Aram Ateşyan, the acting Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, stated that 90% of Tunceli's population is of Armenian origin.[39]

Notable hidden Armenians

See also


  1. Başyurt is the author of Armenian Adoptees: Hidden Lives (Ermeni Evlatlıklar, Saklı Kalmış Hayatlar), a book on Crypto-Armenian published in 2006.
  1. Arango, Tim (23 April 2015). "Hidden Armenians of Turkey Seek to Reclaim Their Erased Identities". The New York Times.
  2. Ziflioğlu, Vercihan (24 June 2011). "Hidden Armenians in Turkey expose their identities". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  3. Ziflioğlu, Vercihan (19 June 2012). "'Elective courses may be ice-breaker for all'". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  4. 1 2 Khanlaryan, Karen (29 September 2005). "The Armenian ethnoreligious elements in the Western Armenia". Noravank Foundation. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 Altınay & Turkyilmaz 2011, p. 41.
  6. "Commission Working Document Turkey 2012 Progress Repor" (PDF). European Commission. 10 October 2012. p. 24. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  7. "The cost of reconstruction". The Economist. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 24 June 2013. Although today's inhabitants of Geben hesitate to call themselves Armenians, a growing number of "crypto-Armenians" (people forced to change identity) do just that.
  8. West, Barbara A. (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 56. ISBN 9781438119137.
  9. Ghazarian, H. (1976). Hambardzumyan, Viktor, ed. Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia Volume 2 (in Armenian). Yerevan: Armenian Encyclopedia Publishing. p. 43.
  10. Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah (2010). Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (1st ed.). New York: PublicAffairs. p. 38. ISBN 9781586489007.
  11. Naimark, Norman M. (2002). Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-century Europe. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780674009943.
  12. Altınay & Turkyilmaz 2011, p. 25.
  13. Cheviron, Nicholas (24 April 2013). "Turkey's Muslim Armenians come out of hiding". Agence France-Presse. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  14. Hur, Ayse (1 September 2008). "Turks cannot be without Armenians, Armenians cannot be without Turks!" (PDF). Taraf. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  15. "unknown". The Armenian Review. Hairenik Association. 9: 125. 1956. Letters which have reached relatives in America at various times indicate that at least some of the Armenian Islamized persons are in fact "crypto-Armenians", in public completely loyal and nationalistic Turks, but privately waiting for the day...
  16. Zi̇fli̇oğlu, Verci̇han (23 October 2011). "Armenians claim roots in Diyarbakır". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  17. "Thousands of Turkified Armenians Revert To Their Roots". PanARMENIAN.Net. 18 January 2005. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  18. "Ermeni kimliğine dönenler artıyor [The return to Armenian identity increases]". Radikal (in Turkish). 20 November 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  19. "Աղթամարի պատարագը նպաստեց ծպտյալ հայերի ինքնության վերականգնմանը [The Aghtamar mass helped to restore the identity of Crypto-Armenians]". News.am (in Armenian). 14 September 2010. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
  20. Bedrosyan, Raffi (15 November 2013). "The Islamized Armenians and Us". The Armenian Weekly. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
  21. Spink, Bob (25 November 2009). "Independent Inquiry into The Armenian Genocide". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  22. Hofmann, Tessa (October 2002). "Armenians in Turkey Today" (PDF). Forum of Armenian Associations in Europe. pp. 10–11. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  23. Reimann, Anna (1 June 2007). "Armenischer Patriarch in der Türkei: "Die Armenier sind wieder allein" [Armenian Patriarch in Turkey: "The Armenians are alone again"]". Spiegel Online (in German). Retrieved 16 June 2013. Patriarch Mesrob II: Heute leben ungefähr 80.000 christliche Armenier in der Türkei. Mindestens 100.000 weitere Armenier seien zum Islam konvertiert.
  24. 1 2 Basyurt, Erhan (26 December 2005). "Anneannem bir Ermeni'ymiş! [My Grandmother is Armenian]". Aksiyon (in Turkish). Retrieved 10 November 2013. 300 bin rakamının abartılı olduğunu düşünmüyorum. Bence daha da fazladır. Ama, bu konu maalesef akademik bir çabaya dönüşmemiş. Keşke akademisyen olsaydım ve sırf bu konu üzerinde bir çalışma yapsaydım.
  25. ""Իսլամացուած եւ գաղտնի հայերը միատարր չեն", ըստ Երուանդ Մանուկի [Ervand Manuk: "The Islamized Armenians are not homogeneous"]". Aztag (in Armenian). 7 October 2010. Retrieved 24 June 2013. Մահմետական հայերու համար 1–2 միլիոն, գաղտնի հայերու համար 300 հազարէն 1 միլիոն թիւերը կը տրուին: Բնականաբար այս թիւերը գիտական եւ ստոյգ չեն:
  26. "500 Bi̇n Kri̇pto Ermeni̇ Var". Odatv (in Turkish). 23 September 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  27. "Prof. Dr. Halaçoğlu: Ermeniler Anadolu'da 500 Bine Yakın Türk'ü Katletti" (in Turkish). Cihan News Agency. 2 March 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  28. Mkrtchyan, Gayane (28 October 2014). "The "Armenian Question": Specialist says political changes bring chance for reclaiming ethnic roots for Armenians in Turkey". ArmeniaNow.
  29. Danielyan, Diana (1 July 2011). "Հնարավո՞ր է արթացնել Թուրքիայի մուսուլմանացած հայերին [Is the awakening of Islamized Armenians in Turkey possible?]". Azg Daily. Retrieved 24 June 2013. Դաղչը զարմանալի թիվ է մատնանշում. տարբեր հաշվարկների համաձայնՙ Թուրքիայում 3–5 մլն մուսուլմանացած հայեր կան:
  30. Danielyan, Diana (1 July 2011). ""Azg": Is the awakening of Islamized Armenians in Turkey possible?". Hayern Aysor. Retrieved 24 June 2013. Dagch says according to different calculations, there are 3–5 million Islamized Armenians in Turkey
  31. "More than half of 4–5 million Islamized Armenians confess that their ancestors have been Armenian". Public Radio of Armenia. 5 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  32. Söylemez, Haşim (27 August 2007). "Türkiye'de, Araplaşan binlerce Ermeni de var". Aksiyon (in Turkish). Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  33. Melkonyan, Ruben (27 September 2007). "Արաբացած հայեր Թուրքիայում [Arabized Armenians in Turkey]" (in Turkish). Noravank Foundation. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  34. "Armenian Elements in the Beliefs of the Kizilbash Kurds". İnternet Haber. 27 April 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  35. A. Davis, Leslie (1990). Blair, Susan K., ed. The slaughterhouse province: an American diplomat's report on the Armenian genocide, 1915–1917 (2. print. ed.). New Rochelle, New York: A.D. Caratzas. ISBN 9780892414581.
  36. 1 2 "Mihran Gultekin: Dersim Armenians Re-Discovering Their Ancestral Roots". Massis Post. Yerevan. 7 February 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  37. Adamhasan, Ali (5 December 2011). "Dersimin Nobel adayları...". Adana Medya (in Turkish). Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  38. "Dersim Armenians back to their roots". PanARMENIAN.Net. 7 February 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  39. "Tunceli'nin yüzde 90'ı dönme Ermeni'dir". İnternet Haber (in Turkish). 27 April 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  40. Ziflioglu, Vercihan. "My mother was Armenian, journalist group chair reveals". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved 14 October 2013.


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