The chairman of the Association of Philanthropic Malatya Armenians (HAYDER), Hosrof Köletavitoğlu, is a typical Anatolian man. He defines himself as Anatolian in his heart, his mind and all his emotions. For him, a true Anatolian is a good citizen. He feels himself a stranger everywhere else, even in Armenia. “I, as a Turkish Citizen, like all other Armenians in Turkey, wouldn’t think twice to defend my country from any possible danger to our land, just as our minority-member ancestors did at the Battle of the Dardanelles,” he said.
For him it is very important to know what really happened in the war at the beginning of the last century and to share this knowledge with the whole community.
“We were together, peaceful and friendly, for a long time. We shared our feasts and sorrows, weddings and funerals,” he said.
He expects Turkish authorities to have the courage to condemn the Medz Yeghern — the Great Tragedy — organized by the Young Turks in the Ottoman period. “Destruction, exile, sexual assaults, rapes and massacres cannot be erased by continuous denial,” he says, adding: “The inhuman, horrible tragedy has to be faced and sorrow must be shared. And it is important to keep both Armenians and Turkish civil society groups in constant dialogue.
According to Köletavitoğlu, during the years of tragedy, many Armenians were forced to convert to Islam. And he claims that the number of Armenians who became Muslim through marriages or adoptions in 1915 could be around 200,000.
In contemporary Turkey, there are hundreds of thousands Muslim Armenians. Some deny their origins; others describe themselves as ethnically Armenian but religiously Muslim.
Köletavitoğlu emphasized that if Muslimized Armenians share their ancestors’ painful stories with others, it will be easier for Armenians to be understood.
He said that the Armenians who survive in the region are trying to safeguard their culture and continue a struggle to maintain their way of life. “The Justice and Development Party [AK Party] made many changes but this doesn’t mean they have done enough for the Armenians,” he said.
The government, Köletavitoğlu said, has made many gestures toward Alawites and Kurds and embraced them. “Armenians also deserve this and must be embraced by our friends. Armenians’ arms are open to all friendly political visions without prejudice,” he added.
“Armenians do not need officials to say ‘genocide’ or ‘massacre.’ The world already knows what happened,” he said.
Köletavitoğlu defines Anatolia as a family. “Our ancestor lived in this family. By being torn apart would not change the reality of being one family,” he said, adding: “The Armenians here continue to belong to this family. Our goal is to continue in peace and produce for our future, as our ancestors have done for centuries.”
“The purpose of the mass killings was mainly the transfer of capital and property to supporters of Committee for Union and Progress [ITC] and prominent locals,” he said. For this purpose, he claimed, the Armenians who were the most populous minority in Anatolia suddenly disappeared and were cleaned out, along with their past, from the geography, from the community, from the literature and from the local history books, as if they had never existed.
He says that all the inheritors of the rich wealth, culture and values built over the centuries are silent, but have resurgent emotions.
According to Köletavitoğlu, official denial is the main reason for the Armenians’ tough stance on the issue. But if Turkey changes its stance, diaspora Armenians will be more moderate.
“The Armenians were here in this region for thousands of years. According to historians, all Armenians spread around the world come from this area. When we look closer at the diaspora Armenians, their ancestors were those who left Anatolia from the 1880s onward,” he said.
Köletavitoğlu explained why diaspora Armenians keep their harsh memories of the massacres: their surviving ancestors carried their shockingly painful memories with them. These memories were transferred to the young generations.
According Köletavitoğlu, wherever they lived, the Armenians were at the heart of society. They were involved in all parts of the life; art, the trades, architecture, industry, production, transportation, commerce, science, medicine, all kinds of agriculture, literature, food, music, etc. “They had always been a major part of the life of the country, especially in economic production that helped the country to live through for most of the last 200 years of Ottoman times,” he said.
Regarding the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the events of 1915, he said that he hoped a nationwide mourning would happen in Turkey. But he doesn’t expect any programs to be organized by the Armenian community in Turkey for 2015. “It was almost forbidden even to think about these tragedies and to wail for our victimized ancestors. One could only shout in silence to remember them. I will personally continue mourning for the loss of my family and community due to the killings about 100 years ago,” he said.
While flipping through the pages of books titled “Armenian Girl, Kurdish Mom,” he kept talking as his eyes began to tear. The Ottoman economy was dependent on the spoils of war and taxes. After the end of the 17th century, the empire won very few wars and began to lose strength. Some of its territories started to gain independence. Within these messy conditions the Committee for Union and Progress (ITC) became a part of Ottoman life.
He closes the book and says his concluding words: “When they [the ITC] came into power they tried to create ‘one nation, one flag, one language, one religion,’ and to achieve this they needed to dominate the population and economy, for the Turkification of the country. And to achieve this goal, one-third of the whole population in Anatolia would have to somehow be eliminated from this territory.”