Genocided, Islamized, assimilated, and few – Tokat’s handful of hidden Armenians in this northern city of Turkey still face institutionalized and societal discrimination. Local Turks don’t give them daughters to marry, and the local government doesn’t give them jobs to work. The only Armenian monument, a cemetery, is full of garbage and human waste left by its usual visitors – vandals looking for gold.
Amberin Zaman, Turkey’s reporter for The Economist, has published a column in the Turkish-language Taraf (July 10, 2008) detailing what she saw in a town once rich of Armenian life and culture. In her own words (translated by Amberin Zaman):
Recently I was in in Tokat, known as the breadbasket of Turkey and for its lush green vegetation. Tokat has been a city with a significant Armenian population, especially before 1915. […] Armenians living in the sancak of Tokat numbered 22, 733. There were seven Armenian churches and a monastery. Between 1910 and 1912, the magazine Iris was published first as a weekly, and later as a monthly newspaper. There were Armenians here, even if not that many, up until the 1960s. [According to the Dictionary of Toponymy of Armenia and Adjacent Territories, there were 400 Armenians in the 1930s and 40s – Blogian.] But today it is almost impossible to find traces of them. Their churches, houses, and schools have all been destroyed. Those who have remained are trying to continue their lives under the Muslim identity. But of course everyone knows they are Armenians.
The “secret” Armenians of Tokat, whose numbers are not known, are having problems. One man caught between his two identities who spoke to us on the condition that we not give his name said that the biggest problem was trying to find girls for their sons. “The Turks gladly take our daughters,” he said, “so our girls are very lucky.” But there is no one for our sons, because Muslims don’t give their daughters to Armenians.” (According to widespread interpretation in Islam, while it is fine to take on a non-Muslim girl, the same is not true of boys.) When we asked whether the boys could find Armenian girls to marry, the man shook his head. The reason is that Armenians, in a very modern practice, do not allow intermarriage to families of relatives going back seven generations. “Because our numbers are so small, we are all related in one way or another, so there are no eligible girls.” That being the case, the boys tend to migrate from Tokat, while the girls become assimilated.
Another problem that has cropped up in recent years is that Armenian residents can no longer get work from the municipality. While in the past the Armenians, who have been forced to work in the handcraft professions, had been able to get contract work from the municipal authorities, they complain that they have not been able to get work since the AKP came to power in Tokat. “They only give work to their own kind,” one said bitterly. Although we were unable to look into this further or confirm it with non-Armenians, there is one shame of the AKP municipality in Tokat that is clear for all to see.
The condition of the Armenian cemetery, the last remaining evidence of the existence of Armenians here, is a complete disaster. As soon as you go through the open, rusted door, you come across human waste, broken beer bottles, and all kinds of garbage. The condition of the graves, which we documented on film, is heart-wrenching. Most of them have been swallowed up by grass, while many of the gravestones that are visible are broken. Some of the headstones have been completely destroyed.
“People still come here to look for gold,” said Muharrem Erkan, a Tokat tour guide and one of the local directors of the Pir Sultan Abdal Association.
We didn’t get a chance to find out who is legally responsible for upkeep of the cemetery ? the Armenian Foundations? the municipality? — or what the laws and regulations say about this. But in fact that’s not what is important. Even non-practicing Muslims know that one of the fundamental principles of Islam is to show tolerance toward other religions. Tokat’s AKP Mayor, Adnan Cicek, needs to correct this human disgrace. He needs to get a lock for the gate, paint it, clean out the garbage, trim the grass, and for God’s sake plant a few trees and flowers there. We know that Mr. Cicek, who was deemed worthy of the title of Mayor of the Year, can succeed in getting this done, especially since the rest of the town is beautifully kept and perfectly orderly. It’s too late for those who have died, of course, but let us at least show respect to those of our Armenian citizens who remain here. NOW! PLEASE!
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