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The fear of the Armenians in Turkey - and their anger at the Germans

02.04.2015

They were sent on death marches into the desert, beaten to death or shot: the atrocities against the Armenians began 100 years ago. Some descendants of the survivors in Turkey still live in fear today. And they demand an apology from Germany. From Can Merey

Hardly any of his ancestors survived the massacres of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. 100 years ago, Gafur Türkay's grandfather was one of the lucky few. The grandson is 50 years old today, sitting in the courtyard of the St. Giragos Church (Surp Giragos) in the south-east Turkish Kurdish metropolis of Diyarbakir in the spring sun. When asked what life is like for the descendants in Turkey today, he replies: "If the term" Armenians "is still used as an insult, you can imagine how difficult it is."

Türkay alludes to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Before he was elected to office in August, the President said that although he was a Turk, he had been scolded a lot, a Georgian, for example, or even “uglier things”: namely an Armenian.

Türkay has hardly hidden grudges - also against Germany. The 50-year-old is on the board of the St. Giragos Church Foundation. The largest Armenian church in the Middle East was in ruins until reconstruction began in late 2010. It was primarily financed by Armenians who live in Turkey and scattered around the world in the diaspora.

The St. Giragos Church, which German soldiers abused as barracks in World War I, has been shining in new splendor for two years. Nevertheless, there are hardly any church services. The Diyarbakir church has only a handful of believers. A priest flies in from Istanbul for the highest festivals, where an estimated 60,000 Armenians make up the largest community in Turkey today.

Until the expulsions in World War I, Diyarbakir was a stronghold of the Armenians. "At the beginning of the 20th century, 60 percent of the population were Christians," says Türkay. "Three groups survived the genocide: children, pretty girls and master craftsmen."

His grandfather belonged to the first group. Almost all of the survivors converted to Islam - because they were forced to do so or because they hoped for protection from it.

The grandfather was probably raised as a Muslim by a Kurdish family, and Türkay's father even made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Türkay also grew up as a Muslim, but, according to him, knew of his Armenian origins as a child. He returned to his roots five years ago - and was baptized.

More and more Armenian Turks are remembering their origins. But only a few have the courage to turn their backs on the Islamic faith. “Some are ashamed,” says Türkay. "They grew up as Muslims." In addition, Armenians have been “murdered or oppressed” for a hundred years. "You are very scared."

In 2004, only one married couple in Diyarbakir openly admitted to being Armenian. Today, according to estimates by the Kurd Abdullah Demirbas, who until recently was mayor of the old town of Diyarbakir, there are 300 to 400 people. Most of them have remained Muslim. The actual number of people with Armenian roots is likely to be many times higher.

Ergün Ayik, the Istanbul-based chairman of the church foundation, says only 10 to 20 of these professing Armenians were baptized in Diyarbakir. The reconstruction of the St. Giragos Church ensured that people would remember their Armenian origins. “But many remain Muslims. They have families, they have a life. It is very difficult for them. " Armenians in Turkey are cautious to this day about revealing their origins to fellow citizens. "If it is not necessary, we will not say it."

Demirbas - who is running for the pro-Kurdish party HDP in the parliamentary elections in June - supported the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Church as mayor. His commitment to the Armenians and other minorities brought him a lot of trouble with the Turkish state, which to this day does not recognize the massacre as genocide - as Germany does not, incidentally, either. "For me it was a genocide and a crime against humanity," says Demirbas. "I personally apologized for it."

Türkay considers the question of how the atrocities of 100 years ago, which, according to Armenian data, cost the lives of 1.5 million people the "We shouldn't even discuss it in the first place," he says, visibly upset. "My grandmother once said that even the cows in the pasture know that it was genocide." The Germans - the German Empire was the Ottoman Empire's closest ally in World War I - are just as responsible for this as the Turks.

"The Germans are responsible for every drop of Armenian blood," says Türkay. «From my point of view, the Armenians have the right to hate the Germans for the next 100 years. If they hadn't supported the Ottoman Empire, none of this would have happened. " Ayik, the chairman of the church foundation, puts it a little more diplomatically. It is not so important to him whether the federal government recognizes the massacre of his people as genocide

or not, he says. "One apology would be enough". (dpa)