Longing for Home: Bolsahay in Diaspora

 

Sunset over the Bosphorus, Istanbul by Maral Gazellig

 

By Anonymous Contributor

 

Whether at home or abroad, I’ve never considered myself  anything other than Armenian. However, within the fragmented and politically polarizing climate of the diaspora, I’ve come to learn that things are never quite as simple as “just Armenian.”

____________

 

My grandparents and I were standing in line to pay for our tomatoes, cucumbers, pastirma and cheese. While we waited, we were speaking in Turkish when I heard the woman behind us tell her young daughter in Armenian: “Be careful, they are Turks.” I couldn’t help but turn around and respond in Armenian: “Don’t be scared! We are Armenians.” Visibly distraught and disgusted, she looked at my 85 and 88-year-old grandparents from head to toe and responded bluntly: “Then speak Armenian.”

 

I am a Bolsahay or an Armenian from Turkey, living in the diaspora. I grew up in Canada, attended an Armenian school for 10 years and have always kept close ties within our community. My maternal and paternal ancestral lineage can be traced back to Anatolia for centuries. Mom grew up in Malatya and dad grew up in Istanbul after leaving Yozgat when he was 4. 

 

As a Bolsahay, I have had several encounters which have put my identity into question, ranging from the one in the supermarket to being labeled a Turk by some of my Armenian peers. Although I can only speak about my own experiences, I believe that Armenians from Turkey face a unique set of challenges when interacting with the Armenian diaspora, but they also offer a perspective that is necessary.

 

It’s estimated that there are roughly 70,000 openly Christian Armenian citizens in Turkey, the majority of which are concentrated in Istanbul. Although the word “Bolsahay” literally means Armenian from Bolis (Istanbul), Armenians from other cities in Turkey are also referred to as Bolsahay in the diaspora. Outside of the Istanbul boroughs in which most Bolsahays reside, there exists a small island that is populated majoritarily by Armenians. Although most residents only spend their summers on Kinali, you will commonly hear Armenian being spoken openly.  Here you can visit the Surp Krikor Lusavoric church as well as the many Armenian owned businesses.

 

Historically, Armenians have occupied important societal ranking throughout the existence of the Ottoman Empire carrying into present day Turkey. From the creation of important palaces, mansions, konaks, kiosks, yalis, mosques, churches, and various public buildings to occupying high positions such as that of Sultan, famous classical composers, successful businessmen, governors and deputies, politicians, skilled craftsman and director of the national bank of Turkey. 

 

But there also exists a subpopulation of hidden Armenians (often called “Crypto-Armenians”), who are of either full or partial Armenian descent. These cryptoarmenians were Islamized and turkified under the threat of either death, displacement, loss of property or a combination of those during the Armenian Genocide. Some hide their identities, while others are not even aware of their ancestral lineage. Although there is not enough data to accurately determine exactly how many Crypto-Armenians exist, estimates range from thousands to millions within Turkey’s actual borders. There have been many documented instances of crypto-Armenians reaching out to the Armenian church and reintegrating in their communities.

 

Spread out across the world from many diverse backgrounds, Diasporan Armenians face challenges of not only maintaining their identity, but sometimes embracing and understanding fellow diasporans who come from different, often complex upbringings that differ from their own.

For Bolsahays interacting with the diaspora, this has taken many forms, including the following:

 

  • Judgement of Armenian fluency: Despite the existence of several Armenian schools in Istanbul, some Armenians do not attend and many Armenians (especially those living in eastern Anatolia) never get the opportunity to. Some Bolsahays are fluent and others only maintain an elemental grasp of our language. Being able to learn and speak Armenian freely is often taken for granted by the diaspora. Bolsahays speaking Turkish is no different than Lebanese Armenians speaking Arabic and American Armenians speaking English. Many diasporans’ ancestors not only spoke little Armenian (or some regional form of it) but often exclusively spoke Turkish. However, they maintained their faith, culture and traditions. Certain members of my immediate family have personally experienced severe narrow mindedness regarding their level of fluency. Were they any less Armenian for not having the resources or freedom to learn their language? 
  • The misconception that we didn't suffer as badly as the diaspora did during in 1915: We all have (great) grandparents who suffered horrific tragedies during the genocide. For any Armenian to say that we somehow don’t share this dark chapter of our history is beyond insulting. 
  • Having to prove our Armenian-ness: Whether it is because we speak the “language of the enemy” or because our last names frequently don’t end in -ian (due to turkification efforts imposed by the government), we often have to prove our Armenianness as if we are some sort of lesser form. The reality is that we don’t need to prove our Armenianness. We’re living it everyday.
  • “Why did you stay?”: Many diaspora Armenians find it inconceivable that Armenians could remain in Turkey. To this I respond, if you could carry on the legacy of your ancestors by remaining in your multi-millenia old homeland, wouldn’t you? Otherwise, why is the diaspora fighting so hard for land reparations?

 

Trailer for Hrant Dink documentary: Heart of Two Nations

 

  • Bolsahay community centers: Many, if not most Bolsahays do not identify with the various political factions that exist in the diaspora. Therefore, out of necessity for an apolitical community center where bolsahays could openly speak Turkish without being judged, Istanbul Armenian community centers exist in Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto and many other major cities. Here, we have regular dinner nights, receive various Armenian guest speakers who discuss diverse topics, host concerts and other community events. 

 

On the other side, Armenians also have to deal with many different kinds of pressure within Turkey. Although there was a time where things were starting to look up after the assassination of Hrant Dink, Turkey has regressed and tightened its grasp on what you can and cannot say. For example, you cannot openly say that the Armenian Genocide is a historical fact because it would be considered “insulting Turkishness” under article 301 of the Turkish penal code. In fact, it is not uncommon for schools to teach students that the opposite occurred.

 

Also, most Turkish citizens do not know the role of Armenians in their own history. For example, they have an Armenian to thank for changing the way the entire country would write by adopting Latin letters instead of Arabic letters. They have an Armenian to thank for co-composing the Turkish national anthem. They have Armenians to thank for designing many of Turkey’s most important architectural marvels such as Topkapi and Dolmabahçe palaces. The list is very extensive and long. But Turks, like Armenians, are an extremely proud people. Therefore, one must ask themselves; do regular Turks know the truth and deny it or do they simply defend what they’ve been taught? Although the record on the Armenian Genocide being a historical fact is quite clear and unanimous in most of the western world, the Turkish government is very careful in voraciously denying the genocide. It is likely that they will never abandon these policies. However, this does not mean that the people cannot change. If they know the truth, I am confident that they can use their conscience.

 

It is no secret that life in Turkey is not easy, especially as an Armenian. Some Armenian parents seek to shield their children from the history of their people so as to protect their children from the social complications that the knowledge of our pain and injustices bring. Like countless other families, mine left our homeland for hopes of a better life, more opportunities, security and to escape the discrimination we faced in Turkey. In truth, you learn to brush off being a victim of subtle and blatant racism in Turkey due to policies of homogenization and turkification. For some, veiling Armenian identity has been a form of protection against racism for over a hundred years. However, escaping the discrimination in Turkey only to be viewed as an outsider from your own people is somehow more painful.

In the same way that diaspora communities adopt societal and cultural characteristics of their host countries, most Bolsahays are comfortable speaking Turkish and identify with many cultural aspects of Turkey. Bolsahays have managed to become important cultural, political, socio-economic figures throughout our shared history despite our often troubled relationship to one another and not-so-infrequent mistreatment of minority groups in Turkey. Bolsahays are faced with the responsibility of keeping Armenian influence alive through our schools, newspapers, publishing houses, businesses, architecture, art, churches and cemeteries. If they do not do it, who will? This is why it is so important for the diaspora to help support Armenians from Turkey rather than to ostracize them.

 

Yes, Bolsahays grow up listening to Turkish music, watching Turkish tv or football matches and consuming Turkish products. Yes, we are more tolerant towards ordinary Turkish people. We don’t have the luxury to hate. We know first hand that they are not necessarily “bad people”. Having grown up amongst them, we know that many of them are extremely open, hospitable and friendly. Associating with them or the culture is not an endorsement of the government and its actions, the people who partook in the genocide, those who benefited from our pain or those who continue to deny historical facts. We know who our oppressors are. But we also know that our millenia long history is intertwined.

These experiences have granted Armenians from Turkey a unique perspective. And the diaspora stands to gain - not lose - by understanding and engaging with them.

For many diasporan Armenians, the Turk of today is the same Turk they left in 1915. Therefore, there exists an intergenerational labeling of the Turk as the enemy. Although Bolsahays have gone through an equally tragic past, they recognize that a Turk of today is not personally responsible for the crimes of their ancestors. 

Despite the many positive achievements of Armenian diasporan political organizations, they sometimes engage in behavior that - whether intentional or not - exacerbates the divisions between Armenians and Turks, rather than creating a platform that fosters dialogue between them.

 

Why dialogue? Dialogue, democratization and free speech being established in Turkey is more important for the Armenian cause than many would believe. It is true that the powers that be and the Kemalist/nationalist opposition parties (such as MHP and IYI Parti) will likely not abandon their denialist policies. Therefore, if there is ever going to be a fundamental shift for democratization in Turkey, that movement will come from within Turkey, from the people as well as from the top down. This multi-phasic approach is what Garo Paylan, a Turkish-Armenian lawmaker from the Peoples’ Democratic Party is fighting for. He strongly condemns Turkey’s aggressive policy and its military intervention in neighboring sovereign states, particularly military actions in Iraq and Syria. Today, he is one of the few people who has taken the responsibility to protect the human rights of ethnic minorities of the region.

 

Inter-hostility: Being provoked, provoking or getting involved in hostile arguments with deniers in person and over the internet is tempting but often causes more harm than good. There is a way to discuss diplomatically with people who are willing to do so. There is no point in fiercely arguing with people who are not willing to listen. We must be willing to listen. Of course recognition of the Armenian genocide is vital because it is a matter of human rights, historical factitude and the inevitable consequences could be tremendous. However, countries besides Turkey and Armenia are not just now learning about the past. They use our pain for their own political interests. Obviously there isn't a single Armenian who doesn't want the Turkish government to accept its history and teach it to its people, but we realize that this shift can only come from within Turkey.

Turkey’s Armenians offer a window into the diaspora’s past. They are in the best position to pave the way for dialog and reconciliation with Turks seeing as they share the culture and are in direct contact with them. A popular journalist by the name of Hasan Cemal was a staunch denialist in the 1980’s. Today, Hasan Cemal has openly acknowledged, commemorated and apologized for the Genocide. Hasan Cemal is the grandson of Cemal Pasha: one of the 3 main organizers of the Armenian Genocide.

____________ 

I'm by no means a representative for all Bolsahays who often have differing views on some of the matters discussed. But in truth, I often fear for my family in Turkey. I fear for their safety. Yet I long for my homeland. I yearn to be able to visit our ancient cities; not like some sort of museum but to be able to live freely where we have always lived. I last visited my family in Malatya over 15 years ago and the taste of home has never left my mouth. Life is certainly easier out here in the diaspora but you can’t help but feel like you don’t quite belong when you’ve been cut off from your roots. As for having to prove my Armenianness to anyone; I know my history. I don’t want to stop speaking Turkish in addition to Armenian. I don’t want to abandon the culture we helped create. I don’t want to dissociate from everything related to Turkey because doing so would put the final nail in the coffin of us ever coexisting peacefully again. Much to the chagrin of many, we are more similar than we are different both genetically and culturally.

 

 

Written by Secom App

Comments

I am married to a Bolsahye and the article outlines several issues encountered by Bolsahyes that I have witnessed as well. However, there are some criticisms of Bolsahyes from the diaspora that are fair in some cases. First I want to echo the author’s argument that Bolsahyes have a very unique experience in their relationship with Turkish people and culture. I gained an appreciation for this when I was exposed to the community, which helped change my myopic view of Turkish people and culture. I began to see how Bolsahye relationships with Turkish people goes beyond the politics between the two cultures and highlights the humanity of both people, especially of Turkish people for diaspora Armenians like me.

I think the issue that the author and some Bolsahyes fail to understand from the perspective of diaspora Armenians revolves around language. The fluency of Armenian is not as much of an issue as the choice to communicate in Turkish when the speakers are both fluent in Armenian. This is not the case for all Bolsahyes, but I have witnessed it before on more than one occasion. I realize that it’s inevitable that the Armenian spoken will be peppered by Turkish words and sentences, but entire conversations in Turkish are what throw off many diasporans. This is especially the case for Armenians who originate from other diasporas like Lebanon or Iran, where my family comes from. While diasporans from these backgrounds may occasionally communicate in Arabic or Farsi, rarely do they choose these languages as their main form of communication. I understand that there are individuals who think in Turkish, making it easier to speak in Turkish, but there’s also a lack of willingness to switch to Armenian by some who have the fluency.

MA on Apr 26, 2020

Tevin Polatian – I think it is the “mother tongue” issue. If it is the language you speak since you were born, your brain doesn’t differentiate it from your identity and you think in that language. It would be a torture for anyone to be forbidden or be frowned upon to speak the language that they think in if they are not raised as bilingual. Even though Armenians in Turkey are still discriminated unfortunately, they probably don’t associate the language with that pain but rather they associate it as the language that is spoken at home, the language that their aunts, grandparents gossip etc. You describe it as a choice. Unfortunately it is not a choice. It can be called as a result of “nationalism” policies of Turkey yes, that cause many Kurdish, zaza, suryani people loose their language as well. But it cannot be called a personal choice. You don’t decide what language to speak, internalize, establish your identity with since you are born. It just happens. You can criticize turkish policies but there is no use of blaming Armenians who live in Turkey. You just put an extra pressure on them. You don’t have to agree with the view point of “ we have to start a communication with turks. So armenians in turkey can be helpful in that”. But at least don’t judge people. Forcing yourself not to speak in a language you think in must feel like a torture, like a constant brain surgery. I think the main thing to understand that even though armenians in turkey see still racism from some turks, they don’t necessarily associate the language that they speak at home as the enemy. Then, you can question why not speaking armeian at home. Well, probably it started in the very old time to help their children to be assimilated in the society and not to be discriminated maybe. Or maybe in the early ottoman time, when there is no genocide yet, they already adopted turkish language by speaking with their neighbours, friends. We don’t know how this started unless an historian researches about it. But the current situation is turkish is their mother tongue. Apparently, that was not the case in Lebanon and they were lucky to be raised as bilingual. Hence they can naturally without any force switch to armenian. But it may not be the case for everyone. Rather than superficially condemning people, trying to understand them is a better way.

by the way, I am from Turkey with zaza, kurdish and turkoman roots. our people, Zazas and kurds were slaughtered by turkish army in 1930s in Dersim. Our grand grand parents were exiled in different part of turkey as well. The situation is not as bad as armenians’ situation but it is still bad. But I cannot associate the language that I think in my brain with that. You may call me brainwashed and stupid but it is how it is. The language is a very delicate thing. I feel to forbid myself to speak the language I think in is the same as dying. Well, but of course I criticize the turkish policies of “one language”. I feel culturally belong to Turkey because it is where I was born and raised. You can also condemn that badly but it is how it is. However I am not “nationalist” and I personally feel bad about the pain of armenian people have due to genocide. To be honest, Hrant Drink helped me a lot to understand armenian point of view in this topic. I wish he was alive. I think he would make more and more people to understand it if he was alive which was another reason why he was killed I guess.

pungul on Apr 22, 2020

Tevin Polatian, What if one’s is not confident In their Armenian? Should two Armenians not speak at all instead of speak Turkish? You grew up with the luxury of speaking Armenian from a young age, many people learned later and are not as comfortable as you are. All Armenians have the same suffering in their blood. You do not have to constantly rehash “slaughter”. We are talking about two people and their most comfortable means of communication. We have to rise up as a group and move forward to affect change. Picking old wounds only worsens the scars. You speaking Armenian while someone else speaks turkish doesn’t diminish their being Armenian. The language they speak is their choice. Don’t judge someone based on your life experience.

Arpi on Apr 21, 2020

Freedom of speech is very important, please let’s find the balance in the three RRR’s. Recognition, Rehabilitation, Reconciliation.

Nicolai on Apr 21, 2020

Arpi – I see you chose to read what you wished to. I don’t see an issue speaking English with my Armenian friends. Like you said, a common language brings Armenians together, no? And the common language I choose to speak other than Armenian with my Armenian friends, in this case being English, wasn’t the language of those who slaughtered my ancestors, so I’m comfortable with that choice.

My qualm is not with modern day Turks. It’s with Turkish-speaking Armenians who prefer/choose to speak Turkish with one another instead when they know Armenian as though their ancestors weren’t marched through deserts with orders shouted in Turkish.

Tevin Polatian on Apr 21, 2020

Interesting article. My family is also from Istanbul and we had deep roots that I’ve long lost. I was born in the U.S and don’t speak Turkish, save for a few kufurs. I’m also a descendant of the Balyan family of architects. It’s true – Armenians have a long history of contributions to the city, as did other minorities.

Errol on Apr 21, 2020

Tevin Polatian, By your reasoning you should not be speaking any English whatsoever with your American-Armenian friends, since they also know Armenian. The Turkish people of today did not slaughter any of our ancestors and they should not be punished for something they had no hand in. Armenians cannot move ahead as a people if they themselves cannot move forward and see humanity.

Arpi on Apr 21, 2020

Dear Karnig,
Since when is it considered okay to evaluate based on your experiences only? Just because you did not see “a Lebanese Armenian speak Arabic with another Armenian in public in the diaspora” does that mean they never do?
When you think of Kinaliada, do you imagine somewhere like Hawaii? Because Kinaliada is not a “resort island.” It is historically important for Armenians and locals have been living there for centuries.
Constantinapolis is mostly associated with Greeks so it’s Armenian history is mostly ignored. Istanbul is also a “millennia-old homeland” for Armenians. For further information, you can check Richard G. Hovannisian’s book is called The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century v. 2.
According to Hovannisian, in 1478 Constantinople had a total of 100,000 – 120,000 population and Armenian population was estimated between 5,000-6,000. %5 percent of Istanbul was Armenian populated.
Also, you can see Armenian rulers of Constantinople, most famous of them all is Leo V the Armenian and his reign was in between 813–820. More than 1200 years ago. You can find many more with simple search.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Byzantine_emperors_of_Armenian_origin
Oldest known Armenian ruler goes back to 582. More than 1500 years.
As for your last point, crime and criminal punishment is personal. No one can be held responsible for their ancestor’s crimes.
Again, just because you did not “hear a single Turk who has said Turkey should return an inch of Armenian land to its rightful owner” does not mean there are no Turks who are on our side. Turks would get criminalized according to Turkish Penal Code 301 if they said anything “.. denigrates the Turkish Nation, the State of the Turkish Republic ..”
Land reparation, repayments and many other solutions are related to state level .policies.

ND on Apr 21, 2020

Is anyone besides a few of us aware that Armenia remains under genocidal threat even today by Turkey and its Turkic military partner Azerbaijan?

Turkey was about to invade Armenia in 1993. Don’t ask me to explain. Look it up.

Frankly, I am very tired of Armenians and others who think that the Genocide is a matter only for the past.

Genocide is a here and now issue for Armenia.

You may say “Yes, yes, we know.”

No, you do NOT know.

I know you don’t because I don’t see you talk or write about it. You are stuck in the past even as you accuse others of that.

Tavo on Apr 21, 2020

Excellent essay. My father was bolsahai and my maternal grandfather grew up in Turkey never having learned the Armenian language. We have bibles at home from the bygone era that are written in Armenian script but in the Turkish language. I relate 100% to your perspective. Thank you for sharing it!

Nadine on Apr 21, 2020

Thku for this great (sorrowful) article. First, on behalf of all diaspora Armenians, I need to apologize to our dear Bolsahay compatriots. Yes, we also have our share of ignorant people and we are not exceptional in that. I visited and worked in Turkey for several years. I socialized with some of the most generous and passionate Turks (in my younger days few wanted to marry me 😀), I also felt deep hatred towards me , from ignorant Turks, when I would proudly announce that I was an Armenian with roots in Turkey. I had professors, journalists, military men and others apologize to me what the Turks did to us. It was humbling. Indeed, Turks are proud people, although a bit too jingoistically nationalists, rather demode in the 21st century. We do need to have a dialogue with them. A rapprochement on mutual terms is the only way we can move forward. We don’t need to love them but we need to listen to them as well. I agree, Bolsahays are the bridge to Armenia/Turkish dialogue. You’ve got my respect and my admiration. Keep up the great work.

Annie Demirjian on Apr 21, 2020

Not every Armenian is spending their summers on the island. Not every Armenian is having a luxurious life. Not every Armenian has golden chains. Not every Armenia is incapable of speaking Armenian. Not every Armenian is happy about living in Turkey but tell me please. Is it that easy to leave a place where you were born, have spent your years, have relatives, yaya, dede? Don’t tell me it’s enemy’s land, don’t live there clichés. I wonder how many of Diasporan Armenian would leave their country -the USA, Canada, Europe and move to Armenia? It is easier said than done.

GGS on Apr 21, 2020

Hagop – my father is not from Bolis. Armenians born in Turkey typically get grouped under “Bolsahye” although they are not from there, hence why I used the term Turkahye instead. He’s from Sivas.

I’m not a “Turkahye” myself. I’m an American-Armenian. Thanks for trying to define that for me. I’m also a female, and not a male, as you incorrectly assumed so thanks yet again.

I applaud the Armenians who have managed to stay and not abandon their roots in Bolis/Greater Turkey. I would never take anything away from them. It is not an easy task. I have family there and am aware of their situation as an Armenian living in Turkey. My father was raised in Turkey and I know of the persecution and discrimination he faced every single day of his life. Choosing to stay (and preserve) is something I look upon with a great deal of respect.

Arpi – I speak both English and Armenian with my Armenian friends. Do you speak Turkish with your Armenian friends? Do you understand how absurd that sounds? I don’t recall English-speaking peoples slaughtering Armenians, do you? I don’t remember blood-thirsty Americans marching us through the dessert with neither bread nor water.

Can you please explain to me then how speaking Turkish brings Armenians together? I agree that a common language does bring groups of people together. Why should that common language be Turkish when everyone at the table speaks Armenian?

Tevin Polatian on Apr 21, 2020

Thank you to the author so much for writing this article and for all the great interesting comments from different points of view. It’s depicting exactly what we live and go through as Bolsahays and other Armenians living in the diaspora. Personally, I think living in the diaspora where we are exposed to other languages and cultures and inter-marriages, it’s going to make the future generations even more interesting and culturally diverse. My parents were both born in Istanbul (Bolis) and immigrated to Canada in the 70s. I grew up speaking Armenian, Turkish, English and French. I married a Canadian girl from Colombian heritage, so she grew up speaking in Spanish, French and English. We have 3 children and we make every possible effort so they learn to speak all 5 languages. We live in West Palm Beach, FL and we take them to Armenian Sunday school at our local Armenian Church every Sunday without exception. So wherever you live in the World, whomever you decide to spend your life with, please don’t forget your Armenian heritage and language. If we don’t make the efforts to pass it on to our children and grandchildren, how can we expect them to do the same? Շնորհակալ եմ։

Clint Saraylian on Apr 21, 2020

The author falters when he/she writes the “language of the enemy” in referring to the Turks. The quotes mean the author doesn’t think the Turks are our enemies.

The author says a Bolsahay speaking Turkish is no different from a Lebanese Armenian speaking Arabic. I have never heard a Lebanese Armenian speak Arabic with another Armenian in public in the diaspora except in Arab countries.

The author refers to Istanbul as “our millennia-old homeland.” When did Istanbul become our homeland?

The diaspora Armenian chiding of Bolsahays for staying in Istanbul is justified. However, I see the author talks about Bolsahays spending their summers on resort islands. Why should they abandon their golden chains? After all, few dispora Armenians have access to such a sybaritic lifestyle. Keep your head down and enjoy the wealth accumulated over generations by your forefathers seems to be the choice of Bolsahays who stay.

The author employs leger-de-main in addressing the claim that the Turk of today is personally responsible for the crimes of his ancestors. Any Turk who denies the Genocide is as guilty of committing the Genocide as the actual perpetrator. Denial is abetting. Those who abet are considered criminals by the laws of civilized nations. Turks are beneficiaries of the Genocide. They enjoying the fruits of our lands acquired through genocide. In its early days, Ataturk’s Turkey would have collapsed economically without the accumulated Turkish theft of Armenian wealth. I have yet to hear a single Turk who has said Turkey should return an inch of Armenian land to its rightful owner. Yes, Turkish hands continue to be bloody.

Karnig on Apr 21, 2020

I am writing as a Bolsetsi who also served in the Turkish army and nevertheless during a army coup. Best years of my life. I wish I could write about it. But that’s not the subject.
First let me clarify where the name Bolsahay or Bolsetsi come from. It is a derivative of Constantinopolis that comes from Byzantine era meaning Constantin’s city. Polis or Bolis means city in Greek . And the city kept his name until 1930 when it was officially changed to İstanbul.
I am very sadden reading Poladian’s comment that even today, exists Armenians that never learned anything about Bolsetsi. Armenians from Turkey never been called Turkahay. If not from Bolis, someone always been identified by the name of city where he comes or his roots are from ; ie Malatyatsi, Gesaratsi, Erzurumtsi, Vantsi . Poladian is forgetting that he is also a “ Turkahay” and , blindfolded, trying to politicize Bolsetsis. Almost all Bolsetsi do not belong to any Armenian political party. Poladians and likes asking Bolsetsis to be black or white. Well so be it. I thank God that Turkish government at that time forbidden Armenian political parties.
Hope Poladian can talk to some Bolsetsi to really understand that, in today’s condition as in the past . Bolsetsis residing in İstanbul are the heroes of yesterday today and will be in the future. They are the gatekeepers of the Armenians.
We have Churches, schools, orphanages, hospital and cemeteries etcétéra. If all Armenians abandon Bolis what’s going to happen to all the cultural wealth? Many original Bolsetsis have left Turkey in different intervals and today’s Bolsetsis are replaced by the Armenians that found refuge in Bolis, coming from Anatolia, their birthplaces ,prospered and able to keep the cultural wealth . Armenians all over the world should look upon Bolsetsis as heroes , martyrs , specially the ones that still residing in Bolis.
Music and language can not be hated , or forbidden, it’s universal. In Bolis we have French , English, German, Italian schools when I was growing up.
I for one am very proud to be a Bolsetsi.

Hagop Demirdjian on Apr 21, 2020

I am a Bolsahay and this article is just perfectly explaining what we go through in Turkey. Personally speaking, I don’t expect diasporan Armenians to understand our situation. Hrant Dink, Sevag Balıkçı and many other names… These people are killed because of being Armenian in the 21st century. How many of you fear that you might get killed or get hurt when someone finds out your identity? How many of you fear when someone asks your name? Because then they will ask more and more questions until they learn your identity and you will be treated accordingly. How many of you don’t hesitate over justice system because it is fair to everyone? How many of you thought of talking with a Bolsahay? How many of you talked with a Turk and asked for their opinions? Too many things are taken for granted in Diaspora. This is true because most of you have never faced with difficulties from the people around you or the government. My comment may seem harsh, sorry for that but peaceful comments are welcomed. Thank you!

SG on Apr 21, 2020

Tevin Polatian, do you always speak Armenian with your US born Armenian friends who speak Armenian? It’s no different for Turkish born Armenians. One falls back on their easiest common tongue and speaking turkish was/is always acceptable. Armenian wasn’t. No language is evil/bad. It’s just a way of communication and if it brings Armenians together, all the better.

Arpi on Apr 21, 2020

Hello!

I loved this article and thought it was extremely well written and that you articulated the struggles of the bolsahye community very well. Thank you so much to Ara the Rat for posting this, it goes without saying that all bolsahyes really appreciate it. Thank you for bringing attention to a topic that I hope more Armenians will now understand!

Big Fan on Apr 20, 2020

I am a proud Bolsahay and could not have said my experience with the Armenian community any better. I have for years needed to prove my Armenianness and have been put down for being from Turkey. We need to remember there are good and bad people in ever nation. I have many good friends who are Turkish and many who are Armenian, which is very hard for many Armenians to understand. Thank you for your wonderful essay.

MG on Apr 20, 2020

Thank you for writing this article and for Ara the Rat for posting it.

As an Armenian who is born in the US with a Turkahye (not Bolsahye, since he’s not from Bolis) father and Beirutsi mother, I can say that I respect your opinion. I’ve seen both sides of this illustration. On my father’s side, I see my relatives who don’t speak Armenian, have no desire of traveling to Armenia, and would rather be at a dinner table full of Turks than Armenians. On my mother’s side, I grew up learning that the Turks were our natural-born enemy and that speaking Armenian was the best way to preserve our culture.

I speak Turkish and Armenian fluently and not Arabic; which is not by chance. My Beirutsi mom always taught me that it was more important to learn the language of our oppressor than the language of our friend. I also found myself unable to communicate with my dad’s relatives unless I learned Turkish and therefor, I had no choice.

In your post, you make the comparison of an Armenian speaking Turkish to an Armenian speaking Arabic, and say that it makes no difference. How is that possible? How is it that it is no different to be speaking the same tongue that was used to slaughter us than the tongue used to welcome us as refugees? What is your logic there?

My grandpa on my fathers side never spoke Armenian; growing up, they weren’t allowed to in fear of being discovered by Turkish authorities and murdered. They had to hide their Armenian-ness and the first thing to go was the Armenian language. In those cases, I would understand. However, when an Armenian, regardless of where they’re from, makes the choice to speak Turkish rather than Armenian when they know both, that’s where the confusion lies for me. Why the choice to speak Turkish?

I’m hoping my comment sparks some healthy dialogue. Looking forward to others’ comments and inputs as well.

Tevin Polatian on Apr 20, 2020

Leave a comment