Turks shocked to reveal their Greek, Armenian, Jewish roots: Al Monitor

Turks shocked to reveal their Greek, Armenian, Jewish roots: Al Monitor

PanARMENIAN.Net - During the days when Turkey still hoped to join the European Union, its people were becoming willing to question their ethnic and religious ancestry. Since then, the country has reverted to a time when people were disgraced and denigrated, with the government’s blessings, as “crypto-Armenians", Al-Monitor says in an article.

Hrant Dink was the editor of the Armenian-language newspaper Agos in 2004 when he wrote that Sabiha Gokcen, the first female military pilot of the Turkish Republic, was of Armenian parentage. Because of this and other articles he penned, Dink found himself the subject of investigation by the Justice Ministry. He was assassinated in 2007 for reasons thought to be related to his strong support for Armenian causes.

Dink's story illustrates why population registers in Turkey were kept secret until recently. The topic has always been a sensitive issue for the state. The confidentiality of data that identifies people's lineage was considered a national security issue.

There were two main reasons for all this secrecy: to conceal that scores of Armenians, Syriacs, Greeks and Jews had converted to Islam, and to avoid any debate about "Turkishness.” Its definition, “anyone who is attached to the Turkish state as a citizen," was enshrined in the constitution as part of the philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic and its first president.

For a long time, the official policy was that Turks formed a cohesive ethnic identity in Turkey. But less than two weeks ago, on Feb. 8, population registers were officially opened to the public via an online genealogy database. The system crashed quickly under the demand. Some people who had always boasted of their "pure" Turkish ancestry were shocked to learn they actually had other ethnic and religious roots.

On the darker side, comments such as “Crypto-Armenians, Greek and Jews in the country will now be exposed” and “Traitors will finally learn their lineage” became commonplace on social media.

Genealogy has always been a popular topic of conversation in Turkish society, but also a tool of social and political division. Families often acknowledged in private that their lineage was Armenian or that a long-dead relative was a convert to Islam, but those conversations were kept secret. Being a convert in Turkey carried a stigma that could not be erased.

In 2013, Agos reported that the government was secretly coding minorities in population registers: Greeks were 1, Armenians were 2 and Jews were 3. The covert classification of religious minorities was met with wide outrage.

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