By Talar A.
Edited by Brendan S.
In 1915, Ohannes Asdourian was a young boy reeling from the loss of his home in the Genocide. Originally from Aintab, the young boy had recently lost his family, but the hardships were not over yet. In fact, his trials were only beginning, as he was placed in a special orphanage: one designed to take thousands of children and turn them into Turks.
The story of my paternal great grandfather is unfortunately one that is typical, and even more unfortunately, denied. If the Ottoman officials could be credited with one thing it was this: they were highly skilled at hiding and burying things. Jemal Pasha, the man in charge of these orphanages, made sure they were hidden in cities such as Jbeil near Beirut, far away from Turkish eyes in the capital. Out of sight, out of mind, and no one would be any the wiser.
The goal of a targeted genocide is simple: the annihilation of an entire ethnic group (or several) so that the perpetrating group can steal their land and resources. This is not a new phenomena; after 1915, Jews, Roma, Poles and other groups of Europe were murdered in the Holocaust and Porajmos. Rwanda saw the same between the Hutu and Tutsi, and Yemen is also seeing this happen, not just with the Arab population but with the fifty remaining Jews of Yemen as well. Many Christians in SWANA are also facing genocide at the hands of various terrorist groups and regimes. This is only to name a few out of a multitude of current and historical genocides in modern history, some of which your tax money has likely funded.
As stated in the Armenian National Institute’s "Chronology of The Armenian Genocide,” on January 4, 1917, a German Ambassador named Mr. Goppert visited the three Pashas (Enver, Talaat, and Jemal) to tell them that the forcible conversion to Islam which had been carried out was wrong and needed to be stopped, and that it had nothing to do with military reasons. Obviously, he was not listened to. On February 14, Halide Hanoum, the woman placed in charge of running the orphanages, received 70 Armenian orphans and began the process of converting them to Islam and Turkish ultranationalism. The next day, Halide received another 70 orphans, raising the number to 140. This was just the beginning of this particular wave of Turkification. On March 5, another 400 were sent to an orphanage in Aleppo for the same purpose. In April of the same year, the governor of Urfa ordered that remaining Armenians in the region be Turkified, and in June the same order was extended to all surviving Armenian Catholics who had previously been protected. This atrocity is desperately buried by Turkish nationalists, yet I found a Turkish nationalist’s comment under one of my videos admitting that atrocities occurred from 1530 to 1890 in full force. As a last resort when failing in their pseudo-historical rhetoric, it is more important to them burying the Armenian Genocide than burying pre-Armenian Genocide atrocities. When the Armenian Genocide is admitted by one of their own, their fantasies of immaculate Turkish supremacy are crushed.
According to Dr. Lorne Shirinian’s research in his book The Armenian Genocide Legacy, the vizier Hasan Femhi Bey said in a secret 1918 parliament conference: “You know that the problem of [Armenian] deportations threw the world in an uproar and all of us were labeled murderers. We knew before this was done that world opinion would not be favorable and this would bring loathing and hatred upon us. Why have we resigned ourselves to being called murderers? Those are things that have only happened in order to secure something that is more holy and valuable than our own lives – the future of the fatherland.” (Shirinian, 44)
Shirinian states: “What Hasan Fehmi Bey was saying, in effect, is that the modern Turkish republic was born in large part from the genocide of its Armenian population. Genocide became acceptable state policy as it served the government’s purposes and ends.” (Shirinian, 44). In summation: have a problem with minorities? Genocide them and steal their children. This is exactly what the Ottoman government did, and it remains engrained in the Turkish state’s policy today.
Let alone forced Turkification, children in Ottoman orphanages were not treated well by any means. According to the testimony of both my great grandfather to his children, and the testimony of other survivors, these children were stripped of their names upon arrival, catalogued, starved, beaten, and threatened to have their tongues cut out for speaking Armenian. Now, please know that Armenians were NOT the only ethnicity to suffer this fate, as Kurds, Assyrians, Pontic Greeks and Balkan children were also subjected this. However, the majority of Turkified children by far came from Armenian families. More evidence of the Turkification orphanages comes in the form of several telegrams sent by Talaat Pasha: “To the Government of Aleppo. Jan. 15, 1916 – We hear that certain orphanages which have been opened receive also the children of the Armenians. Whether this is done through ignorance of our real purpose, or through contempt of it, the Government will regard the feeding of such children or any attempt to prolong their lives as an act entirely opposed to its purpose, since it considers the survival of these children as detrimental. I recommend that such children shall not be received into the orphanages, and no attempts are to be made to establish special orphanages for them. Minister of the Interior, Talaat.” (Shirinian, 44)
In 1993, during the renovation of the St. James of Antoura college in Lebanon, the bones of small children were found buried in the garden. Researcher Missak Kelechian was able to trace the origins of these bones to the orphanage that was being run there in 1915 for the specific purpose of Turkifying children. It is believed that around 1,000 Armenians and 200 Kurdish children between the ages of 3 and 15 were sent there to be Turkified, and the bodies of those who died were simply thrown into the garden. According to researcher John Couretas: “At Antoura, the orphans were enrolled in a ruthless program of ‘Turkification’ beginning with a forced conversion of the Christian children to Islam. Their Armenian names were erased from school records and replaced with Muslim names, they were taught to speak Turkish, the boys circumcised and all were indoctrinated with the glories of Turkish nationalism. Those who did not conform were subjected to the falaqa, a brutal whipping of the soles of their feet with a stiff rod. According to Kelechian, around 350 children died at the orphanage — succumbing to starvation, cholera and the violence… Antoura was not the only center of Turkification for children. One estimate puts the total number of Armenian orphans at 150,000. The Armenian Patriarchate estimated that some 60,000 Armenian children were still being held in Turkish orphanages or Muslim homes in the early 1920s.”
In conclusion, Turkey has hidden its crimes and still has droves of hidden crimes that we may never learn about, and we may never see justice for them. While I still hold on to the vain hope that perhaps one day there will be justice, it is hard to believe we will see it in our lifetimes. Turkey, and the Turkish people, have a lot of reparations due.