Armenians and the Turkish Coup d’état of September 12, 1980 | #teacher | #children | #kids

During this time, ASALA did carry out an attack at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey on August 7, 1982 in order to publicize the continuing denial of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey. One of the militants, Zohrab Sarkissian was killed and the other, Levon Ekmekjian, was wounded and captured by Turkish security forces. Ekmekjian was tortured for several months in an Ankara prison and then put on trial. The trial was aired live on Turkish national television and Ekmekjian gave his testimony in Armenian which was then translated to Turkish. The trial was a formality, and Ekmekjian, age 25, was executed on January 28, 1983. This turned out to be the last execution in Turkey, as the death sentence was abolished soon after.

As a postscript, Ekmekjian was buried in an unmarked grave near Ankara until 2016, when the heroic Turkish human rights lawyer Eren Keskin succeeded in having Levon’s remains transferred to France, to be reunited with his family. But unfortunately, the Turkish officials played another twisted trick as DNA analysis revealed that most of the transferred bones turned out to be dog bones, not human bones.

Going back to the trial, people all over Turkey were glued to their television sets watching it, including the Hamshen people. Hamshen (or Hemshin) is the name given to people living in the eastern Black Sea coastal region of Turkey. There is strong evidence that they are Armenians who migrated to this region after Seljuk Turks captured the city of Ani in the eleventh century, followed by more waves of Armenians settling in the region in later times. The region was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, and the Armenians were eventually forced to convert to Islam. Most of them did convert, but interestingly enough, they kept the Armenian language, and continue to use it until today. And although they still speak a dialect of Armenian, with constant indoctrination from the government they have been made to believe that their ancestors migrated from Central Asia and their language is a branch of Central Asian Turkish. Watching the trial on TV, the Hamshen people were surprised to discover that Levon Ekmekjian spoke their own language. Many of them wondered if he was a Hamshentsi, and eventually realized that their language is Armenian, like his.

As stated above, the state terror after the September 12, 1980 coup was particularly vicious against the Kurds. Thousands of Kurds were arrested and tortured in the notorious Diyarbakir prison. One of the tortured Kurds was a young Kurdish teacher. The prison commander had ordered her to teach another imprisoned Kurdish girl to recite the Turkish national anthem. The Kurdish girl did not even speak any Turkish. The torture method was diabolical. There was a chamber in the prison basement where the pumped sewage would be collected. The teacher and the girl were made to stand in the chamber, with the stinking sewage level rising around them to their neck, until the girl learnt to recite the national anthem. This torture went on for days.

Several years after her release from the prison, the teacher was shocked to discover that her father was a hidden Armenian. On his deathbed, the father revealed this secret, asked his daughter to return to her Armenian roots and also to become a Christian. The teacher was on the first trip that I organized for large groups of hidden Armenians from Turkey to Armenia in 2014. She was faced with a huge dilemma, as she was married to a pious Moslem Kurd, who would never accept his wife to become Christian. As explained in my book Trauma and Resilience — Armenians In Turkey, Hidden, Not Hidden and No Longer Hidden, this lady faced an agonizing decision while our bus travelled from Sardarabad to Echmiadzin. At the end, she decided to get baptized and become a Christian Armenian.

When I asked: “Are you sure, what about your husband?”, her response was: “My father suffered all his life hiding his Armenian roots. If I will start having problems with my husband for the rest of my life, I am prepared for it and God will help us.” And the Kurdish teacher became Christian in Echmiadzin, baptized with her Armenian grandmother’s name. Thankfully, there was no crisis at home upon her return from Armenia to Diyarbakir, except for the added trauma of being Armenian on top of being Kurdish.

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