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Turk In Armenia, Armenian In Turkey

I visited resident of Istanbul Murat Gostanyan (pictured) at his home in the neighborhood of Kurtuluş, mainly populated by Armenians, where he lives with his mother, Arusyak Gostanyan. The Gostanyans were the first Bolsahay (Armenians of Istanbul) family I ever met; having no acquaintances in Armenia, I, as a journalist from Armenia, was of interest to them, too. Despite the cultural and language differences, Murat, Mrs. Arusyak, and I had a quite long conversation. I asked them questions about the Armenians of Istanbul, they – about Armenia.

“Is it nice?”; “Is Dilijan a nice place?”; “Is Sari Tagh a neighborhood in Yerevan?”; “Is Armen a widespread name in Armenia?” were some of the questions Arusyak Gostanyan asked trying to collect as much information about Armenia as possible, despite already being quite informed – a few Armenian TV channels, such as “Kentron” (“Center”) and “H1” (Public TV Company of Armenia) were available at their house.

They had an inexplicable attitude towards Armenia: though they had never been to the country and had no connections there, they wanted to visit Armenia to “wander about.” Murat even said he would love to live in Armenia if he were able to find a job, although he feared people would not treat him well; “Here, in Turkey, they call us Armenians, in Armenia they say we are Turks.”

Murat, unlike local academics, heirs of Genocide victims, or international journalists who arrived in Istanbul on the occasion of 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, did not consider the Centennial any special date. Probably because he does not consider the anniversary a convenient opportunity to reveal his Armenian roots or speak Armenian, to write songs on the subject, visit the Armenian monuments in Istanbul, or make the massacre sites a tourist attraction. His Armenian identity is with him in everyday life – at work, where he sometimes avoids speaking Armenian; he is cautious when communicating with strangers; he passes those monuments daily.

He agreed, however, that a lot has changed in recent years: people didn't speak Armenian in the past, now they don't fear it as much. Still, there are nationalists; “You only met leftists here, that's why you think there is nothing to be afraid of,” Murat told me.

The young man does not imagine life without rock music; he also attends Mass on Sundays as a reader. However, he does not trust clergy. They, as stated by Murat, serve the interests of [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's regime, always telling reporters that “Everything is fine, Armenians have no problems in Turkey.”

“My father named me Murat, a non-Armenian name, so that I wouldn't have problems in the Army. Many [Armenians] give their children Turkish names here. A new trend of naming sons James, Kevin, etc, has also started,” Murat said.

The Armenian community has been growing; however, generations are changing, relations between Armenians – dwindling. Many come to Turkey from Armenia to work. There are 50.000 Bolsahays in Turkey; another 30.000 came from Armenia, but not everyone is interested in the community. Many did not even participate in the march on April 24, the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day; those who did remained mostly quiet, did not show much activity.

In the past, according to Murat, the locals even felt outraged when Armenians in the Diaspora raised the issue of Genocide frequently; “They would say 'They live in safe European countries, all the while exacerbating the issue, and making it dangerous for us to live among Turks'.”

Today, the Armenian community of Istanbul is changing. A generation of active young people has emerged who have engaged in the development of a number of movements and initiatives, in particular, the creation of “Nor Zartonk” (“New Awakening”) movement. The young people are well versed in the domestic politics of Turkey, they formulate the goals and requirements of the community, they are optimistic, and consider a new awakening only a matter of time.

Knar Khudoyan