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February 5, 2023
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Dorian Jones

“REMAINS OF THE SWORD”-ARMENIAN ORPHANS Ninety years ago, up to 1.5 million Armenians were deported and died at the hands of the then Ottoman rulers of Turkey. But it is believed that Turkish families saved thousands of orphaned Armenian children secretly. An internationally renowned Turkish historian said evidence pointed to thousands of such children being saved. There was also a secret order by the then Ottoman authorities ordering the punishment of Turkish families who protect Armenian children. Many children were converted to Islam and became part of Turkish families. A recent study indicated that in southeast Turkey over 6000 children were adopted. The motives for adoption were varied, some were taken purely to be little more than slaves, but many were adopted for humanitarian reasons. Some children who had been adopted were then forcibly taken away from their Turkish families by French and British occupying forces (in some cases with the help of US missionaries) and sent to orphanages in Europe. Until now, the very existence of the children has remained largely an untold story, buried along with those who died between 1915 and 1916. The whole subject in Turkey remained a closed issue part of the taboo of 1915. But their descendants are slowly uncovering the stories of those Armenian orphans. A best seller this year in Turkey was an account of woman writing about her grandmother who was an adopted Armenian child. Increasing numbers of people are now starting to talk about their Armenian ancestors and seeking to discover their past. The editor of an Armenian newspaper in Istanbul says he receives requests everyday from the Armenian Diaspora asking for help to find relatives taken in by Turkish families. But the issue still remains extremely contentious. The Turkish state strongly rejects any charge of genocide, prosecutions still continue of people who speak out on the killings of Armenians, but at the same time the issue is now in the public domain. Last month (October) for the first time a conference was held by Turkish historians and writers, which openly discussed the issue and challenged the official state view that the killings were part of a civil war. But on an individual level many families still reject that they have Armenian ancestors. The story of Armenian orphans is now becoming one of most sensitive and emotionally charged issues in Turkish society, forcing Turkey to look back on one of most tragic and darkest chapters in the country’s history but at the same time revealing a humanitarian dimension to the tragedy.

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