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Hidden Armenians (Turkish: Gizli Ermeniler) or crypto-Armenians (Armenian: ծպտեալ հայեր tsptyal hayer; Turkish: Kripto Ermeniler)[1] is an "umbrella term to describe Turkish people of full or partial ethnic Armenian origin who generally conceal their Armenian identity from wider Turkish society."[2] They are mostly descendants of Ottoman Armenians who, at least outwardly, were Islamized (and turkified or kurdified) "under the threat of physical extermination" during the Armenian Genocide.[3][better source needed]

Turkish journalist Erhan Başyurt[a] describes hidden Armenians as "families (and in some cases, entire villages or neighbourhoods) [...] who converted to Islam to escape the deportations and death marches [of 1915], but continued their hidden lives as Armenians, marrying among themselves and, in some cases, clandestinely reverting to Christianity."[4] According to the European Commission 2012 report on Turkey, a "number of crypto-Armenians have started to use their original names and religion."[5] The Economist suggests that the number of Turks who reveal their Armenian background is growing.[6]




Armenians are originally from the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia.[7] The western parts of what is sometimes called the Armenian Highlands or "Historic Armenia" came under the Ottoman Empire's control in the 16th century with the Peace of Amasya.[8][9] Armenians remained an overwhelming majority of the area's population until the 17th century, however, their number gradually decreased and by the early 20th century they constituted up to 38% of the population of Western Armenia, designed at the time as the Six vilayets. Turks and Kurds made up a significant part of the population.[10]

Armenian GenocideEdit

Armenian orphans at Anatolia College in Merzifon

In 1915 and the following years, the Armenians living in their ancestral lands in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated by the Young Turk government in the Armenian Genocide. The Ittihadists who perpetrated the genocide did not have the same understanding of race and nationality as the Nazis and nationality could be changed by religious conversion to Islam. Likewise, Protestant and Catholic Armenians could be exempted from deportation.[11] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen explains that perpetrators differ in how they treat the targeted groups children: "In some instances, owing to the perpetrators' social theory, they treat children of groups targeted because of ethnicity or nationality radically differently from their parents. The Turks conceiving of their existential enemies the Armenians not entirely coherently, an unstable agglomeration of a national/ethnic/religious-based hatred, nevertheless had a decidedly nonracist view of them." He explains that the Turks adopted an formal policy of "leave the girls and children to be Islamized". Although many children were killed, some were spared and allowed to live as Turks.[12] Genocide historian Norman Naimark writes:[11]

"Thousands of Armenian children were raised as Muslims and Turks, while women and girls were routinely converted, taken into harems, and married to Turkish, Kurdish and Circassian husbands. In the period 1918-1922, some of these women and children, encouraged by the Western powers and anti-Ittihadist Ottoman officials, reconnected with their Armenian families and communities. But women seventeen or over or those married to Muslims could choose to stay with their new families, and many did. Under the French occupation, many Armenian children were turned over by Turkish families to the Armenian community, but, wrote one Armenian officer, 'many of them want to go back'"

When relief workers and surviving Armenians started to search for and claim back these Armenian orphans after World War I, only a small percentage were found and reunited, while many others continued to live as Muslims. Additionally, there were cases of entire families converting to Islam to survive the genocide.[13]

Republican periodEdit

"After converting to Islam, many of the crypto-Armenians said they still faced unfair treatment: their land was often confiscated, the men were humiliated with "circumcision checks" in the army and some were tortured."[14] Between the 1930s and 1980s, the Turkish government conducted a secret investigation of hidden Armenians.[15]

The term "Crypto-Armenians" appears as early as 1956.[16]

Recent developmentsEdit

Hidden Armenians in Turkey no longer feel they have to keep their Armenian identity secret. Some have been baptized (Turkish: vaftiz) into the Church and started using Armenian names.[17]

In 2010, Mass was held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Aghtamar (called Akdamar Kilisesi in Turkish) for the first time in 95 years. After a million dollar restoration, the church was reopened as a museum in 2007. 2010 marked the first Christian prayer service at Aghtamar since the genocide.[18] In September 2010, 2,000 Armenians attended a mass at the Cathedral.[19]

When the Surp Giragos Church was reopened in 2011, dozens of Armenians who had been raised Muslim participated in a baptism ceremony at the restored Church. The names of those who participated in the baptism ceremony, conducted by Deputy Patriarch Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, were not released publicly for security reasons. Turkish-Armenians who wish to convert must first file for a formal "change of religion" at court. They then go to the Church where they learn about the foundational teachings of the Christian faith. When it is decided that the applicant has understood these teachings, they are permitted to prepare for the baptism ceremony.[20][21]

In 2012, Agos reported that the head of the Dersim Armenians Faith and Ancestry Assistance Organization (Dersimli Ermeniler İnanç ve Soyal Yardımlaşma Derneği) has said that hidden Armenians have nothing to fear in the present day.[17]

In May 2015, 12 Armenians from Tunceli were baptized.[22] The twelve Armenians were baptized together in a collective ceremony after a six month education about Christian beliefs.[23]

As of 2015 There are twenty Armenian schools in Istanbul. Armenian and Muslim families live in mixed neighborhoods. In the past Armenian was only spoken at home, but some Armenians living in Istanbul report that they now speak Armenian openly in the streets.[24]


One of the first books to draw international attention to hidden Armenians was My Grandmother: An Armenian-Turkish Memoir written by Armenian-Turkish writer Fethiye Çetin. Along with Çetin, Ayse Gul Altinay, Gerard Libaridian, and Maureen Freely co-edited an anthology of testimonies of Islamized Armenians called The Grandchildren.[25]

Avedis Hadjian's Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey is an exhaustive survey of the Islamicized or hidden Armenians who live in the former Armenian provinces of Turkey as well as other parts of the country.[26]


Most Crypto-Armenians reside in eastern provinces of Turkey, where the pre-genocide Armenian population was concentrated.[27][28]

Crypto-Armenian families in Turkey by provinces 2007, showing a 36,000 total.
Dersim region, which was renamed Tunceli in the 1930s.

Tunceli (Dersim) ArmeniansEdit

Through the 20th century, an unknown number of Armenians living in the mountainous region of Tunceli (Dersim) had converted to Alevism.[29] During the Armenian Genocide, many of the Armenians in the region were saved by their Kurdish neighbors.[30] According to Mihran Prgiç Gültekin, the head of the Union of Dersim Armenians, around 75% of the population of Dersim are "converted Armenians."[31][32] He reported in 2012 that over 200 families in Tunceli have declared their Armenian descent, but others are afraid to do so.[31][33] In April 2013, Aram Ateşyan, the acting Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, stated that 90% of Tunceli's population is of Armenian origin.[34][better source needed]


Prior to the genocide Diyarbakir (now sometimes called the unofficial capital of Turkish Kurdistan) was an Armenian town. There are still some surviving Church towers in the now predominantly Muslim city, but most of the Churches are in a dilapidated condition. In the past Christian Armenians had to remain hidden but the situation has improved. The Armenian community has restored one of the Churches and Armenian language lessons are available.[35]

Notable hidden ArmeniansEdit


Various scholars and authors have estimated the number of individuals of full or partial Armenian descent living in Turkey. The range of the estimates is great due to different criteria used. Most of these numbers do not make a distinction between hidden Armenians and Islamized Armenians. According to journalist Erhan Başyurt the main difference between the two groups is their self-identity. Islamized Armenian, in his words, are "children of women who were saved by Muslim families and have continued their lives among them", while hidden Armenians "continued their hidden lives as Armenians."[4]

Number Author Description Year
30,000–40,000 Tessa Hofmann, German scholar of Armenian studies "Muslim 'crypto-Armenians' ... who have adapted to the Kurdish or Turkish majority" 2002[37]
100,000 Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople "at least 100,000 Armenian converts to Islam" 2007[38]
100,000 Erhan Başyurt, Turkish journalist additional 40,000 to 60,000 Islamized Armenians 2006[4]
100,000 Salim Cöhce, History Professor at the İnönü University 2005[39]
300,000 Hrant Dink, Turkish-Armenian journalist from Malatia 2005[39]
300,000 Yervand Baret Manuk, Turkish-Armenian Armenologist additional 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 Islamized Armenians 2010[40]
500,000 Yusuf Halaçoğlu, Turkish historian 2009[41][42]
700,000 Karen Khanlaryan, Iranian Armenian journalist and MP 700,000 hidden Armenians and 1,300,000 Islamized Armenians 2005[3]
3,000,000 Haykazun Alvrtsyan, Armenian researcher "In Germany alone, there were 300,000 Muslim Armenians. He insisted that today in the Eastern part of Turkey, in various areas of historic Armenia there live at least 2.5 million Muslim Armenians, half of which are hiding." 2014[43]
3,000,000–5,000,000 Aziz Dagcı, the President of the NGO "Union of Social Solidarity
and Culture for Bitlis, Batman, Van, Mush and Sasun Armenians"
Islamized Armenians 2011[44][45]
4,000,000–5,000,000 Sarkis Seropyan, the editor of the Armenian section of Agos Islamized Armenians, more than half of which "confess that their ancestors have been Armenian" 2013[46]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Başyurt is the author of Armenian Adoptees: Hidden Lives (Ermeni Evlatlıklar, Saklı Kalmış Hayatlar), a book on Crypto-Armenians published in 2006.
  1. ^ Ziflioğlu, Vercihan (24 June 2011). "Hidden Armenians in Turkey expose their identities". Hürriyet Daily News. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  2. ^ Ziflioğlu, Vercihan (19 June 2012). "'Elective courses may be ice-breaker for all'". Hürriyet Daily News. Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b Khanlaryan, Karen (29 September 2005). "The Armenian ethnoreligious elements in the Western Armenia". Noravank Foundation. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Altınay & Turkyilmaz 2011, p. 41.
  5. ^ "Commission Working Document Turkey 2012 Progress Report" (PDF). European Commission. 10 October 2012. p. 24. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  6. ^ "The cost of reconstruction". The Economist. 11 March 2010. Archived from the original on 3 June 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013. Although today's inhabitants of Geben hesitate to call themselves Armenians, a growing number of "crypto-Armenians" (people forced to change identity) do just that.
  7. ^ Incorporated, Facts On File (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4381-2676-0.
  8. ^ West, Barbara A. (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 47. ISBN 9781438119137.
  9. ^ Matthee, Rudolph P. (9 December 1999). The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver, 1600-1730. Cambridge University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-521-64131-9.
  10. ^ Ghazarian, H. (1976). Hambardzumyan, Viktor (ed.). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia Volume 2 (in Armenian). Yerevan: Armenian Encyclopedia Publishing. p. 43.
  11. ^ a b Naimark, Norman M. (2002). Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-century Europe. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780674009943.
  12. ^ Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah (2010). Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (1st ed.). New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 9781586489007.
  13. ^ Altınay & Turkyilmaz 2011, p. 25.
  14. ^ Cheviron, Nicholas (24 April 2013). "Turkey's Muslim Armenians come out of hiding". Agence France-Presse. Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  15. ^ Hur, Ayse (1 September 2008). "Turks cannot be without Armenians, Armenians cannot be without Turks!" (PDF). Taraf. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  16. ^ "unknown". The Armenian Review. Hairenik Association. 9: 125. 1956. Letters which have reached relatives in America at various times indicate that at least some of the Armenian Islamized persons are in fact "crypto-Armenians", in public completely loyal and nationalistic Turks, but privately waiting for the day...
  17. ^ a b "'Gizli' Ermeniler gerçek kimliklerine dönüyor". Agos. Archived from the original on 15 May 2018. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  18. ^ "Armenians hold historic service in ancient Turkish church -". Archived from the original on 30 December 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  19. ^ "2,000 Armenians Flock to Mass in Ancient Restored Church". Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman). 9 September 2012. Archived from the original on 30 December 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2017 – via HighBeam.
  20. ^ OCP (24 October 2011). "Armenians claim roots in Diyarbakır". Hurriyet. Archived from the original on 9 July 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  21. ^ "Ermeni kimliğine dönenler artıyor [The return to Armenian identity increases]". Radikal (in Turkish). 20 November 2011. Archived from the original on 25 October 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  22. ^ eakin (1 June 2015). "How some Armenians are reclaiming their Christian faith". Al-Monitor. Archived from the original on 31 December 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  23. ^ "12 Dersimli Ermeni vaftizle kimliğine döndü". Agos. Archived from the original on 31 December 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  24. ^ AFP news agencyundefined (Director). Discreet but proud: The Armenians of Istanbul. Event occurs at 133 seconds. Archived from the original on 9 July 2018. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  25. ^ Demirdjian, Alexis (4 April 2016). The Armenian Genocide Legacy. Springer. ISBN 978-1-137-56163-3.
  26. ^ ""In the land of the massacres, the very last Armenians have been finally been found"". The Independent. Archived from the original on 22 June 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  27. ^ Söylemez, Haşim (27 August 2007). "Türkiye'de, Araplaşan binlerce Ermeni de var". Aksiyon (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 3 June 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  28. ^ Melkonyan, Ruben (27 September 2007). "Արաբացած հայեր Թուրքիայում [Arabized Armenians in Turkey]" (in Turkish). Noravank Foundation. Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  29. ^ "Armenian Elements in the Beliefs of the Kizilbash Kurds". İnternet Haber. 27 April 2013. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  30. ^ A. Davis, Leslie (1990). Blair, Susan K. (ed.). The slaughterhouse province: an American diplomat's report on the Armenian genocide, 1915–1917 (2. print. ed.). New Rochelle, New York: A.D. Caratzas. ISBN 9780892414581.
  31. ^ a b "Mihran Gultekin: Dersim Armenians Re-Discovering Their Ancestral Roots". Massis Post. Yerevan. 7 February 2011. Archived from the original on 28 January 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  32. ^ Adamhasan, Ali (5 December 2011). "Dersimin Nobel adayları..." Adana Medya (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  33. ^ "Dersim Armenians back to their roots". PanARMENIAN.Net. 7 February 2011. Archived from the original on 7 July 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  34. ^ "Tunceli'nin yüzde 90'ı dönme Ermeni'dir". İnternet Haber (in Turkish). 27 April 2013. Archived from the original on 29 April 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  35. ^ DW English. Turkey / Armenia: A life spent in hiding. Archived from the original on 18 August 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  36. ^ Ziflioglu, Vercihan. "My mother was Armenian, journalist group chair reveals". Hürriyet Daily News. Archived from the original on 13 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  37. ^ Hofmann, Tessa (October 2002). "Armenians in Turkey Today" (PDF). Forum of Armenian Associations in Europe. pp. 10–11. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 September 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  38. ^ Reimann, Anna (1 June 2007). "Armenischer Patriarch in der Türkei: "Die Armenier sind wieder allein" [Armenian Patriarch in Turkey: "The Armenians are alone again"]". Spiegel Online (in German). Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013. Patriarch Mesrob II: Heute leben ungefähr 80.000 christliche Armenier in der Türkei. Mindestens 100.000 weitere Armenier seien zum Islam konvertiert.
  39. ^ a b Basyurt, Erhan (26 December 2005). "Anneannem bir Ermeni'ymiş! [My Grandmother is Armenian]". Aksiyon (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 300 bin rakamının abartılı olduğunu düşünmüyorum. Bence daha da fazladır. Ama, bu konu maalesef akademik bir çabaya dönüşmemiş. Keşke akademisyen olsaydım ve sırf bu konu üzerinde bir çalışma yapsaydım.
  40. ^ ""Իսլամացուած եւ գաղտնի հայերը միատարր չեն", ըստ Երուանդ Մանուկի [Ervand Manuk: "The Islamized Armenians are not homogeneous"]". Aztag (in Armenian). 7 October 2010. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013. Մահմետական հայերու համար 1–2 միլիոն, գաղտնի հայերու համար 300 հազարէն 1 միլիոն թիւերը կը տրուին: Բնականաբար այս թիւերը գիտական եւ ստոյգ չեն:
  41. ^ "500 Bi̇n Kri̇pto Ermeni̇ Var". Odatv (in Turkish). 23 September 2009. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  42. ^ "Prof. Dr. Halaçoğlu: Ermeniler Anadolu'da 500 Bine Yakın Türk'ü Katletti" (in Turkish). Cihan News Agency. 2 March 2011. Archived from the original on 5 February 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  43. ^ Mkrtchyan, Gayane (28 October 2014). "The "Armenian Question": Specialist says political changes bring chance for reclaiming ethnic roots for Armenians in Turkey". ArmeniaNow. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015.
  44. ^ Danielyan, Diana (1 July 2011). "Հնարավո՞ր է արթացնել Թուրքիայի մուսուլմանացած հայերին [Is the awakening of Islamized Armenians in Turkey possible?]". Azg Daily. Retrieved 24 June 2013. Դաղչը զարմանալի թիվ է մատնանշում. տարբեր հաշվարկների համաձայնՙ Թուրքիայում 3–5 մլն մուսուլմանացած հայեր կան:
  45. ^ Danielyan, Diana (1 July 2011). ""Azg": Is the awakening of Islamized Armenians in Turkey possible?". Hayern Aysor. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013. Dagch says according to different calculations, there are 3–5 million Islamized Armenians in Turkey
  46. ^ "More than half of 4–5 million Islamized Armenians confess that their ancestors have been Armenian". Public Radio of Armenia. 5 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.