We, the Armenians of Dersim (Mentsour in Armenian and Tunceli in present-day Turkey), for over a hundred years have been physically living in this geographical region without the free practice of our identity, mother tongue, culture, beliefs and generally our traditions. But we have still tried to preserve ourselves in this situation until now, without freedom of culture or ethnic identity and living under the danger of assimilation. This is due to the Turkish government’s historical and present character. We believe that to have kept our identity even under such pressure of assimilation has been thanks to the resistance we have put forth against such forces. This State repression and assimilation policy and its genocidal nature are still underway currently. But we as a community, despite all the repression, have tried to pull ourselves together. We have tried to return to our Armenian roots. Hrant Dink’s murder has once again reminded us that a return to our real Armenian roots and identity is of utmost necessity.
In this context, the first attempt was to establish an association of Dersim Armenians. This association has been in operation for two years. Since we started this association and its outreach network, we have helped bring together many hidden Armenians, as well as assimilated Armenians and also those who have spread in different metropolitan centers globally and doubt their Armenian roots. We have succeeded in bringing a big number of these people together. We have helped introduce them to each other by trying to develop joint activities, emotions and consciousness of ethnic identity. This work and effort have been only partially successful because we have not had the support of any specific institution. Whatever success we have had, it was due to the collective efforts of many individuals and their ethical beliefs and consciousness. At first we were a small number in this association but slowly it has grown. To declare our identity as Christian Armenians, we first went through a series of family baptism ceremonies at the Armenian churches and thus issued a manifesto declaring our Christian roots. We also began publishing a magazine called DERSIAT with articles, news, analysis, data and information that encourage all Armenians to connect with each other and share the same emotions and expression. We also publish in this magazine a lot of data facts about the physical, cultural and architectural remnants of Dersim Armenians from past history as well as of the present day. We have visited France and Armenia and participated in cultural events. Also, through exposure in the TV and newspaper media, we have tried to establish closer ties with all Armenians in order to create the conditions for coming together and connecting with each other. It is well known that Istanbul is really a mosaic of different ethnic cultures. For this reason we invited many artist and intellectuals from Armenia and also organized a first Dersim Armenian Night in 2011.
There are still many important projects our association wants to undertake. The first one is a project to realize a factual study of the historical and cultural remains of Armenians in Dersim, such as churches, tombs, chapels and Khatchkars. The collected facts and the establishment of an archive will help identify and record all the cultural and historical heritage and artifacts so that they become part of the official State Records. Along with all the above we are also aiming for the establishment of an Armenian cemetery in Dersim in such a successful way that it can set an example for all other communities like us all over Turkey. We believe that this project of the cemetery will encourage many Dersim Armenians who live overseas, to come back and visit their birthplace Dersim.
As everyone knows, all these projects require certain financial funds and resources. All members of our association have been contributing financially through their own pockets. It is a well-known fact also that the Istanbul Armenian community is quite well off financially but unfortunately they are unable to assist us because of their fear of the State and regime reprisal. It is clear and understood that this situation will not change in the next long while. Therefore in order to realize all the projects we have mentioned above, we as Dersim Armenians have to turn towards Europe and North America to look for financial support and funding assistance. We are hoping for the support of Armenian associations, institutions and caring individuals who have the awareness and conscience to help.