The Ottoman Empire was unsuccessful in its attempt to completely annihilate the Armenian people. A vast majority of the population was certainly killed or deported from their long-inhabited areas. However, some Armenians remained in Anatolia and Asia Minor – what became the Turkish Republic. In fact, the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, by which the Turkey led by Mustafa Kemal was recognized by the international community, includes stipulations on the rights of three of the country’s minorities: Armenians, Greeks, and Jews. Those rights have not always been accorded or maintained in good faith over the past ninety years.
Many Armenians – former Ottoman subjects, now Turkish citizens – continued to reside in those very ancestral towns and villages from which their compatriots had been whisked away one way or another. That community was not like “the traditional Diaspora” that developed in the Arabic-speaking world, in Iran, or the West. There were no political party-affiliated institutions.
The Armenian Church was very much under the control of the government in Ankara. Newspapers and schools certainly existed and continue to run, albeit, again, with the watchful eye of the state never too far away. Indeed, Armenian schools (and churches) in Turkey more often than not feature the crescent-star flag over a red background, alongside a portrait or a bust of Atatürk. The slogan “Ne mutlu Türküm diyene” has been chanted by more than one generation of Turkish-Armenian students – “What joy for one who says, ‘I am a Turk’”.
Of course, so many Armenians of Turkey have also moved away. As they have emigrated to the West, Yerevan – and elsewhere in Armenia – has become a source of a new wave of Armenians in Turkey. Ever since the ’90s Armenians from Armenia have been moving to Istanbul for economic opportunity. They serve as labourers, perhaps domestic help, often they trade. They are not citizens of Turkey. At one point, in 2010, Prime Minister Erdogan threatened to deport them in the aftermath of some resolutions on the Armenian Genocide in Western countries. In 2015, President Erdogan repeated that threat in the aftermath of the European Parliament’s calls for genocide recognition in the run-up to the centennial.
The Armenians in Turkey remain the one community that is at the same time caught in between, but also in the best position to struggle for change in Turkey from within and to have an immediate connection with so much of the Armenian heritage that was lost during the genocide.