Armenian quest for lost orphans
By Dorian Jones

BBC News, UK -
Aug 1 2005

Producer, Masterpiece, BBC World Service

Nahide Kaptan (front row, second from left) was taken in aged nine
Ninety years ago, hundreds of thousands of Armenians died in mass
killings that still resonate through Turkey's social and political

Armenians say that up to 1.5m of their people were deported and died
at the hands of the then Ottoman rulers of Turkey.

But it is believed that thousands of orphaned Armenian children were
saved secretly by Turkish families.

Until now, the very existence of the children has remained largely an
untold story, buried along with those who died between 1915 and 1916.

But the stories of those Armenian orphans are slowly being uncovered
by their descendants. Turkish documentary maker Berke Bas is one of
those people.

Family member Nahide Kaptan was saved in 1915 when she was nine years
old. But uncovering the truth still remains a difficult and
contentious issue.

What happened in 1915 still remains a hotly disputed subject.
Armenia, along with the Armenian Diaspora, accuses the then Ottoman
rulers of carrying out a "genocide". But Turkey disputes the charge,
saying that a few hundred thousand died and that the deaths occurred
in a civil war in which many Turks were also killed.

Kitchen hideout

Selim Deringil, a historian of the late Ottoman period at Istanbul's
Bosphorus University, says "what you have is people talking at cross
purposes and not really interested in what happened."

Professor Deringil himself fell victim to the controversy, being
forced to postpone a conference on the subject earlier this year
after intense government pressure.

This is the biggest issue, Christians becoming Muslims. They don't
see themselves as outsiders but they remain silent about their past,

Newspaper editor

The ongoing controversy can pose problems for those delving into the

Berke Bas, on returning to her birthplace - the Black Sea city of
Ordu - admitted she had concerns.

"I am sure there will be people who will approach this with disdain,
saying 'Why am I digging up this history?' So many families deny the
fact they had Armenian family members."

According to Professor Deringil, such stories are not unusual. He
says thousands of Armenian children were saved by Turkish families.

"We do know that it was on such a scale that the then rulers of the
Ottoman Empire issued secret orders to punish families who saved
Armenian children."

Berke returned to her birthplace in her search for the past
The first memory of Nahide for Berke was being told how she was
hidden under the kitchen sink, when she first came to the family.

After speaking with relatives, Berke discovered that at least five
Armenian children were taken in by both sides of her family.

But acknowledging Armenian ancestors within Turkish families still
remains a taboo for many, according to the editor of the local

"These children were brought up in Muslim families. This is the
biggest issue, Christians becoming Muslims," he said.

"They don't see themselves as outsiders but they remain silent about
their past, afraid. Now, as a Turk, a Muslim you say that your
ancestors were Armenian then you are called a Garvur, you are without
belief, without a soul, and you are an outcast."

'Stunning stories'

But despite the reluctance of many to talk about their Armenian
ancestry, Berke discovered that Nahide had a brother who survived
1915 and eventually ended up in Istanbul. Although he has since died,
it is believed his daughter is still alive.

Berke returned to Istanbul to try to find her. She visited Agos, a
weekly Armenian newspaper.

Printing both in Turkish and Armenian, the paper seeks to be a bridge
between the 60,000 Istanbul Armenians living in the city and wider
Turkish society.

Agos editor Hrant Dink says he is inundated by requests from both
Turkey and abroad to find Armenian relatives.

"The mails I receive, the e-mails, the phone enquiries! The people
who knock on my door, they contact me every day," he said.

"There are so many people from here and from abroad. They learn that
they have a past. They're looking for information, wanting history
and references, looking for relatives. I am involved in it personally
everyday. There are stunning examples, so many stories reaching me."

Masterpiece: The Little Girl Who Came In From The Cold can first be
heard on BBC World Service at 0805GMT/0905BST on Tuesday 2 August
2005 or online at the Masterpiece website for the following 7 days.