Journey Home: Armenian from Turkey recalls life as an outsider
Alin believes not all Turks deny the Genocide, they simply do not know the truth.
Alin Ozinian, 28, Armenian born in Istanbul, was only five years old when she first felt uncomfortable being a foreigner.
“When one’s mother says not to call her mother in the street, at that age the child feels that something must be wrong. Now I understand that my mother did not want anyone in the street to feel that we were not Turks,” Ozinian recalls. Alin was brought up in Istanbul. Her family line comes from Western Armenia. Her mother’s line is from Ordu (port on the Black Sea coast of Turkey), and the father’s line – from Istanbul. Alin tells about her great grandmother who migrated from Ordu to Constantinople (now Istanbul). “The whole family was killed in front of her. Only she survived among seven children with the help of Kurds. In 1914, she reached Istanbul. Here she married another survivor – my great grandfather,” Alin recalls. “My great grandmother has witnessed everything [Genocide scenes], and she did not trust (the Turks). She used to say, “This country is not safe, do not stay here.” However, Alin’s family lived in the Kadkur district of Istanbul while Alin attended an Armenian kindergarten, later an Armenian school. She says that she was raised in a distinctly Armenian family where Armenian was spoken all the time, and the events of 1915 were always discussed. “Many families simply keep silence about it [Armenian Genocide in 1915]. And there is truth in the silence, too. In the future, this or that child attends schools, talks to Turks, and if he/she knows about it, suffers great stress. But I always knew that, and it did not hinder me,” she says. Alin says that Turkish history is included in the curriculum of 13 Armenian schools in Istanbul, but Armenian history is not taught. “A specific age comes when one starts understanding that the Turkish history is not right. The difference between Armenian and Turkish schools is that there are eight class hours of the Armenian language and religion. If a teacher of the Armenian language is brave enough, he/she may also briefly touch upon the events of the past [Armenian Genocide], and must do it very carefully,” Alin says. Alin’s family always felt drawn to Armenia while living in Istanbul. “I have inherited homesickness and love towards Armenia from my parents. In 1990s we followed all the events about Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh War on Turkish TV,” Alin recalls. In 1990s, Armenian citizens started visiting Turkey, too. Alin says, that they (Armenians living in Turkey) asked Armenian citizens to bring postcards with Armenian sights for them. “If we saw a woman on those postcards by chance, we immediately started examining her shoes, her clothes, because in Turkey they used to say that there is nothing in Armenia . . .” The interest towards Armenia grew with time, and the family came to Armenia for the first time in 1996. “We stayed in Yerevan for three weeks, and we loved it too much. I bought 20 bottles of Coca-Cola with Armenian labels from Armenia and distributed them to my classmates. I said, “Look, it is written Armenian here.”” In 2000, Alin entered the Faculty of International Relations at the Yerevan State University. After graduating from the university, she returned to Istanbul and told her parents that she had decided to settle in Armenia. Her family shared her decision and moved too, a decision that surprised many Armenians living in Istanbul. “They say that as soon as the living conditions improve in Armenia, they will leave for here. But when they conditions improve, they may not come. Let them come now and help somehow [to support improvement],” Alin says. Alin is also studying at the department of Turkish Studies at the Oriental Studies Faculty. Now she works at the Turkish-Armenian Business Council Organization as a press secretary, and she is the regional project coordinator of International Alert – Caucasus Business Development Center. She writes analytical articles for Turkish Zaman and Today’s Zaman newspapers. On Saturday, for the 10th time, she will join the thousands at the Genocide Memorial for the annual April 24 commemoration. “Turkish TV channels broadcast anti-propaganda that day,” she says. Alin believes that many Turks do not deny (the fact of the Armenian Genocide), but they simply do not know what has happened. They have not been provided with a chance and right to know anything. “There must be a dialogue. I have a Turkish acquaintance, I tell him, you know, my grandmother was from Ordu, we had a house there. I say, you are able to go to visit you grandma on vacations in your village, don’t you? But, you know, my grandmother was even scared to pass by her hometown, we do not have a house there anymore, we have nothing at all. You know, I say, they were seven siblings, now we have no one [alive among them]. You have relatives, right? We don’t. And he starts thinking, he asks himself – why?”