Historian says Turkey’s hidden Christian population may exceed two million
Taking into account the conversion to Islam of Anatolia’s major Christian populations, namely the Armenians, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks, Turkey’s current population of Muslims with Christian roots may exceed two million, historian Vasileios Meichanetsidis wrote for the U.S. think tank Gatestone Institute.
An estimated 300,000 Armenians were orphaned by the 1915 genocide and raised as Muslims in Turkish and Kurdish households throughout Anatolia. Based on the rate of population increase in Turkey, the descendants of the survivors alone could exceed two million people, Meichanetsidis said.
Armenians from Turkey’s northeastern Black Sea town of Hemşin converted to Islam to avoid persecution in the 16th century, similar to some 250,000 Pontic Greeks who lived in and around the neighbouring major province of Trabzon during the 17th and 18th centuries, the article said. There are currently about 200,000 people in Hemşin who still speak a dialect of Armenian.
Ottoman policies of special taxes on non-Muslim communities, social segregation and systematic mistreatment led to the Islamisation of Anatolia’s Christian populations, it said.
The Ottoman Empire took men and young boys from newly conquered lands, converted them to Islam and trained them in the imperial military, and took girls and young women to be placed in harems. The empire also confiscated churches and other buildings that belonged to Anatolian Christians as shown in church documents, the article said.
Most of the remaining Greek population in Anatolia was forcibly converted to Islam, and those who refused were exiled or killed, in the period between 1913 and 1923, it said.
The Armenian genocide of 1915 also affected the Assyrian community, which faced massacres and their orphans were raised in Muslim households, according to the article.
Their current descendants have started to ask about their roots, the article quoted President of the Assyrian Genocide Research Centre Sabri Atman as saying. “They number in the thousands,” Atman said. “They seek to understand what they have endured and continue to endure.”
Children of the converts who declare openly their Armenian identity face hostility from the state, their employers, neighbours, and even their own families, the article quoted author Raffi Bedrosyan as saying. Assyrians face a similar hostile environment, according to Atman.