To Baptize or Not to Baptize the Hidden Armenians

Diyarbakir Armenians baptized at Etchmiadzin in August 2014 (Photo by Gulisor Akkum/The Armenian Weekly)
Diyarbakir Armenians baptized at Etchmiadzin in August 2014 (Photo by Gulisor Akkum/The Armenian Weekly)

Diyarbakir Armenians baptized at Etchmiadzin in August 2014 (Photo by Gulisor Akkum/The Armenian Weekly)



Along with the many high points experienced during the historic Armenia trip of the 80 hidden Armenians from Turkey, there were also a few low points. The highs included warm welcomes by both Armenian government officials and common people on the street, emotional triumphs at Sardarabad, feelings of grief at the Genocide Museum, new-found friendships, accomplishments like spelling the alphabet during Armenian language classes, or simply being able to order food in Armenian at a restaurant. However, I want to point out a few of the lows our hidden Armenians encountered—all related to baptism.

Among the members of our group, two girls from Dersim and a young man from Diyarbakir wished to be baptized. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, their wish did not come true.

In recent days, Armenian media—both in the Diaspora and in Armenia—ran headline news and opinion pieces on this topic. Various individuals gave press conferences; people opined on TV; statements were released by the church, government, Diaspora organizations, and political parties; while heated debates on social media argued both for and against the decision to refuse the baptisms.

As the organizer of the group whose three members wished to be baptized, and as the designated godfather or “gnkahayr” for these baptisms, I would like to provide a first-hand account of what really happened, why it happened, and what we should do to avoid such scandals in the future.

One may recall that during the trip I organized last year for the 50 hidden Armenians from Diyarbakir to Armenia, we witnessed the baptisms of a man and a woman in Etchmiadzin. The man was a teacher in a public school in Diyarbakir. This year, he brought his son to Armenia to extend the process of returning to Armenian roots to the next generation. The woman baptized last year, on the other hand, had an even more ominous challenge. Her husband, a devout Moslem Kurd, had forbidden her from taking such a step. She nevertheless decided to convert to Christianity to keep her promise to her hidden Armenian father, who had asked her to become a Christian Armenian at his deathbed. I am also pleased to report that she and her husband are still happily married, and are now bravely facing the challenge of how to raise their child together—whether as an Armenian, a Kurd, a Christian, or a Moslem.

Therefore, this year when three members of our group approached me with their wish to be baptized, I thought—perhaps naively—that again I can go ahead and arrange the baptisms for the day we visit Etchmiadzin. The two Dersimtsi girls would take the names Anahit and Nairi, and the Dikranagerdtsi man from Diyarbakir would become Madteos Paramaz. One of the Dersim girls had a brother who was already baptized last year. The Dikranagerdsi man was a distant relative of the family involved in the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir.

Participants of this year’s trip at Dzidzernagapert

Participants of this year’s trip at Dzidzernagapert

Unfortunately, the baptisms could neither happen in Echmiadzin, nor in the Khor Virab Church the next day, nor in Surp Hovhannes Church in Yerevan the following day. The explanations given to us were as varied as the clerics involved. Some said we had to apply in writing months in advance; then, the applications would be reviewed by a religious council before permission could be considered. Others said we needed to bring a letter from the Istanbul Acting Patriarch Archbisop Aram Atesyan granting permission for the baptisms. One cleric suggested the candidates must visit Armenia at least three times before being eligible. An even more preposterous suggestion came from a cleric who wondered why we don’t go to churches in Turkey since those wishing to be baptized are all from Turkey, instead of causing headaches for him and his superiors. I didn’t bother telling him that although there are churches in Istanbul, no churches are left in historic Armenia except the one we reconstructed in Diyarbakir. Overall, these clerics seemed to be unprepared as to how to deal with the baptism requests and had to make endless calls to their superiors for a decision, which either did not come or was ultimately negative. In any case, they would still lead us on, that by tomorrow, there may be a positive decision. So, each day—with our hopes high, after buying the required towels, crosses, and headscarves for the girls—we would face renewed disappointment. Even the intervention of the Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan did not achieve the desired outcome.

An even more upsetting development was the zeal of critics to use this incident to start misguided attacks. Rather than criticize the decision itself or the persons who made the decision, we have individuals appearing at press conferences and on TV, or writing articles in newspapers, attacking the Armenian Church, the Ministry of Diaspora, and the government in general. One organization called Republic of Western Armenia even went as far as issuing fictitious citizenship and identification cards with the baptized names printed on them, displaying the cards with a fictitious flag, name, and photo at press conferences and on TV. It seems these people forget or don’t care that the two Dersim girls and the Diyarbakir man will return to Turkey, will continue living among Moslem Turks and Kurds, with their names paraded on a fictitious republic’s fake citizenship cards. Do they have the right to jeopardize the lives of these already endangered persons? Or for that matter, do any of these opinion makers, who pass along all sorts of judgment in the media, care about the emotions of these three young people who had made such a personal decision as changing their faith, their religion?

The hidden Armenians have no control over their ethnic roots, their genetic identity—they were given no choice. They were born as Armenians, even though the fact that they are Armenians was not revealed to them until later in life. Some of them have now made a conscious decision to return to their ethnic roots. But changing religion by converting to Christianity is an entirely different matter. No one is born with a religion—Christian or Moslem. Religion is not a genetic identity but a faith acquired by personal choice and through family. If someone has made the decision to become Christian through baptism, there should be no individual, no institution, or no force to prevent that from happening—especially in the case of hidden Armenians, who are taking a risk by revealing their Armenian identity, and by converting to Christianity. If the reason for these increasingly difficult barriers that prevent baptisms is misgivings of abuse, there should be other ways of dealing with them quickly and without delay. Sure, there could be some Moslem Turks or Kurds just pretending to be hidden Armenians. There could be others who have no intention of becoming Christian Armenian and who are getting baptized to gain some sort of advantage, such as employment or a way out of Turkey and into Europe or the Americas. However, these exceptions should not lead to draconian rules and regulations for all others who genuinely want to become Christian. Moreover, why do we have godfathers? The role of the godfather is to assure the Church that the person being baptized is eligible and worthy of baptism, and there should be no excuse or delay by the cleric for further investigation.

The objective of Project Rebirth is to help the hidden Armenians think, feel, and act as Armenians. Our work will continue regardless of the barriers placed by certain people. Whether these hidden Armenians become Christian or not, they have decided to return to their Armenian roots, and we will continue encouraging them. It would be ideal if the Church also fulfils its duty in encouraging them to become Christian Armenians, but if not, it is still alright. After all, Armenians were Armenians for centuries before they adopted Christianity.


Discussion Policy

Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Though you are fully responsible for the content you post, comments that include profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate material will not be permitted. Asbarez reserves the right to block users who violate any of our posting standards and policies.


  1. Vosquian said:


    God bless you. You’re a warrior for Christ and his flock. Please excuse these self-absorbed, misguided souls who represent some irrelevant interest. We support your tireless efforts to bring our people home and back to Christ. The “Hidden Armenians” must not hide anymore and we will work until all come home despite these minor challenges. We stand with you. Shame on the church bureaucrats…


  2. Serop said:

    We should all welcome them with open arms, treat them with such love and kindness that they now know what being Armenian is all about when we see each other in the most secluded parts of the eart we call each other Axper or Kurik.
    Welcome back to House of Hayk my Armenian brothers & sisters no matter Christian or Muslim, the doors to the House of Hayk is always open for those to return home.

  3. State-Of-Emergency said:

    No choice but to Baptize, otherwise, there will be future strife and conflict. They must return to the religion of their ancestors. Islam was forced upon them, there is no need to cling on something that was imposed against their will. Come back or forget about it!!

  4. arpi said:

    I can imagine how heartbroken our sisters and brother were. This story is heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time. Sometimes we really are our worst enemies. You would think/hope they would be welcomed into our community (read church) with open arms.

  5. hye said:

    you can’t take God from people, you can’t take Armenia from an Armenian. A prayer of hidden Armenian will reach the God faster, and love of hidden Armenian for Armenia is stronger than a non-hidden Armenian. I think it’s better for them not to convert OPENLY, because God forbid if incidents like 1915, 1930, 1950’s happens(persecution of Christians) Turkey you don’t want them to be impacted by that.

  6. scholar said:

    A general note. No-one should or could be baptized out of the blue. In history, all traditional Churches have implied a period of teaching and learning (in the case of adult baptism). For example, Orthodox Churches in Europe still have a period of cathecumenate. It may last one or two years. People should know about the faith, doctrine and liturgical life before being baptized. Becoming a Christian is not only an individual’s choice, it also means to became a member of community etc.

    However, concerning the cases mentioned in this article, I just hope they can be baptized to the Armenian Church rater soon! – if not in Armenia, then under the patriarchate of Constantinople!

  7. Diane Kupelian said:

    Bless you, Raffi Bedrosyan, for your faithfulness in all ways! You are faithful to the hidden Armenians, and that is an enormous service to all Armenians and a blessing on the individuals you help to regain their true identities. You are faithful to the Armenian nation, you are faithful to the Armenian Church, even when individuals in it disappoint you! Thank you for your courage, your passion, and your even handedness. Your work is a blessing on all of us.

    I am completely puzzled by the refusal to baptize these individuals. Who, in Turkey, would fake being Armenian, and converting to Christianity? It’s only something done with great courage because of all the difficulties that comes with living in a profoundly racist society.

    I was raised Protestant. I have utmost respect for the Armenian Church. But if this happens again, why don’t you consider asking a Protestant minister, or a Catholic priest, to baptize them into Christianity, and then instruct them to go and register with the Armenian Church in Turkey, get a second “real” baptism if you want to look at it that way, and allow these courageous folks to experience a baptism at the time they are emotionally prepared for it? From my point of view, all Christians worship the same God and Savior.

    I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for these people who made a pilgrimage to their roots from the country that tried to extinguish their roots, just to find that they couldn’t be counted as Christians because of some inexplicable bureaucratic indecision.

    At any rate, I hope and pray that the Armenian Church in Armenia will figure out a way not to have this happen again. It is just too painful. Please send love and greetings from my family to our reclaimed Armenian brothers and sisters!

    • hairabed said:

      I assure you the Armenian Catholics will not baptize these tourists without rigorous training first. The bigger question is, why are we making them to change their religion? We should accept the Islamized Armenians with open arms as they are. We should be sympatatic to what they went through all these years to maintain their Armenian identity.
      We should Christianize the openly Armenians first before (prostelizing) converting others over.

  8. Varty said:

    Why is it permissible to go from one denomination to another without this scrutiny of refusing to baptize the Turkish Armenians? If one should be judgmental, (and who are we to judge the other?) then isn’t it appropriate to blame our church authorities, including the Catholigos of all Armenians, who did not interfere at all and stop the spread of all sorts of sects and beliefs (aghantner) in Armenia among a people, whose “christian spiritual need” forces them to accept anything that comes under the guise of “Christian faith”, sects and beliefs that mostly misinterpret the bible, and their “priests, or witnesses” enter the humble homes with false promises …? Yeznig Goghpatsi (4th century famous philosopher) wrote his famous philosophical work, namely “yeghdz aghantots” meaning “the corrupting sects” justly acting as a defender of the Armenian Church and its independence from all sorts of sects and spreading false beliefs. I am sure our priests and clergy are aware of it, but preferred to sit idly and let the infiltration and corruption happen. This is directly telling that there are many different measures among the church authorities who judge what is right and what is wrong – without having done anything to fill the spiritual void of its own people, and suddenly becoming defenders of the “faith” against Turkish invasion?

    These Turks wanting to be christened, have at least something to show for, their choice to adopt christianity (which many among us neither know nor practice it anyway), initially, and for their lifetime, had no idea about their ancestral roots, are ready to face even torture in Turkey if found out. Is it our obligation to worry, if by becoming Christians, they will seek a free land with freedom of speech, of which they were deprived for 100 years? Isn’t this their human right to start living without lies? Who is to say, that these same people will not be the people to educate the masses in recognizing what has been done by their forefathers? Who is to say, that by their growing numbers they might not turn the tide to our advantage? Somehow, somewhere the awakening must happen, and it may come from within the Turkish people, who have been deprived of all truth for the past 150 years… and honestly, since when our reliance on foreign “christian powers” has proven to be to our advantage?

  9. HIRAIR said:


  10. Edward Demian said:

    The sclerosis of theOrthodox church will cause it to loose even more followers to other Christian sects. The Catholics, the Protestants, probably don’t have such qualms. Personally, I never understood why an atheist is a better Armenian than one who was born Muslim.

  11. imagine said:

    I have long given up on the Armenian priests especially higher ranking ones with all their scandals, corruption, and unChristian ways. This is yet another grossly perverse inhuman example. Shame on them. Shame on the individuals who exploit this situation.
    Thank you Raffi Bedrysyan for informing us and standing up for these brave Armenians, and for Project Rebirth.

  12. Carolann Najarian said:

    I am thoroughly ashamed of our people who would refused to baptize ‘hidden Armenians.’ Please convey our dismay, Raffi to these brave and wonderful ‘new Armenians!’ Please tell them that most thinking Armenians welcome them, and welcome them warmly. The church should do no less.

  13. Sylva~MD~Poetry said:


    Turkified Armenians
    Unlucky Armenians
    Suppressed Armenians
    Freedom-less Armenians
    Bleeding Armenias
    Lacrimating silently each day that past

    There are no equal word to describe their unluckiness…
    Not created in any dictionary yet…
    No nation had such tragedy like thems

    All Armenian in Diaspora had their freedom to sing and dance
    Calling themselves “We are Armenians, We pray for our faith …no one can stop us ”
    Did those Turkified Armenians had that chance…?
    There are more and more to say …

    Unlucky Armenians had enough…enough
    There is no need to ask anyone …to be peptized or not ..
    They have the right to their lives …
    No one has right to suppress their wills …

    They were silent all this time…
    While we were happy… any where we lived
    Can’t you feel with them you Diaspora’ Armenians?

    Are you faithless, godless imposing your laws on them …
    Who you think you are…???
    Shame Shame Shame…
    Very sad to ask any one …
    Only Jesus can judge,
    Yes, and no one else!

    Feel with them …
    Their DNA is Armenian and never their old religion
    You forgot we were all paganian…!

    Religion will come and go
    Armenianisim will breathe in our blood …
    Till the earth ends….

    Dr. Sylva Portoian
    Written instantly
    August 16, 2015

  14. hrair said:

    I think that most who reacted to this article and subject matter in general should take a step back and try to understand all aspects of the issue without falling into a dangerous emotional, populist trap and or to see it only from narrow religious scope. It is very easy to get emotional on the subject like this and to arrive at wrong conclusions. beyond and above all the emotion provoking charge of the issue, especially for a nation like ours who went through the catastrophe of the genocide , the fact is that it is very important and a delicate one and as such needs to be assessed and addressed in a mature, level headed , comprehensive and rational way.
    I myself am for acceptance of all Armenians into ‘house and family’ of HAIK , as one of the responders called it. My family narrowly avoided islamization themselves and I and many of us could have been in the other shoes had events vent differently for us. For me the nation comes first, pagan Armenians were as Armenian as it comes and religion, any religion, is not and should not be a decisive factor in being Armenian . Religions are just a component of the whole, the whole culture and as we know have changed throughout history adjusting and reflecting politics and circumstances. Nationality is above any religion. We are all united in blood. What one believes or doesn’t believe is their private issue.
    All that acknowledged, it is entirely another issue if this individuals have proven that they are really of Armenian lineage, if they want the baptism for spiritual, personal reasons, are prepared and sure of this decisions and the whole thing is not a on the moment sort of emotional gesture, if this individuals have other motives or not in their sudden desire to be baptized as Christian in the Armenian church. If these individuals do identify with core values of the Armenian nation, its interests, etc…
    There are many real important issues and concerns and as emotional as this case may be we as a nation need to be balanced and level headed about this issue. There are allot of pan national questions and concerns connected to this issue. There is a concern about Turkish government’s possible infiltration into Armenian reality, the Issue of genocide and surviving it, issue of having Armenians on western Armenian lands, the issue of national Armenian institutions, community property in Turkey and its ownership. It might all sound far-fetched etc. but Turkish government always tried to abort the Armenian question, property rights etc. without any hesitation to resort to sinister methods. For those who don’t know, they even came up to fake Turkish orthodox church establishment in Turkey in order to rival the Greek orthodox patriarchate and its rights, property claims / ownership etc. in Turkey.

    Let’s welcome our sisters and brothers with open arms, but in orderly way … Let’s create and empower our religious, community organization to come up with mechanisms and clear pathways to achieve reunification in a thought out, orderly and civilized way. That is the only right way that we can have real reunion and not a short lived, ill prepared, emotional one open to all sort of manipulations.
    On this note, I find the reaction and apatite of the protestant responders sickening, and divisive, as ever.
    This is not an open season for “soul hunting” , it is an Armenian national issue.

  15. Vasken said:

    The Catholicus of all Armenian is from Old School of communist era and has been unsuitable to make effective decissions in respect of hidden Armenians, who wants to turn to their ethnic roots. He has no policy about hidden Armenians to defend these heartbroken relations of our diasporans.
    When he went to Constantinoble and used the “G” word… Erdoghan complained: and he went mouse… like the sheperd pretend slip when the wolf comes… .
    Pope Benedict’s decision to step down as leader of the Catholic Church was his declining health due to old age… he was brave.

  16. Hairabed said:

    Although they may not have articulated well, no priest in this article is disputing that the Turkified Armenians should not be baptized in the Armenian Church. In fact there are many non-Armenians who are baptized in the Armenian Church and Armenians baptized in non-Armenian Churches. The bloodline is not an issue here.
    There are lots of people who think you hand a $100 to priest and he will baptize and marry someone in the church. Sad to say, unfortunately it is the case among many greedy and unscrupulous Armenian Orthodox clergy.
    How about having these folks attend 2 or 3 sessions of training, explaining to them what the baptism service is all about, who Jesus is, what happens during baptism, attend couple of Liturgy, what is expected of them as Christians etc…. Remember, these people have not brought up in the church. I don’t see anything wrong with this minor stipulation. Imagine yourselves going to a Mosque while touring Saudi Arabia and asking the Sheiks to convert you to Islam. He wouldn’t do that. You would have to go through some training before he converts anyone. That is exactly the case with these tourists visiting Armenia.

  17. Hovannes kahvedjian said:

    it is so sad,i have no respect to all of priests which they are after money,were is our Brotherly love ,sorry but i stop going to church