YEREVAN (ArmeniaNow)–Mihran Gultekin, founder of Turkey-based Union of Dersim Armenians (a region of eastern Turkey, which includes Tunceli Province, Elazığ Province, and Bingöl Province), went to court to change his name and religion at the age of 50. He was baptized as a Christian, changed his Turkish name Selahattin, and now is known as Mihran Prkich (Mihran Savior), and is in Armenia for the first time.
The Union of Dersim Armenians, founded three months ago in Eastern Turkey, has already raised a clamor in Turkey, where it aims to help hidden and Islamized Armenians re-find their identity, learn the Armenian language, and learn traditional Armenian values.
The union officially has 80 members, but the number of their supporters exceeds 600. According to data of the union, about 75 percent of the Dersim region population are “hidden” Armenians.
“Of course, it is a difficult process to return to one’s roots, which have been hidden for years in the atmosphere of fear. It is possible to change one’s religion only through the court, and one should prove in court that his or her ancestors were Armenians. Archives are practically not preserved, and this complicates everything. But the most important thing is that the number of people who want to change their religion is great,” Gultekin told ArmeniaNow.
Mihran, now 51 old, knew that he is Armenian since he was seven years old; however, he managed to fulfill his dream of returning his identity only at the age of 50. His 21-year-old son has also been converted, and he is baptized as Hrant.
In the beginning the union must teach Armenian to those who don’t know their mother tongue, which, according to Mihran, is again difficult, because there is a lack of specialists of the Armenian language, therefore volunteer youth groups from Istanbul to help them.
“We want our ties with Armenians to be activated. Armenia was introduced to our youth as a backward country, but I am astonished to see this developed city – Yerevan,” Mihran says, appealing to everybody to join their festival to be organized in August in Dersim, where the culture of Dersimtsi Armenians will be presented.
“There are many common things, like dances. For example, Kochari [Armenian national circular dance] which for all our lives we thought was a Kurdish dance, but now we understand that it is Armenian. Besides, I heard songs performed by the Armenian choir in Istanbul and I realized that I had heard all those songs in Kurdish,” Mihran says, adding, “We need to re-find our culture.”