Last Armenian Village In Turkey Keeps Silent About 1915 Slaughter
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A notorious chapter in history began 100 years ago this week, the massacres and forced marches of Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. Up to 1.5 million Armenians died in what most historians call the first genocide of the last century. Turkey denies that label, saying the deaths were part of widespread ethnic fighting in a civil war. About 60,000 Armenians still live in Turkey. NPR's Deborah Amos visited some who are not eager to bring up the past.
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DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: This is the last Armenian village in Turkey. One hundred years ago, Vakifli survived the devastating massacres with courage and luck. Now the village is a draw for tourists, perched on a mountainside with fragrant fruit orchards and stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. But Vakifli is facing a different battle for survival. The young people leave for jobs someplace else. Only 135 residents remain, mostly elderly. Silence is their survival strategy. The Armenians of Vakifli remain wary of any public ceremonies. They fear stirring a Turkish backlash, says village leader Cem Capar.
CEM CAPAR: (Through interpreter) People come and ask, what are your ideas about the Armenian genocide? And I say, I don't want to think about that.
AMOS: Why don't you want to think about it?
CAPAR: (Through interpreter) Politicians are exploiting it. They're hurting us. And that's why I don't want to talk about it.
AMOS: But the history of Vakifli and neighboring villages is famous. The movie "Forty Days of Musa Dagh" recounts resistance here. Armenians held out until they were rescued by a passing French warship. The villagers of Vakifli returned and eventually became Turkish citizens. At the local church, Capar tells me, Turkey is my country.
CAPAR: (Foreign language spoken).
AMOS: But his country's official denial has only hardened, opening Turkey to international censure. It's a conflict for an Armenian. But to an outsider, Capar speaks as a Turk.
CAPAR: (Through interpreter) Any attack that happens to Turkey, I take it as an attack on myself.
MAYOR BERC KARTUN: (Foreign language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).
AMOS: Identity is a complicated matter. Everyone here is proud to be descendants of the Armenians who resisted, no one more so than the mayor, Berc Kartun. When we visit him at home, he explains Vakifli's survival is now dependent on the Turkish government.
B. KARTUN: (Through interpreter) We cannot deny that our government is helping us a lot.
AMOS: The church's restoration, repairs to roads, an organic farming plan - all government-supported projects. It's enough economic activity to keep Kartun's son, Haroot, from looking for opportunities outside Vakifli.
Do you feel this history in the same way that your father does?
HAROOT KARTUN: (Foreign language spoken).
AMOS: "I'm 28. I'm young. Of course I feel it as my father does," he says. They say the Turkish government now protects Christians, a refuge for neighboring Syrian Christians fleeing Islamist radicals. Still, Vakifli's history won't be publicly commemorated.
H. KARTUN: (Through interpreter) We are a small village. We are a minority here, and that's why I feel the same pressure, the same as my father.
AMOS: And these Armenian Turks wonder how long they can keep their heritage alive. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Vakifli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.