803) Turkish Orphans Forced to Become Armenians

We've certainly heard enough about Armenian orphans. What about Turkish orphans? This other side of the coin is invisible in Western reportage, because the 2.5 million non-Armenian Ottomans who lost their lives simply were not considered important. Yet such a cataclysmic loss produced a good share of orphans, as well.

The following excerpt from Halide Edib's THE TURKISH ORDEAL (1928) tells us of the abuse from Armenians that Turkish orphans faced. We're constantly told about the "forced conversion" of Armenians, and no doubt there was some of that going on. But here is the other side of the coin, the "forced conversion" of Turks. Naturally, after the Entente victory, the Armenians were in a greater power position within what was left of the occupied Ottoman Empire, after 1918.

The following has been made available elsewhere on the site (as this page), referencing Kamuran Gurun's "The Armenian File." But what is below is the more complete version. Thanks to reader Cihan for making it available.

pp. 16-18:

In the midst of all this the taking of the Armenian children from the Turkish orphanages began to assume a tragic aspect. There were a large number of Turkish orphanages in Anatolia filled with Turkish children whose parents had been the victims of the Armenians. These orphanages had taken Armenian children as well and made them Moslems (which was wrong). The rest of the Armenian orphans were taken by the Americans. Apart from this some Turkish families had taken Armenian children out of kindness and pity without any desire to make them Moslems: for the Moslem Turks do not have the missionary instincts of the Christians of the West. That the Armenians want their children back from those orphanages, and that the British should help them, was very natural. Indeed so much were these orphanages suffering from want and misery that I believe they were glad to have their hands free of them. Anyway, Turkey seemed a country where the number of orphans and their suffering were pitiful to see. Somehow the Turkish orphans got the worst of it. There were about ninety thousand Turkish orphans, and the orphanages contained only twelve thousand children. In the southern and eastern regions there were practically no Turkish orphanages worthy of the name, and the American relief organization in those years took only Christian orphans.

An international committee for the separation of the Armenian children was formed under the patronage of Colonel Heathcote Smythe. It rented a house in Shishli , and the central committee which had to separate the children were mostly Armenians. Nezihé Hanum, the general secretary of the women’s section of the Red Crescent, was asked to represent the Turks. She went three times a week for nearly two months, but resigned afterward. She used to say that her presence did not in any way help the Turkish children, who were being Armenianized daily. The children who were brought to the association were left in the care of the Armenian women, and these Armenian women, either by persuasion or threats or hypnotism, forced the Turkish children to learn by heart the name of an Armenian woman for their mother and the name of an Armenian man for their father. All this I heard from Nezihe Hanum, who is still the general secretary of the Turkish women's Red Crescent and a very well-known woman both in Turkish and European circles in Istamboul. So much for individual cases. When the children were brought in large numbers from the orphanages of Anatolia they were sent to the Armenian Church in Koum Kapou, a hot-pot which boiled the Turkish children and dished them out as Armenians. Some children tried to run away but were always brought back.

The 1964 reprint of the Naim-Andonian forgeries tried to make a villain out of Halide Edip. Here, she is identified as surrounded by Armenian orphans. To such propagandists, no other orphans existed... no one else suffered, only the Armenians.

It happened at that time that I was visiting Nezihé Hanum in the Red Crescent office, when two frightened boys, one limping and the other wounded on the head, which was tied up with a dirty white rag, broke into her room. They wore the khaki uniform of the orphanages; their clothes were torn, and they looked miserable and frightened beyond description. And they told their story. They came from an orphanage recently brought to the church. They had fiercely objected to being made into Armenians: Armenians had massacred their parents. They had been badly beaten but they had managed to run away. The first member of the police they met had brought them up to the Red Crescent office. They begged in tears to be protected and not sent back. Nezihé Hanum telephoned to a few Turkish press representatives and asked them to take the children to the British embassy and make them say what they had to say to Mr. Ryan, the first dragoman, the man who had been directing the British policy in Turkey for years and who spoke good Turkish. Although well known for his intense hatred of the Turks, still, the sight of two innocent children in this helpless condition might make him look at their case favorably, thought Nezihé Hanum. Two young journalists went with them to the embassy. It was quite dramatic. I heard that as the children were speaking, an Armenian employee entered the room to say something to Mr. Ryan, whereupon one of the children turned and exclaimed, "This is the man who has kicked us and beaten us." Apparently the man was a member of the council in the church of Koum Kapou.

In the meantime these public scandals led the British to ask the American Near East Relief to open a center in Bebek to take care of the children and to give judgment, among other things, as to which was which. The center was opened-it had the advantage of being clean-and the children were well looked after. It was run on more equitable lines; but there also the Armenians got the benefit of the doubt. As Nezihé Hanum had retired, it was Nakié Hanum this time who represented the Turks. She also could not bear it for more than a few weeks. The difficulty was the impossibility of producing official papers. Any child who could not produce identification papers, which many could not, was taken as an Armenian. The last case had been too much for Nakié Hanum. A Turkish boy called Kiazim, from Adana, had been taken as an Armenian but did not submit easily. The boy was the son of a Turkish official in Adana. His father had died. As he had no mother either, the neighbors had given him to the orphanage to get something of an education. The boy remembered his father and his former life very clearly. But when the commission wrote to Adana and asked for a copy of his birth certificate, it was found that the government house, together with the desired papers, had been burned during the riots. The boy was pronounced Armenian. He had stuck to Nakié Hanum, crying and begging to be saved. But the commission was obdurate. Then the boy had stood up and said, "Kiazim is small, Kiazim is weak, his fists cannot protect him, but the time will come when Kiazim will be strong: then he will show the world that he is a Turk."

Nakié Hanum left the Bebek center and never returned, nor could the Bebek center itself keep going. For the Armenians were not content with occasionally wresting a Turkish child from its nationality; they wanted every child brought there to be pronounced an Armenian without exception. So far even the American missionaries could not go in their Christian zeal.

The pain of the little creature affected me strangely as Nakié Hanum told me about it. To me he was a symbol of the helpless Turkish nation at the moment. He had been small and weak.

© Holdwater

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