The Secret Armenians

“Who are you? This is Turkey. Do you know what Turkey is?” a man asked me, his thick glasses magnifying the fear in his eyes.

Thus begins a short article at the independent Armenian magazine Ianyan, by Avedis Hadjian. It’s an excerpt from a book due next year, “A Secret Nation: The Hidden Armenians of Turkey.”

I found the article fascinating. History, intrigue, and journalism mingle. And there’s a missing map. But mostly it’s about the secret Armenians.

In Turkey, there lives a mysterious minority known as the “secret Armenians.” They have been hiding in the open for nearly a century. Outwardly, they are Turks or Kurds, but the secret Armenians are actually descendants of the survivors of the 1915 Genocide, who stayed behind in Eastern Anatolia after forcibly converting to Islam. Some are now devout Muslims, others are Alevis –generally considered an offshoot of Shia Islam, even though that would be an inaccurate description by some accounts–, and a few secretly remain Christian, especially in the area of Sassoun, where still there are mountain villages with secret Armenian populations.

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English language ‘originated in Turkey’

The headline of the BBC article overstates it just a tad — they’re talking about the Indo-European family of languages — but the news is still exciting.

Modern Indo-European languages – which include English – originated in Turkey about 9,000 years ago, researchers say.

Their findings differ from conventional theory that these languages originated 5,000 years ago in south-west Russia.

Reading this, I was immediately reminded of The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales, which I read a couple years ago.

… readers will discover how Vinci, working from the evidence of place-names and geographical features … comes to agree with these early social scientists and to conclude that “the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans lay in the northernmost part of Scandinavia …”

Trying to write anything else here would add less than nothing to a topic that is so fascinating to me that it defies description. If you haven’t read Felice Vinci’s book, go out and buy a copy today. You won’t be disappointed.

Mapping the History of Istanbul

My forthcoming novel begins in the Istanbul of the 1630’s. Murad IV is Sultan. Coffee and alcohol are evil, and their consumption is punishable by death or worse. Mina, a slave girl captured by Ottoman troops in Hungary, tries to escape after years of captivity.

She kept her head down, but her mind was alert to the people and sounds around her, especially for the distinctive sounds of soldiers and their swords. The city was shutting down for the night. Stopping at the intersection where the Grand Bazaar ended and the Beyazit Mosque formed a barrier to the park beyond, Mina looked backward down the boulevard and gasped at the beauty of the Aya Sofya. Minarets jutted like spears of light into the dark sky, the circular dome was lit by a thousand lamps, the square perimeter dotted with more, and she knew that even this impressive display would be nothing when compared to the Night of Power as three thousand slaves would set afire twenty thousand oil lamps and all of Istanbul would witness the power and might – and the humility, she thought, remembering how she and her fellow captives were incessantly reminded of the humility – of Allah’s greatest servant, Sultan Murad IV.

Old maps of Istanbul, Anatolia, Cappadocia, Armenia — and beyond — have been critical to my novel. Here are a few maps of the city known by many names through the ages: Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, Stamboul, and the Sublime Porte. For more maps, a good starting point is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but three years of research have yielded many other troves of digital mapping deliciousness. Leave me a comment if you’d like me to post them for you…

Update: Scroll down for the maps. But first, a few links in response to a comment asking about the historic architecture of Istanbul.

Update: Cartography web sites. Not all of these sites contain maps of Istanbul, but I’ve found that one resource often leads to another. In my research phase, I had some very specific goals; and although I bookmarked most of the places I found, I didn’t (couldn’t) review every site thoroughly.

Update: Documents. A collection of old and new documents describing Istanbul.