THE YOUTH HOME OF ISTANBUL: A Story of the Remnants’ Homecoming. to order please visit AMAA’s
on AMAA’s website or Call AMAA at 201.265.2607
By Elise Kalfayan
The Youth Home of Istanbul: A Story of the Remnants’ Homecoming release in English on the cusp of the Armenian Genocide Centennial fittingly honors author Hrant Guzelian’s battle against the last stages of Genocide. Guzelian rescued hundreds of Armenian youth decades after the genocide, including a young protégé Hrant Dink, who became a fearless journalist in Turkey.
The book’s publication by the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) was made possible by a donation from Dr. H Steven and Julie Aharonian and Dr. Vicken and Sossy Aharonian, in loving memory of their father Rev. Dr. Hovhannes Aharonian, who was a staunch supporter of Hrant Guzelian’s mission and Godfather to the name “Youth Home of Istanbul.”
“Reading this book in 2007, I was convinced that there was an obligation to share it beyond an Armenian readership,” said Zaven Khanjian, Executive Director/CEO of the AMAA. “Scholars and historians should read Guzelian’s eye-witness account of cultural destruction in the countryside of Western Armenia, encounters with inhumane Turkish officials bent on denial and oppression, and conviction and action in countering an existential threat.”
The Joint Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of the AMAA and the Armenian Evangelical Union of North American launched the English translation of the book in a program attended by close to 200 people, held at The Armenian Society of Los Angeles April 7. Hasmig Baran, Ed.D., served as the Mistress of Ceremonies.
The program’s speakers stressed three themes: ACT, PACT, and IMPACT. ACT, covered by Edwin Minassian, Esq., Chair of the Istanbul Armenians Board of Trustees and Executive Board Member of the Armenian Bar Association, set the scene for Guzelian’s work. Turkey in the 1940s and 50s oppressed minorities with high taxes, property seizures, and police state surveillance. “Right after pogroms targeting Armenians and Greeks in the mid-50s, Guzelian launched his mission, despite the environment. He had resolve, and strong faith that his mission was essential. He knew that this was an existential struggle.” Minassian noted, “There’s a lot in the book about how Guzelian dealt with his arrest in 1980, and about Hrant Dink.”
PACT, explained by Rev. Vatche Ekmekjian, AEUNA representative on the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund and Member of the AEUNA Armenian Heritage Committee, describes an interaction between two parties. “Hrant Guzelian entered a pact of grace with God. He knew he was the weaker party, and faith is the most elemental aspect of this kind of pact. Guzelian countered the ‘Turkification’ of Armenian youth; he was fighting against the forcible transfer of children away from their ethnic identity [defined in Article 2 of the Geneva Convention as a genocidal act]. He went to search for the lost and the hopeless, paralleling the gospel story.”
Ekmekjian told the audience that his short encounter with Guzelian, in Yerevan in 2006, had “a magnificent psychological and emotional impact on me. Even before my encounter with him, my reading of his book in Armenian was a blessing, and I had encountered many people who had been blessed and served by his ministry.”
Zaven Khanjian summarized Guzelian’s IMPACT. He recited a passage in the memoir:
“The state has been unfair, evil, oppressive, unfeeling and biased. Envying our mores, instead of following with virtuous jealousy, learning and attaining high level, the Turk wanted to annihilate us, usurping, appropriating, insulting, and depriving us of our most basic rights, the language, the faith, the culture…I thought, what can I do in some measure to do my share and be useful to the remnants of my nation?”
“Useful, he was!” said Khanjian. “The impact this man had was tremendous, not only on the life of a few thousand Armenian youngsters who passed through the gates of The Youth Home of Istanbul, but on Turkish society and politics, the reverberations of which will continue for times unknown.” Khanjian noted that Guzelian took Hrant Dink, whose parents were divorced and whose father’s whereabouts were unknown, into the Gedik Pasha Armenian Evangelical School’s Youth Home of Istanbul at the age of seven. For twenty years, 1961-1981, Dink was under the patronage of Guzelian, and for five additional years, he carried the torch of the church and the mission. Dink became editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos; advocated for human and minority rights in Turkey; and criticized Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. His assassination in 2007 in Istanbul outraged many Turkish citizens, caused widespread protests, and brought world-wide attention to continuing persecution of minorities in Turkey.
Of the book, Khanjian noted, “Narrated by Guzelian in simple language and a humble Christian spirit, it is not literary nor is it written in glowing style.” These limitations are more than balanced out by the power of Guzelian’s memories. He captures the Catch-22 tenor of confrontations with intolerant officials, inspires the reader with frequent references to scripture as his primary guide to action, and shows great insight on ways to “fly under the radar” in a hostile political environment.
The AMAA was a long-standing supporter of The Youth Home of Istanbul, and in the book Guzelian credits its leaders, as well as leaders of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, for their faithful and generous support of the Home and of the summer camp he established in Tuzla.
The Joint Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee celebrates the life and work of a worthy, unsung Armenian Evangelical hero with the publication of this book in English and has succeeded in bringing the story of his fight against the genocidal crimes of Turkey to the attention of the world.
The East Coast launching of the book will take place on June 12, 2015 at the Armenian
Presbyterian Church, 140 Forest Avenue, Paramus, NJ. Details to follow.