Making it Happen: Rehabilitating Armenians in Bitlis

Making it Happen: Rehabilitating Armenians in Bitlis 17 July 2014
The Gomidas Institute is pleased to announce a series of projects it has started in Bitlis to develop better Kurdish Armenian relations in that region.

Most of the Armenian population of Bitlis was destroyed in 1915 and until recently it was not possible to talk about either Armenians or Kurds in Turkey. For many decades the Turkish government continued to erase the Kurdish and Armenian identity of Bitlis by rewriting history and destroying cultural artefacts, including Armenian churches and monasteries.

Only recently has it been possible to raise the Armenian issue again.

Last year, the Gomidas Institute initiated contacts with Kurdish organisations in Bitlis. This led to an exhibition on the Armenian population of the region 100 years ago. The exhibit was first shown in Tatvan, on the shores of Lake Van, and then in Fresno - a city with many Armenians who trace their ancestry to Bitlis.

One of the many Kurdish politicians who came to the exhibition in Tatvan was Hüseyin Olan, who was elected as one of the two co-mayors of Bitlis a week later.

Earlier this summer, the director of the institute, Ara Sarafian, met up with Hüseyin Olan to discuss rehabilitating the memory of the city's Armenian inhabitants and other projects. One projects Olan adopted was the renaming of a William Saroyan Street in Bitlis. Saroyan's family came from Bitlis and Saroyan himself paid a visit to the city in 1964.

There are now discussions to renovate the last remaining church in Bitlis and turning it into a cultural or religious centre. Many individuals and local organisations are supporting these initiatives to reconnect with Armenians who have been absent that area for almost 100 years.

The Gomidas Institute's work in Bitlis has been successful so far and there are more projects underway. Such work is possible due to the changing atmosphere in Turkey and the willingness of well-meaning people to work together.

This September the Gomidas Institute is organising a special trip to Bitlis to meet the new mayors of the city and visit five churches and monasteries. If you would like to join our trip please contact for more information.

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