The story of Amaseia's last Armenian
By Mehmet Menekse
Rafael Altinyan, or Faruk Altinoglu as he is known, is the last Armenian of Amasya (Amaseia in Greek and Byzantine, Ottoman periods). He was born in Amasya and spent his life in this city. He lives with his wife in an old wooden house inherited from his ancestors. He tries to make a living as a shoemaker, a profession he inherited from his grandfather. He opens his makeshift repair shop on the corner of Bakircilar Street every day.
"I am alone"
His wife is Muslim. Despite acknowledging his roots, he admits to never openly identifying as Armenian. He brought up his daughter as a Turk and a Muslim married her and now has a granddaughter. He expresses his loneliness by saying, "I am alone in Amasya. There is no other Armenian person apart from me."
Altinoglu, who knows the pain of being marginalized, claims this land as their homeland as well.
"My friends at Kilicarslan Primary School in Amasya knew of my Armenian heritage. I desired to bear the Turkish flag, but I was forbidden. They didn't permit me to carry it because of my Armenian heritage. I understand that. Above all, I am a patriot who loves my homeland dearly. It's also my homeland. I am a native son of this land, born and raised here. My great-great-grandfathers can be traced back to the 1500s."
After finishing primary school in 1966, Faruk Altinoglu continued his education at the Surp Haç Tıbrevank Boarding School in Istanbul. However, in the second grade, he contracted tuberculosis and meningitis and had to return to his parents in Amasya. Altinoglu was a schoolmate of Hrant Dink, the editor-in-chief of Agos Newspaper, who was assassinated on January 19, 2007. He remembers Hrant a little:
"Hrant, my friend, was tall and had curly hair. I am the same age as Hrant, but I remember a little about him. Armenian kids from various provinces of Turkey were at school. Among those present were Hayko, Ohannes Ciroglu from Amasya, and Hrant Dink."
"I was beaten in the army because of my Armenian origins"
Altinoglu, who felt discrimination not only at school but also in the military, describes those days:
"I served in the military in Sarikamis (Zerqamîş). They initially sent me to the Edremit (Adramittio) district of Balıkesir (Palaiokastro), but then they changed it to Sivas. I spent three months in Sivas and the remaining time in Sarıkamış. My military service was something I loved. In the military, there was a friend named Ahmet Gumus, who was a sergeant while we were privates. We were assigned to protect military vehicles. Besir Korkmaz and I were on guard duty together. Ahmet Gumus discreetly took the portable shovels on the back of the Renaults. The sergeant from Kutahya didn't hit the other friend much, but he gave me a good beating with the shovel. I believe he intentionally struck me. He assaulted me because of my Armenian ethnicity."
"Passing by my grandfather's and father's properties always hurts me"
The municipality destroyed the birthplace of Faruk Altinoglu:
The house where we were born and raised was demolished by Amasya Mayor Mustafa Hatipoglu in 1985. This place in Gumuslu neighborhood is of great value and in the city center. The land where our childhood home stood was pulverized and divided among 23 people. We can't even claim it as our land anymore. They have officially seized it. The house where I live belongs to my grandfather on my mother's side. In Cakallar we have a vineyard spanning nine acres. My father and my aunts are the registered owners of this land. I filed a possession case, but not only did I fail, I also got fined a thousand TL. Because of a mix of Turkish and Armenian heirs, complications arose. The land is empty now, and I'm struggling to feed myself. Passing by my grandfather's and father's properties always brings me pain. I failed to safeguard their property.
The construction of a religious high school in the Armenian Cemetery is one thing that upset Faruk Altinoglu the most:
"Even my grandfather's grave couldn't be claimed by me. The location of my grandparents' grave was leveled, and a new building was constructed for an imam hatip (religious) high school. The Armenian community in the 1960s opposed the construction of the high school. On Armenian holidays, people would gather at the site of the Imam Hatip (religious) High School, and I remember it vividly. I didn't receive any calls or inquiries about this. I had to lay my mother to rest in the Turkish cemetery. If I had the chance, I would have laid her to rest in the Armenian cemetery. "
"Gabris Altinoglu is my brother"
One founder of the TKP-ML (Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist–Leninist) and MLKP (Marxist–Leninist Communist Party) was Garbis Altinoglu, the brother of Faruk Altinoglu. Altinoglu provides the following description of his brother, who died in Belgium in 2019 after being imprisoned for a significant amount of time:
"Garbis, my older brother, had an eight-year age gap between me. He was studying at Bogazici (Bosphorous) University when I started middle school. My brother and I hardly spent time together because he always studied outdoors. During the holidays, he would travel to Amasya, meet up with his friends, and then return to Istanbul. For the past few years, my brother lived in Belgium, and unfortunately, he passed away there. My father was an extremely subdued and oppressed individual. He feared the law, the law enforcement. He discouraged my brother from getting involved in the university incidents, but he intervened little."
Altinoglu wishes for a life where he can freely express his identity, as many people distanced themselves from him when they learned he was Armenian:
"When people ask me, 'Where are you from? I provide evasive responses. I prefer not to disclose my ethnicity to everyone. I claim to be from here, from there. Some individuals can be extremely hostile to Armenians. Being Armenian was not my choice, but I am proud of it. I desire a life where I can openly express my identity with no restrictions. Even though I'm Armenian, I am a citizen of Turkey and consider myself a part of this nation. People need to embrace their true selves and express their identity without hesitation. It shouldn't be concealed; they should live without constraints. I support peace, democracy, and freedom. I deserve acceptance, not marginalization or hostility. I believe in equal rights for all individuals in society, with no rights being violated and everyone living with dignity. I was born and raised. I want to feel a sense of belonging in my hometown. People around me often label me as a muhajir (immigrant), but I laugh it off. Although I am from Amasya, the muhajir within me remains. I have embraced everyone's individuality and never discriminated against anyone. Despite this, society doesn't reciprocate the respect and tolerance I offer. People started keeping their distance once they found out I'm Armenian."