BAGRATUNIS… A SECRET COMMUNITY OR THE SCAPEGOATED GHOSTS?
There is talk of a community called the Bagratunis, who converted from Judaism and became Armenian Christians after the Turks settled in Anatolia, but are believed to have a secret agenda while preserving their true identity.
Supposedly, after the Armenian deportation, most of them pretended to be Muslims. And supposedly, in addition to fanatical Armenian opposition and Turkish racism, being anti-religious at every opportunity, defending sometimes socialist and sometimes Kemalist ideology became their hallmarks.
A former member of Turkish parliament who made this claim, gave the names of many people, including the presidents and ministers. They somehow claim that such famous people like the following names from Malatya, Elazığ, Sivas basin are of Armenian descent: Süleyman Demirel, Turgut Özal, Abdullah Gül, Recai Kutan, Oğuzhan Asiltürk, Devlet Bahçeli, Hasan Celal Güzel, Mehmet Ağar, Mehmet Keçeciler, Mesut Yılmaz, Murat Karayalçın, Mehmet Ali Ağca, Abdullah Öcalan, Mine Koşan and Faruk Süren.
A journalist named Levon Panos Dabağyan (1933-2017), an Istanbul Armenian and a MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) politician, claimed the existence of Armenian-looking crypto-Jews, whom he named Bagratuni and also said that they ruled the Armenians ruthlessly from 730 BC to 1045 AD. To support his claim, he cited Professor Avram Galanti, who is a Turkish Jew and was also a one-term CHP (Republican People's Party) MP.
In 1933 Galanti stated in his book Les Pacradounis ou Une Secte Arméno-Juive (Bagratunis or an Armenian-Jewish Sect) that “The Bagratunis are a mixture of Armenian-Jewish people whose existence continued from the end of the Kingdom of Judah (7th century BC) until the 20th century”. He said that they lived between Erzurum and Sivas, on the European side of the Marmara Sea and in Hasköy, Istanbul, and that since they have maintained their Jewish identity for 26 centuries, they could be counted among the communities of Jewish origin such as the Portuguese Marranos, Thessaloniki Doenmehs (proselytes) and Iranian Mashhadi Jews. This means that they played a triple rather than a double game like the Sabbateans.
The Mashhadis are the Jews of Mashhad who were able to save their lives by converting to Islam due to the pogrom they suffered in 1839. They were allowed to practice Judaism after 1925. Today they live in Israel and the United States not as crypto, but as ordinary Jews. The Marranos are Andalusian Jews who escaped the clutches of the Catholics by pretending to be baptized. Due to the strict control of the Inquisition over pork and circumcision, they disappeared after a short time.
In addition, Turkish Jewish writer Gad Nassi stated that the Bagratunis lived in the region stretching from Divriği and Eğin to Cappadocia and Cilicia until the first half of the 20th century. He also stated that they were physically different from other Armenians and used surnames of Jewish origin. He cited as further evidence that when someone died in their home, they did not work for 7 days and mourned like Jews, obeyed the prohibition of working on Saturday, got married within the community, and were masters in trade. (So much so that Christians are not unfamiliar with Jewish customs and names, as they value and read the Old Testament.)
“Jews Who Ruled the Armenians”
Levon Panos Dabağyan stated that General Horace Sebastiani, who had been the French ambassador in Istanbul during the reign of Sultan Selim III, had prepared a report on the Anatolian Armenians in 1814 and divided Armenians into Orthodox and Rafidi (Heretic) Armenians. He claimed that most of the Armenians, who had fought on the side of the Seljuks against Byzantium and converted to Islam, eventually embraced Alevism. (This is the basis of the claim that the people of Dersim are of Armenian origin. In fact, Armenians are divided into three denominations: Gregorian, Catholic and Protestant. Although each considers the other to be heretical, no community with secret religion has been encountered among them.)
Dabağyan said that the Bagratunis had tried to divide Türkiye and started a rebellion in Zeytun in 1915 with the support of France and the Vatican (however, the Vatican had been founded in 1929) during the time of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), but they had not received support from the Gregorian Armenians and therefore they had been deported and sentenced to death. He made various claims such as that no such thing as the Armenian massacre had taken place, that the Bagratunis still operate in secret and serve Greater Israel today, that all the evils in history had stemmed from the Jews and they had corrupted the Armenians as well. He also claimed that they still exist but but did not know whether they are organized or not. He stated that the term Bagratuni had been used as an insult in his childhood, but did not give any names.
Who is Muhtadi? Who is Doenmehs?
The claims about Bagratunis, which do not comply with the historical facts and logic, have been taken seriously and believed by many people. As enemies, they were more conspicuous than the Sabbateans. Aksiyon (a Turkish news magazine) introduced the issue to public with an article titled “Jews Ruling Armenians”. Fethullah Gülen added Bagratunis to his famous curse. However, there is an unwritten law stating that Turkish citizens who are not of Turkish race cannot become employees in the civil service. This law has been applied not only to them, but also to the muhtadis (people who converted to Islam) and even to those whose grandmothers are Armenian or Greek. Even if the interview for a position in the civil service is passed, such intricate information is revealed either during the security investigation or later in the investigation of the National Intelligence Organization. When issuing a certified copy of a birth certificate, this matter is recorded on the document with a confidential sign.
While people used to search for metaphysical forces behind every disaster, lately they prefer to believe that either an external enemy or, even worse, a hidden traitor from within is playing a role. They console themselves or think that they have solved the problem. Associating a certain race or community with bad things has become a disease of our times. In the past, Jews were seen as responsible for all kinds of troubles in Europe, from plague to famine. Christians had been hostile towards Jews since the time of the prophet Jesus. They were also envious of their wealth and their being intellectuals in the society. Over time, this obsession spread to the east, turning over every rock and peering into every corner with the specific intention of blaming secret societies, secret organizations, Jewish and Armenian doenmehs.
The Alevis of Dersim?
As a matter of fact, there were massive conversion movements in the Ottoman community such as Albanians, Pomaks, Bosnians, Torbeshs, Hemshins, Vallahades, Georgians, and Circassians. In addition, individual conversions also took place. They are called muhtadi, meaning one who has attained the right path. Only a heretical Jewish community known as Sabbateans pretended to be Muslims for a special reason. Since legal appearances were valued, they lived among the Muslims, but as a closed community. This small group was therefore called Awdaty (Donmeh, religious converts) rather than muhtadi.
The number of Armenians who were rescued by Muslim families during the deportation and brought up in the religion of Islam, though small, fell into the category of muhtadi (true muslim). Some of those who are accused as being Bagratuni today are among these. There are many Muslims in Anatolia whose mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers are Armenian. An Armenian widowed woman in the east married a Muslim. His son, born from his first marriage, became a priest, and his son, born from his second marriage, became the President of Religious Affairs. There were no Armenians who escaped the deportation by converting or pretending to be Muslims en masse. It is known that there were individual Armenians who had to appear as Muslims due to the pressure of the state and society both during the deportation and during the republican period, but who continued their true faith.
However, it is not easy to talk about these issues and to conduct healthy research and studies. The allegation that Sabiha Gökçen, Mustafa Kemal's adopted daughter, was an orphaned Armenian girl named Khatun Sebildjian from Antep, once caused quite a stir.
Some, like Rıza Nur, claim that the Alevis of Dersim are of Armenian origin. Scientific studies on the ethnic identity of Dersim Alevis are numerous. Although some of these Alevis define themselves as Khorasani Turks, they speak Kurdish and Zazaki. Since the 16th century, some Dersim Armenians have, quite understandably, come under the protection of Kurdish tribes. Over time, they inevitably accepted their customs. After a while, they began to speak Kurdish or Zazaki. They forgot Christianity as there were no educated priests left. They are now considered as Alevis. However, this does not mean that all Alevis of Dersim are of Armenian origin.
Who Are the True Bagratunis?
In fact, the Bagratunis (an Armenian word called as Bagrationi or Bagratili in Georgian) were a noble Armenian family that had served as feudal lords in Erzurum İspir for centuries. It is one of the oldest Christian dynasties in the world. They were known by this name because of Bagrat, the son of Yenasos, the first known ruler of the family, who passed away in 30 AD. Bagratuni means the house of Bagrat. Bagrat is said to derive from an ancient Persian name, Bagadata ("God-given"). They lived under the rule of the Persians and Alexander the Great, respectively. When The Seleucid Empire collapsed, the independent Kingdom of Armenia was established between the eastern part of Anatolia and the southern Caucasus.
The family grew stronger when the Muslim Arab conquerors made Bagrat Beg the governor of Kars in 806. The Abbasid caliph bestowed the title of melik (king) on Ashot I the Great in 885 because they had more diplomatic skills than their predecessors and were able to maintain good relations with everyone. In the 9th century, they founded the famous city of Ani. They moved their capitals here from Dvin, which is on the Armenian border with Türkiye today.
After ruling the Kingdom of Armenia between 885 and 1045, they were defeated by the Byzantines. The Christian kingdom founded by the Muslims was destroyed by Byzantium. The last Armenian king of the Bagratuni dynasty, Gagik II was executed. His family was taken from Ani and exiled to Gasma village near Sivas Divriği. Gabriel Noradunghian, the Ottoman foreign minister, was from here. In the 19th and 20th centuries, when Armenian nationalism emerged and history began to draw attention, the people of this village said, "We are descendants of the Bagratunis".
A Salaried Official Historian
Additionally, a branch of the family founded a beylic (principality) in Artvin and pursued a friendly policy with the Byzantine Empire. Since the Byzantines was hostile to the Armenian church, they joined the Orthodox Georgian church to survive and were integrated into Georgian culture. Thus, in 888, they became the head of the newly formed Kingdom of Georgia. Georgian kings for 8 centuries came from this lineage. They broke records by reigning for 1000 years, remaining loyal sometimes to the Byzantines, sometimes to the Turks, sometimes to the Persians.
However, in 1801 they were defeated by the Russians. Russia annexed Georgia. General Pyotr Bagration, who fought against Napoléon, and Leonora, the wife of the last tsarist heir, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirilovich, belonged to this family. After the Bolshevik Revolution, they lived in Spain. Some remaining members of the family have survived to this day. Prince David Bagrationi Mukhrani lives in Tbilisi as a pretender to the throne.
The roots of the Jewish legend can be traced back to Movses Khorenatsi, who wrote one of the earliest Armenian chronicles in the 5th century. He was the official historian and salaried employee of the Bagratunis. His duty was to narrate their history and praise them according to the customs of that era.
Movses Khorenatsi said that the Bagratunis are descendants of the prophet David, that their ancestors came and settled in Armenian lands when the Romans expelled the Jews from the land of Canaan in the 2nd century. Thus, he denied that Bagratunis had been descendants of a lord from İspir, connecting them to the royal lineage and making them related to the Messiah. This was normal behavior for that time and was the source of the claim that the Bagratunis are crypto-Jewish Armenians.
Jewish Captives in Armenia
Legend has it that in 730 BC, King Tiglath-Pileser III killed the last king of the Israelite Hoshea during his Syrian campaign and placed thousands of Jewish captives in the south of Armenia. In 700 BC, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II defeated the King of Judah and presented half of the 10,000 captives he took as a gift to his ally, the Armenian King.
The majority of these Jews, who were located in Revan, Van, and Nakhchivan, survived until recent times and maintained their identity intact. However, most of them, along with the Armenians, were exiled to Iran by the Persian King Shapur II, who occupied the region between 360 and 370.
Dabağyan mentioned that in the 3rd century, approximately 400,000 Jews had been resettled in the region and some of them had converted to Christianity. Even if the claim were true, 400,000 would be an exaggerated number for that period.
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