BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
I met Aragats Akhoyan during our road trip in Turkey. He was with a big group dinning at the same restaurant in Moush as our group was. When I overheard them singing in Armenian, I was surprised, because in Anatolia or Eastern Turkey, Armenians tend to stay invisible.
I approached their table and I learned that he had also brought a group from Armenia to visit the ancient lands of our forefathers. He introduced himself as the president of Return Foundation. He explained the main purpose of the foundation is to empower the Islamized Armenians to get back to their origins and their heritage.
To accomplish that nobel quest, twice a year he brings Armenian dance and song ensembles to Turkey and arranges recitals to entice the Hidden Armenians to reclaim their erased identity. He told me that the night before in Diyarbakir, he had arranged 150 people to come together in a restaurant to enjoy Armenian dance and song.
After our brief encounter, at the restaurant, he invited me to his home in Aghts-k village in Armenia, about half an hour away from Yerevan in Ashtarak region. A few years ago I had stayed at Aghts-k village for a week at a Yoga retreat.
The village is situated on a hillside. Aghts-k is not the average village you can come across in Armenia. There you will see mansion-type newly built homes. One of those luxury homes belonged to Mr Akhoyan.
I took a taxi from Yerevan and arrived to Aghts-k around noon. When I met Akhoyan again at his home, he gave me more information about his foundation and also about Hidden Armenians which is an umbrella term to describe people in Turkey with Armenian origin who generally conceal their identity, and who are at least outwardly, Islamize to prevent harm.
He said, “out of 80 million population of Turkey, 4 million are Armenians—either hidden or non. His effort is to awaken the Armenian spirit within people who are left behind during the Genocide. He continued, “10 years ago it was almost impossible to approach the hidden Armenians. But now there’s an awakening. And some are converting to Christianity”
The main idea behind coming to the village, besides getting information about his foundation, was to see a nearby archeological excavation site. While at their home, Akhoyan’s wife offered Armenian coffee, fruit and pastry. And then we drove to the excavation site.
There I met Mary Safaryan, who was the assistant to the main archaeologist Hakop Simonyan. Mary explained that the site includes a church connected to a Mausoleum. She said, the church was built around 360 AD. This might be the second oldest churches that has been unearthed so far.
We walked to the reconstructed walls of the altar. there she pointed to three stone boxes, buried in the floor. She said, the boxes contained human bones, which they assume that might have belonged to Armenian kings from before. There’s a theory that Vassak Mamikonyan an Armenian general might have brought those relics from battleground with Persians.
Tombstones were scattered all around the church. She pointed to a very well preserved tombstone and showed the writings in Armenian. The excavation team had also found some valuable artifacts, but since it was not publicly announced, she asked me not to mention about them in my report.
Mary said, “This phase of archeological excavation started in 2015 with government providing the funds. However starting from late 1800s, there was a knowledge that this was an important site. There was also some work conducted during 1970s.” Most probably these findings will put the Aghts-k village on the map.
After visiting the site, Mr. Akhoyan drove me back in his car to Yerevan. I’m glad to share this valuable experience with my readers.