The co-mayors of Bitlis, Hüseyin Olan and Nevin Taşdemir, have stated that they will rename a street in Bitlis after the well-known American Armenian writer William Saroyan. The Saroyan family emigrated to California from Bitlis, in eastern Turkey, before 1915.
The naming of William Saroyan Street in Bitlis reflects the gradual democratisation of Turkey, the rise of Kurdish political consciousness, and the work of organisations like the Gomidas Institute, Hrant Dink Foundation, and others working on Armenian issues.
However, all credit for the William Saroyan Street initiative belongs to the co-Mayors of Bitlis and their supporters. The sensitivity of their action contrasts with the poor judgment of Turkish central authorities which are “renovating” the mansion of a once prominent Armenian merchant of Bitlis, Garabed Agha, and turning it into a museum. The renovation project refers to Garabed Agha as “Kirnapet Agha” without any reference to his Armenian identity or the tragic story of his family [see picture].
Despite this lingering anti-Armenian sentiments of the Turkish state, the people of Bitlis know Garabed Agha’s story. It will be interesting to see whether the Turkish authorities in charge of his mansion will eventually tone down their zeal – if only to conceal their anti-Armenian purposes.
Gomidas Institute Blog (blog.gomidas.org), June 16, 2014