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Turkish woman's search gives voice to Islamized Armenians

In an exclusive interview, Fethiye Cetin, a human rights lawyer from Turkey, reflects on her courageous journey of coming out of the closet about a hidden Armenian grandmother.
Turkish Armenian lawyer and author Fethiye Cetin takes part in a discussion at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 15, 2008. Turkey is  guest of honour at the 60th edition of the book fair, which takes place from October 15 to 19, 2008. Fethiye Cetin is the lawyer of the family of slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.  AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
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After reading about Fethiye Cetin for over a decade and reading her books, I had envisioned a bitter and brittle woman, one maybe even a little jaded with age, given all the hardships she has endured in her personal and professional life. To my surprise, Cetin is quite the opposite. She has a witty smile. She speaks on the most horrendous issues in a rather soft, caring voice and with deep compassion. Cetin’s gracious and calm attitude is a rarity in the Turkish political scene. After the interview, I learned that my observations were shared by almost everyone who had met her in Los Angeles or Turkey.

Cetin was born in Maden, Elazig (an eastern province of Turkey) in 1950. Her maternal grandmother, Seher, chose Cetin to reveal her long-hidden secret: she was an Armenian rescued from the 1915 death march by a soldier and adopted by his family. Her real name was Heranush, and in 1915 she was about 10 years old. After the Armenians left, their towns' names were changed, as were orphans’ names. Seher was raised as a Turk and Muslim. After Seher passed away in 2000, Cetin published an obituary for her in the weekly Agos, the voice of the Turkish Armenian community. Cetin was good friends with the editor and owner of Agos, Hrant Dink (who was killed in 2007). This obituary reached across the ocean and was seen by Seher's younger sister and cousins, the Gadaryan family, who called Agos. Cetin was able to meet them in New York. In 2004, Cetin published a groundbreaking book, “My Grandmother,” narrating her grandmother’s story, which was then translated into 13 languages. In 2009, she published her second book, "The Grandchildren" (translated into three languages), this time interviewing grandchildren of the hidden Christians in Turkey. Her latest book, “I Feel Shame,” explains her doubts and concerns about the Hrant Dink case, in which she served as the Dink family’s attorney.

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