Armenians had existed in the lands of Anatolia since antiquity until the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Established after the massacres and forced migrations, the Republic of Turkey has never officially accepted that the tragic events Armenians were subjected to took place. The discourse of the Turkish state claims that the Armenians were displaced because they cooperated with enemy forces during World War I and thus posed a security threat, so their deaths are only one side of reciprocal slaughter across Anatolia. This stance not only denies the millennia-long existence of Armenians in Anatolia but also strives to eradicate the collective memory of Armenians year after year. There were efforts to Islamize and force the Armenians who survived the genocide and eluded the forced migrations to give up their identity. In order to purge the collective memory of Armenian history in Anatolia, the state confiscated Armenian properties, which it officially termed Abandoned Properties, and distributed them to Muslims while also allowing structures and artifacts that represent Armenians’ existence and history in the region to be destroyed. All of this points to the dire need for memory studies that affirm the presence of Armenians in Anatolia and return it to the collective memory of the country.
In the Ottoman era before the genocide, approximately 1,648 Armenians lived in 207 households in the village of Habab, which was also home to the Church of the Virgin Mary and Church of Surp Gatoghige, the Monastery of Surp Asdvadzadzin, and the Lower and Upper Fountains (Kevorkian & Paboudjian, 2012). It should be emphasized that the restoration of the village of Habab's fountains, which were built in 1634, is important both in terms of recognizing Armenian suffering and reintroducing to the collective memory the Armenian presence in Anatolia.
R. Kevorkian & P. Paboudjian, 1915 Öncesinde Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nda Ermeniler, trans. Mayda Saris (Aras Yayıncılık, 2012).
The restoration of the fountain in Habab was inspired by the book Annanem (My Grandmother) by Fethiye Çetin, who was the lawyer for Hrant Dink's family. In her book, Çetin's tells the story of her grandmother, Heranush, whose name was later Islamized to Seher. From here, the idea to restore the fountain in Habab, the village where Heranush was born and raised and began to develop. The work to bring the fountain back to life after its damage was assessed by volunteer architects in 2009, started at the Hrant Dink Foundation. The restoration process for the fountain began in August and was completed in November of 2011. While undertaking the restoration, rather than only trying to overcome technical issues, the Hrant Dink Foundation saw the process as an opportunity to spur interaction between the research team and the local people. Young Armenians and Turks participating in the project organized activities such as games, drawing and painting workshops, and conversation sessions for the children from the surrounding villages while the project team and local people also met on several occasions. During the restoration process, the team was also able to conduct an oral history with the descendants of local Armenians, some of whom had been Islamized, as well as with the local population. The collective memory of the local people regarding Armenians was then later made into a documentary. A festival was then held in 2012, with official representatives, local people, the project team, and people and representatives from institutions that supported the project in attendance. The president of the Hrant Dink Foundation, Rakel Dink; Fethiye Çetin; and the mayor of Kovancılar, Bekir Yanılmaz, gave speeches at the opening of the festival, and the musical group Kardeş Türküler later gave a concert as the festivities continued.
The restoration work, first of all, had a transformative effect on those who participated in the project actively or through support. Volunteers from Turkey, Armenia, and various European countries formed a tangible relationship with Armenian history as they positively contributed to the revitalization of the area's collective memory of its Armenian past. It was an important step in recognizing the long history of Armenians in Anatolia, which itself is a weighty topic in Turkey due to the genocide debate. The display of participation by official authorities in this project of remembrance was promising in terms of reaching beyond politics and confronting the past.
The main challenge faced during this project of remembrance was to combat the social and political paranoia in Turkey surrounding the Armenian Genocide, which is politically controversial and polarizing still to this day. Many previous examples of efforts for remembrance concerning the history of Armenians in Anatolia have engendered incredibly negative reactions. It was possible to overcome this obstacle as a result of the fact that the family of Fethiye Çetin, who was one of the coordinators of the study, lived in the village, along with the efforts made to gain support from the official authorities and the work to develop a close social relationship with the people in the surrounding villages. The Turkish state taking a position as a direct party to the Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, however, increased the threat of pogroms against Armenians in Turkey. Racist groups with Azerbaijani and Turkish flags waving from their vehicles drove in convoys past Armenian churches and through Armenian neighborhoods in a show of intimidation. Following the end of the war, various talks have continued on Turkey's initiative to usher in a so-called normalization process.