Special to Hye Sharzhoom
On August 8, 2014, Bitlis municipality approved the renaming of five streets in this historic town of south-eastern Turkey. Among the new names was “William Saroyan Street,” after the great American-Armenian writer, whose ancestors left Bitlis before 1915. Saroyan was born in Fresno but felt strong ties to his ancestral home. He visited Bitlis in 1964 and this year marks the 50th anniversary of that visit.
However, Bitlis municipality’s historic vote on August 8 was ignored by the governor of Bitlis because less than two-thirds of the total number of votes were cast in favor.
The co-mayors of Bitlis, Nevin Daşdemir Dağkıran and Hüseyin Olan, true to their spirit, reiterated their commitment to make these name changes and put the matter
to a second vote on November 19, 2014. The second vote passed the governor’s two-thirds threshold. After the vote, the co-mayors stated that they did not expect the governor to oppose the municipality’s decision this time.
The renaming of “William Saroyan Street” has been a sensitive initiative. The people of Bitlis have expressed their pride in one of their own famous sons—and they have embraced a Diasporan Armenian as one of their own.
The expression of such sentiments would not have been allowed ten years ago.
“These name changes reflect the profound changes Turkey is going through,” said Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute (London). “We will continue working with Bitlis municipality on similar projects,” he added.
“William Saroyan Street” will now be the main street in the Sapkor district of the city, which has a commanding position overlooking the main citadel of the city.
The Saroyan family came from this district. Many original houses in this area, inhabited by Armenians before 1915, remain standing today.
The renaming of “William Saroyan Street” is part of a bridge-building operation the Gomidas Institute initiated in 2013 – before the current co-mayors and town council were even elected.
These efforts resulted in increased contacts, a public exhibition on Bitlis Armenians, as well as other projects.
The Gomidas Institute’s work in Bitlis has been supported by the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.