Yujel Asken is a renowned scientist, political and social figure in Turkey of Armenian origin.
In 2005 Yujel Asken being Professor and rector of Van University in Turkey was detained on charge of forming a gang, and comments of Ramazan Toprak, deputy from Justice and Prosperity Party of Turkey, that disclosed the Asken's Armenian origin instead of disclosing the cause of the arrest brought in big controversies and debates in Turkish media.
As an act of solidarity rectors of all 77 universities functioning in Turkey marched to Van headed by Erdogan Tezic, chairman of the Council for Higher Education. On his part Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Mesrop Mutafian condemned Toprak for his behavior.
Rebuking Toprak for his words that "the Diaspora Armenians claimed Van and we appoint a rector with Armenian roots," Fatsa said according to Milliyet: "People may have different ethnic background. Especially in our country where we have Armenian citizens. It should be natural that as citizens they get various positions. We used to have deputies with Jewish origin. I think democracy in Turkey is mature enough to stomach this."
The June 10 2005 issue of Islamic Vakit newspaper answered the question why Toprak indicated the Armenian origin of the rector. The paper wrote that Asken is the grandson of Armenian theatre worker Hakob Vardovian, a.k.a. Gyulli Hakob. The paper also trumpets that during his two-day visit in Van the rector distributed New Testaments to students at the university.
Turkish theatre workers opposed this playing upon kinship of Hakob Vardovian and Asken. One of them, Metin and told Milliyet on October 26: "Gyulli Hakob did more for the Turkish theater than Muhsin Ertugrul (founder of Turkish theatre). Despite the lack of playwrights in Turkey, he created a theatre that outfights present-day state-run Turkish theatres. Gyulli Hakob occupies a unique place in the history of Turkish theatre. We should erect his monument."
Theatre critic Aysegyul Yuksel added: "Prof. Yujel Asken is a scientist that well deserved a rector's position in Turkey. Gyulli Hakob is a theatre worker who did invaluable service in streamlining the Turkish theatre. Ethnic background can never play down his service." Stage director Dimken Gyurun said, on his part, that it is impossible to express in a nutshell what Gyulli Hakob did and if rector Asken is his grandson he is sure to be proud of his grandfather. Actor Nedred Gyuvenc emphasized his attraction to Asken linking it to the kinship with Hakob Vardovian.
Actor and stage director Hakob Vardovian lived in Istanbul in 1840-1902. His debut on the stage was in 1861 at the Eastern Theatre that used to stage Armenian plays and was headed by Naum Efendi. Though not a brilliant actor, he created and ran a number of theatres that brought him fame. By a decree of Abdul Hamid he was included in the palace orchestra in 1882. He converted into Islam and was named 'Gyulli Hakob Efendi'. Gyulli Hakob resided at Yildiz Palace until his death and is buried at Yahya Efendi cemetery of Besiktas."
It must be noted that Hakob Vardovian accepted Islam not deliberately but as a requirement to enter the sultan's palace. Yet, Vardovian was Muslim only outwardly. He never cut off his connection with the Armenian community of Istanbul and after 8 years in the band united with an Armenian in his second marriage. His second marriage gave birth to his son Nejip, famous violinist, director of the Turkish Symphonic Orchestra, who received the last name Asken in accordance with laws in republican Turkey.
In 1962, Turkey marked 50 years of creative work of Nejip Asken. Yujel Asken is the son of Nejip Asken.
The fact that the origin is turning into blame against himself should note that though the removal of taboo on Armenian Genocide does not assume recognition of the historic fact, it opens doors for various people to speak out about their ethnic background. Hopefully, the incident with Asken will bring out new people with Armenian origin.
- 'RECTOR ASKEN SHOULD BE PROUD OF HIS ARMENIAN ORIGIN' ,By Hakob Chakrian,
AZG Armenian Daily, October 29, 2005