THE CONFISCATION OF ARMENIAN PROPERTIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH UMIT KURT
By Varak Ketsemanian // September 23, 2013
The following interview with Umit Kurt tackles how the physical
annihilation of the Armenians paralleled the confiscation and
appropriation of their properties in 1915. By citing the various laws
and decrees that orchestrated the confiscation process, Kurt places
our understanding of the genocide within a legal context.
Umit Kurt is a native of Aintab, Turkey, and holds a bachelor of
science degree in political science and public administration from
Middle East Technical University, and a master's degree from Sabancý
University's department of European studies. He is currently a Ph.D.
candidate in the department of history at Clark University and an
instructor at Sabancý University. He is the author of several books,
including Kanunlarýn Ruhu: Emval-i Metruke Kanunlarýnda Soykýrýmýn
Ýzlerini Aramak (The Spirit of Laws: Seeking the Traces of Armenian
Genocide in the Laws of Abandoned Property, 2012) with Taner Akcam.
His main area of interest is the confiscation of Armenian properties
and the role of local elites/notables in Aintab during the genocide.
Below is the full text of the interview Kurt granted The Armenian
Weekly earlier this month.
Varak Ketsemanian: What were the laws and regulations that governed
the confiscation of Armenian properties during the genocide?
Umit Kurt: A series of laws and decrees, known as the Abandoned
Properties Laws (Emval-i Metruke Kanunlarý), were issued in the Ottoman
and Turkish Republican periods concerning the administration of the
belongings left behind by the Ottoman Armenians who were deported
in 1915. The best-known regulation on the topic is the comprehensive
Council of Ministers Decree, dated May 30, 1915. The Directorate of
Tribal and Immigrant Settlement of the Interior Ministry (Ýskan-ý
Aþâir ve Muhacirin Mudiriyeti) sent it the following day to relevant
provinces organized in 15 articles. It provided the basic principles
in accordance with which all deportations and resettlements would
be conducted, and began with listing the reasons for the Armenian
deportations. The most important provision concerning Armenian
properties was the principle that their equivalent value was going
to be provided to the deportees.
The importance of the decree of May 30 and the regulation of May
31 lie in the following: The publication of a series of laws and
decrees were necessary in order to implement the general principles
that were announced in connection with the settlement of the Armenians
and the provision of the equivalent values of their goods. This never
happened. Instead, laws and decrees began to deal with only one topic:
the confiscation of the properties left behind by the Armenians.
The cover of 'The Spirit of Laws'
Another regulation was carried out on June 10, 1915. This 34-article
ordinance regulated in a detailed manner how the property and goods
the Armenians left behind would be impounded by the state. The June
10, 1915 regulation was the basis for the creation of a legal system
suitable for the elimination of the material living conditions of the
Armenians, as it took away from the Armenians any right of disposal
of their own properties. Article 1 of the June 10, 1915 regulation
announced that "committees formed in a special manner" were going
to be created for the administration of the "immovable property,
possessions, and lands being left belonging to Armenians who are
being transported to other places, and other matters."
The most important of these committees were the Abandoned Properties
Commissions (Emval-i Metruke Komisyonlarý).These commissions and their
powers were regulated by Articles 23 and 24. The commissions were
each going to be comprised of three people, a specially appointed
chairman, an administrator, and a treasury official, and would work
directly under to the Ministry of the Interior.
The most important steps toward the appropriation of Armenian cultural
and economic wealth were the Sept. 26, 1915 law of 11 articles, and
the 25-article regulation of Nov. 8, 1915 on how the aforementioned
law would be implemented.
Many matters were covered in a detailed fashion in the law and
the regulation, including the creation of two different types of
commissions with different tasks called the Committees and Liquidation
Commissions (Heyetler ve Tasfiye Komisyonlarý); the manner in which
these commissions were to be formed; the conditions of work, including
wages; the distribution of positions and powers among these commissions
and various departments of ministries and the state; the documents
necessary for applications by creditors to whom Armenians owed money;
aspects of the relevant courts; the rules to be followed during the
process of liquidation of properties; the different ledgers to be kept,
and how they were to be kept; and examples of relevant ledgers. This
characteristic of the aforementioned law and regulation is the most
important indication of the desire not to return to the Armenians
their properties or their equivalent value.
The Temporary Law of Sept. 26, 1915 is also known as the Liquidation
Law (Tasfiye Kanunu). Its chief goal was the liquidation of Armenian
properties. According to its first article, commissions were to
be established to conduct the liquidation. These commissions were
to prepare separate reports for each person about the properties,
receivable accounts, and debts "abandoned by actual and juridical
persons who are being transported to other places." The liquidation
would be conducted by courts on the basis of these reports.
The temporary law also declared that a regulation would be promulgated
about the formation of the commissions and how the provisions of the
law would be applied. This regulation, which was agreed upon on Nov.
8, 1915, regulated in a detailed fashion the protection of the
movable and immovable property of Armenians who were being deported,
the creation of new committees for liquidation issues, and the working
principles of the commissions. The two-part regulation with 25 articles
moreover included explanatory information on what had to be included
in the record books to be kept during the liquidation process, and
how these record books were to be used.
In brief, these were the major legal rules and regulations in 1915.
VK: How did the Ottoman government deal with the property of Armenians
living in Istanbul, since no actual massacres took place in the
capital? Were there laws for them, too?
UK: It is very important to note that these laws and statutes
were known as the Abandoned Properties Laws, which was the official
euphemism and an established term in the CUP propaganda to characterize
the expropriation of the Armenians, and were merely applied todeported
Armenians. Movable and immovable properties of Armenians who were
not deported were not subjected to the Abandoned Properties Laws. As
known, there were some Armenians deported from Istanbul--of course,
very limited compared to Western Armenia--and properties of those
deported Armenians in Istanbul also went through this process of
confiscation, expropriation, and liquidation of their properties.
VK: How does the concept of confiscation and destruction of property
help us understand the broader picture of the genocide?
UK: Actually, a new group of critical genocide scholars has started to
come up with a new definition of genocide by taking into consideration
the confiscation and destruction of property and wealth of the victim
groups. In doing so, these critical genocide scholars have brought
Raphael Lemkin's original definition of genocide to the attention of
existing genocide scholarship.
I see Raphael Lemkin as the founding father of genocide literature.
Lemkin introduced the concept of genocide for the first time in 1944
in his book entitled Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The book consists
of a compilation of 334 laws, decrees, and regulations connected
with the administration of 17 different regions and states under Nazi
occupation between March 13, 1938 and Nov. 13, 1942. That is to say,
Lemkin did not introduce the concept of genocide together with the
barbaric practices like torture, oppression, burning, destruction,
and mass killing observed in all genocides, but through a book quoting
and analyzing legal texts. Could this be a coincidence?
Given its importance, it is necessary to stress this one more time:
In the year that Lemkin completed the writing of his book (1943), he
already knew of all the crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany. However,
he did not present the concept of genocide in a framework elucidated
by these crimes. On the contrary, he introduced it through some
laws and decrees that were published on how to administer occupied
territories and that perhaps in the logic of war might be considered
"normal." We cannot say that this situation accords well with our
present way of understanding genocide. In the general perception,
genocide is the collapse of a normally functioning legal system; it
is the product of the deviation of the system from the "normal" path.
According to this point of view, genocide means that the institutions
of "civilization" are not working and are replaced by barbarism.
Lemkin, however, seems to be saying the complete opposite of this,
that genocide is hidden in ordinary legal texts. By doing this, it
is as if he is telling us not to look for the traces of genocide as
barbaric manifestations that can be defined as inhuman, but to follow
their trail in legal texts.
Genocide as a phenomenon fits inside the legal system--this is an
interesting definition. And this definition is one of the central
theses of our book. The Armenian Genocide does not just exist in the
displays of barbarity carried out against the Armenians. It is at
the same time hidden in a series of ordinary legal texts.
What we wish to say in our book is that genocide does not only mean
physical annihilation. Going even further, we can assert that we are
faced with a phenomenon in which whether the Armenians were physically
annihilated or not, is but a detail. How many Armenians died during
the course of the deportations/destruction or how many remained alive
is just a secondary issue from a definitional point of view; what is
important is the complete erasure of the traces of the Armenians from
their ancient homeland.
The total destruction of the Armenians marked the fact that a
government tried to eliminate a particular group of its own citizens
in an effort to settle a perceived political problem. Between 1895 and
1922, Ottoman Armenians suffered massive loss of life and property as
a result of pogroms, massacres, and other forms of mass violence. The
1915 Armenian Genocide can be seen as the pinnacle of this process
of decline and destruction. It consisted of a series of genocidal
strategies: the mass executions of elites, categorical deportations,
forced assimilation, destruction of material culture, and collective
dispossession. The state-orchestrated plunder of Armenian property
immediately impoverished its victims; this was simultaneously a
condition for and a consequence of the genocide. The seizure of the
Armenian property was not just a byproduct of the CUP's genocidal
policies, but an integral part of the murder process, reinforcing
and accelerating the intended destruction. The expropriation and
plunder of deported Armenians' movable and immovable properties was
an essential component of the destruction process of Armenians.
As Martin Dean argues in Robbing the Jews: The Confiscation of Jewish
Property in the Holocaust, 1933-1945, ethnic cleansing and genocide
usually have a "powerful materialist component: seizure of property,
looting of the victims, and their economic displacement are intertwined
with other motives for racial and interethnic violence and intensify
their devastating effects." In the same vein, the radicalization of
CUP policies against the Armenian population from 1914 onward was
closely linked to a full-scale assault on their property.
Thus, the institutionalization of the elimination of the
Christian-Armenian presence was basically realized, along with many
other things, through the Abandoned Properties Laws. These laws are
structural components of the Armenian Genocide and one of the elements
connected to the basis of the legal system of the Republican period.
It is for this reason that we say that the Republic adopted this
genocide as its structural foundation. This reminds us that we must
take a fresh look at the relationship between the Republic as a legal
system and the Armenian Genocide.
The Abandoned Properties Laws are perceived as "normal and ordinary"
laws in Turkey. Their existence has never been questioned in this
connection. Their consideration as natural is also an answer as to
why the Armenian Genocide was ignored throughout the history of the
Republic. This "normality" is equivalent to the consideration of a
question as non-existent. Turkey is founded on the transformation
of a presence--Christian in general, Armenian in particular--into
This picture also shows us a significant aspect of genocide as Lemkin
pointed out. Genocide is not only a process of destruction but also
that of construction. By the time genocide perpetrators are destroying
one group, they are also constructing another group or identity.
Confiscation is an indispensable and one of the most effective
mechanisms for perpetrators to realize the aforementioned process of
destruction and construction.
VK: What happened to the property after it was seized from the
UK: Most of the Armenians properties were distributed to Muslim
refugees from the Balkans and Caucasia at that time. Central and
local politicians and bureaucrats of the Union and Progress Party
also made use of Armenian properties.
The exhaustive process of administering and selling the property
usually involved considerable administrative efforts, employing
hundreds of local staff. Economic discrimination and plunder
contributed directly to the CUP's process of destruction in a variety
of ways. At the direct level of implementation, the prospect of booty
helped to motivate the local collaborators in various massacres and
the deportation orchestrated by the CUP security forces in Anatolia
The CUP cadres were quite aware that the retention of the Armenian
property would give the local people a material stake in the
deportation of the Armenians. In many cities of Anatolia, especially
local notables and provincial elites who had close connections with
the CUP obtained and owned most of the properties and wealth of
Armenians. This process was realized in Aintab, Diyarbekir, Adana,
Maras, Kilis, and other cities in the whole Anatolia. For my Ph.D.
dissertation project, I am exploring how Armenians properties and
wealth changed hands and were taken over by local elites of the city
during the genocide.
Similar to the policy of Nazi leaders regarding the "Aryan"ization
of Jewish property in the Holocaust, the CUP aimed to have complete
control over the confiscation and expropriation of Armenian properties
for the economic interests of the state, but could not prevent
incidents of corruption from taking place.
It should be emphasized that corruption was fairly rift among
bureaucrats and officers of the Abandoned Properties Commissions
and Liquidation Commissions who were the responsible actors
for administering and confiscating Armenian properties under the
supervision and for the advantage of the state, as did happen in the
"Aryan"ization of Jewish property.
Despite the widespread incidence of private plunder and corruption,
there is no doubt that the seizure of Armenian property in the
Ottoman Empire was primarily a state-directed process linked closely
to the development of the Armenian Genocide. However, the widespread
participation of the local population as beneficiaries of the Armenian
property served to spread complicity, and also legitimize the CUP's
measures against the Armenians.
A number of leading members of the Central Committee of the Union and
Progress Party, as well as CUP-oriented governors and mutasarrýfs,
seized a great deal of property, especially those belonging to affluent
Armenians in many vilayets. In addition, according to one argument,
CUP leaders also utilized Armenian property and wealth to meet the
Also, it is worth mentioning an important detail on the National Tax
Obligations (Tekâlif-i Milliye) orders. This topic is important to
show the Nationalist movement's viewpoint concerning the Armenians,
and also Greeks and the properties they left behind. The National Tax
Obligations Orders were issued by command of Mustafa Kemal, the head
of the Grand National Assembly and commander-in-chief of the Turkish
Nationalist army, to finance the War of Independence against Greece.
The abandoned properties of Armenians were also seen as an important
source of financing for the war between 1919 and 1922.
After the establishment of the Turkish Republic, in 1926, Turkish
Grand National Assembly passed a law. This law was promulgated and
enforced on June 27, 1926. According to this law, Turkish governmental
officers, politicians, and bureaucrats who were executed as a result
of their roles in the Armenian deportations or who were murdered by
Dashnaks were declared "national heroes," and so-called Abandoned
Properties of Armenians were given to their families.
And finally in 1928, the Turkish Republic introduced a new regulation
that granted muhacirs or Muslim refugees who were using Armenian
properties the right to have the title deeds of those properties,
which included houses, lands, field crops, and shops.
As you can see, a variety of actors and institutions seized properties
and wealth that the deported Armenians were forced to leave behind.
VK: What did this entire process of confiscation and appropriation
represent, on the one hand to the Ottoman Elite, and on the other to
the average Turk? Was it an ideological principle or a mere motivating
element for further destruction?
UK: We should be very cautious when giving a proper answer to this
question. Also, in my view, this aspect of the Armenian Genocide
should be compared with the "Aryan"ization of Jewish properties in
the Holocaust. We can see palpable resemblances between these two
It is obvious that the material stake for the average Turkey played a
significant role in his/her participation in the destruction process
of Armenians. Economic motivation was always present and enabled
CUP central actors to carry out their ultra-nationalist ideological
policies against Armenians in terms of gaining the support and consent
of average Turkish-Muslim people.
To have a better appreciation of the motivation of the average Turk,
one should look at what happened at the local level--which means
we need more local and micro studies in order to understand how the
deportation and genocide alongside the plunder and pillage of Armenian
properties took place in various localities in Anatolia.
The process of genocide and deportation directed at the Armenians was,
in fact, put into practice by local notables and provincial elites.
These local actors prospered through the acquisition of Armenians'
property and wealth, transforming them into the new wealthy social
stratum. In this respect, the Union and Progress Party's genocide and
deportation decree on May 27, 1915 had a certain social basis through
the practice of effective power, control, and support mechanism(s)
at local levels. Therefore, a more accentuated focus on the local
picture or the periphery deserves closer examination.
The function of the stolen Armenian assets in the Turkification
process makes the confiscation of Armenian properties a social matter.
In this respect, the wide variety of participants and the dynamic
self-radicalization of the CUP and state institutions at the local
level need to be examined. Although the CUP was involved throughout the
confiscation process and was fully in charge of it, the collaboration
of local institutions and officers also played a considerable role. The
local institutions and offices could not operate in complete isolation
from their respective societies and the prevailing attitudes in them.
The expropriation of the Armenians, therefore, was not limited simply
to the implementation of the CUP orders, but was also linked to the
attitude of local societies towards the Armenians, that is, to the
different forms of Armenian hatred. As in the empire, the corruptive
influence that spread with the enrichment from Armenian properties
in Anatolia could also have led to various forms of accommodation of
CUP policies. The robbery of the property is also a useful barometer
to assess the relations of various local populations toward the CUP,
to the CUP central and local authorities, and also toward the Armenian
population in each city.
With regard to the widespread collaboration of parts of the local
populace in measures taken against the Armenians, the distribution of a
great amount of the Armenian property provided a useful incentive that
reinforced hatred for the local Armenians as well as other political
and personal motives.
One should keep in mind the fact that the participation of local people
is a necessary condition to ensure the effectiveness of genocidal
policies. Planned extermination of all members of a given category of
people is impossible without the involvement of their neighbors--the
only ones who know who is who in a local community.
Therefore, the entire process of confiscation can be evaluated and
construed as both an ideological principle and economic motivation.
These two aspects cannot be separated from each other in our analysis.
In my view, the ideological principle was hugely supported and
complemented by economic motivation and material stakes. In some
instances, ideology played a more significant role than economic
motivation, and in other instances economic interests came into
prominence vis-a-vis ideology. Yet, in any case, these two parameters
were on the ground and constituted effective mechanisms and dynamic
in the confiscation, plunder, and seizure of Armenian material wealth.
THE CONFISCATION OF ARMENIAN PROPERTIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH UMIT KURT
Posted 26 September 2013 - 10:57 AM
THE CONFISCATION OF ARMENIAN PROPERTIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH UMIT KURT
Posted 28 January 2016 - 10:57 AM
UMIT KURT TO SPEAK ON "WHY DOES TURKEY DENY THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE?"
12:00, 28 Jan 2016
Massis Post - "Why Does Turkey Deny the Armenian Genocide?" will be
addressed in a talk by Clark University doctoral candidate Umit Kurt
at 7:30PM on Wednesday, February 10, in the University Business Center,
Alice Peters Auditorium, Room 191, on the Fresno State campus.
The lecture is the third in the Armenian Studies Program Spring 2016
Lecture Series, with the support of the Leon S. Peters Foundation.
One of the most important--and possibly the most sensitive--landmarks
of modern Turkish history and the formation of Turkey's political and
socio-cultural climate is the Armenian Genocide. By the same token,
this issue is a taboo in Turkish political history. The question widely
asked is "Why does Turkey deny the Armenian Genocide?" This question
should be examined at two levels: state and society. It is correct
to say that there has been a strong state denialism of the Armenian
Genocide in Turkey. Yet, one should also bear in mind that this strong
state denialism has also been supported and reinforced by different
sections of society. In this lecture, Kurt will analyze societal
dimensions of Turkish denialism of Armenian genocide and also explore
the reasons behind Turkey's inability to come to terms with its past.
Umit Kurt is a PhD. Candidate at Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program
in the History Department of Clark University and completing his
dissertation. He has written extensively on confiscation of Armenian
properties, Armenian Genocide, early modern Turkish nationalism,
and Aintab Armenians. He is the author of the Great, hopeless
Turkish race: fundamentals of Turkish nationalism in the Turkish
homeland 1911-1916 (Istanbul: Iletisim Publishing House, 2012) and
editor of the Revolt and Destruction: Construction of the state from
Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic and collective violence (Istanbul:
Tarih Vakfi Publishing House, 2015). He teaches history at Sabanci
University in Istanbul and is the author, with Taner Akcam, of The
spirit of the laws: the plunder of wealth in the Armenian Genocide
(New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2015).
Posted 15 October 2016 - 11:33 AM
PanARMENIAN.Net - In a feature published in The Independent, author Robert Fisk unveils the story of the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God in Gaziantep (then called Antep) which has been turned into a Turkish mosque.
The article reads:
The ‘Liberation’ Mosque is a fine, neo-classical, almost Gothic construction with striped black-and-white stone banding, unusual for a Muslim holy place but a jewel in the Tepebasi district of the old town of Gaziantep. Its stone carvings and mock Grecian columns beside the window frames are a credit to another, gentler age. The minarets perch delicately – and I had never seen this before – on square towers that might have been church towers had there been Christians in this ancient city.
But of course, there were. What no-one will tell you in Gaziantep, what no guidebook mentions, what no tourist guide will refer to, is that this very building – whose 19th century builders were none other than the nephews of the official architect of Sultan Abdulhamid II – was the Holy Mother of God cathedral for at least 20,000 Christian Armenians who were victims of the greatest war crime of the 1914-18 war: the Armenian genocide. They were deported by the Ottoman Turks from this lovely city, which had been their families’ home for hundreds of years, to be executed into common graves. The murderers were both Turks and Kurds.
Altogether, up to 32,000 Armenians – almost the entire Christian population of 36,000 of what was then called Antep – were deported towards the Syrian cities of Hama, Homs, Selimiyeh, to the Hauran and to Deir Ezzor in 1915. The Muslim citizens of Aintep then apparently plundered the empty homes of those they had dispossessed, seizing not only their property but the treasures of the cathedral church itself. Indeed, the church, ‘Surp Asdvazdadzin Kilisesi’ in Armenian, was turned into a warehouse – as were many Jewish synagogues in Nazi Germany and in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe during the Second World War – and then into a prison.
Prowling around the church-mosque enclosure, I found some of the prison bars still attached to the window frames, although the building has been functioning as a mosque since 1986. The main gate was closed but I pushed it open and found not only that the structure of the magnificent building is still intact but that scaffolding has been placed against the walls for a renovation. Behind the church – and separate from the building – was an ancient stone cave whose interior was blackened with what must have been the smoke of candle flames from another era, perhaps a worshipping place because the cave appears to have been a tomb in antiquity. The caretaker came fussing up to us to tell us that the mosque was shut, that we must leave, that this was a closed place. But he was a friendly soul and let us take pictures of the great façade of the church and of the minarets.
The only sign of its origin is the date “1892” carved in stone on the east façade of the original church, marking the final completion of the work of the great Armenian architect Sarkis Balian – he was the official architect of the 19th century Sultan Abdulhamid II, a terrible irony since Abdulhamid himself began the first round of Armenian massacres of 80,000 Christians (the figure might be 300,000) in Ottoman Turkey just two years after the Armenian stonemason Sarkis Tascian carved the date on the façade. In the later 1915 Armenian Holocaust – even Israelis use this word for the Armenian genocide – a million and a half Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks. It is a shock to realize that Aintep’s vast toll of dead were only a small fraction of this terrifying war crime.
Outside the church, I found an elderly Syrian refugee sitting on the pavement by the closed gate. He greeted us in Arabic and said that, yes, he knew this was once a church. Just over a century ago, the Arabs of northern Syria – the land now occupied by Isis – were among the only friends the Armenians found in the vast deserts into which they were sent to die. Some took Armenian children into their homes. Others married Armenian women – the degree of coercion involved in this ‘charitable’ act depends on the teller — although more than twenty years ago I met a Syrian man and his ‘converted’ Armenian wife near Deir Ezzor, both around a hundred years old and both of whom has lost count of their great-great-grandchildren.
A Turkish man in a shop below the cathedral was less generous. Yes, it had been a church, he said. But when I asked him if it had been an Armenian church, he chuckled – dare I call it a smirk? — and looked at me, and said nothing. I suppose a kind of guilt hangs over a place like this. So it is a happy thought that some Armenian families have in recent years – as tourists, of course – visited the city that was once Antep and have spoken with warmth to members of Turkey’s leftist parties and celebrated the work of American missionaries who cared for both the Armenian and Turkish Muslim population here before 1915. One Armenian identified his old family home and the Turkish family who lived there invited him in and insisted that he should stay with them and not in a hotel. For this was also his home, they said.
But tears of compassion do not dry up the truth. For when the First World War ended, Allied troops marched into Antep. First came the British, led by the execrable Sir Mark Sykes – of Sykes-Picot infamy – and then the French in October 1919, who brought with them, alas, elements of the Armenian volunteers who had joined their ‘Legion d’Orient’ in Port Said. The Muslim elites who had taken over the town – and the Armenian homes and properties – feared the newcomers would demand restitution. Fighting broke out between Muslims and the French and their Armenian allies and the Muslims discovered a new-found enthusiasm for the independence struggle of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Thus began the false history of the city.
Perhaps the greatest font of knowledge on this period is a young Harvard scholar, Umit Kurt, of Kurdish-Arab origin, who was born in modern-day Gaziantep. Mr Kurt is now an academic at Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Armenians of Antep from the 1890s with a special focus – this is the important bit for readers – on property transfers, confiscation, deportation and massacres. Mr Kurt’s conclusion is bleak.
“The famous battle of Aintab [sic] against the French,” he says, “…seems to have been as much the organised struggle of a group of genocide profiteers seeking to hold onto their loot as it was a fight against an occupying force. The resistance…sought to make it impossible for the Armenian repatriates to remain in their native towns, terrorising them [again] in order to make them flee. In short, not only did the local…landowners, industrialists and civil-military bureaucratic elites lead to the resistance movement, but they also financed it in order to cleanse Aintab of Armenians.”
They were successful. The French abandoned Antep in December 1919 and the Armenian volunteers fled with them. The new Turkish state awarded the Muslim fighters of the city with the honourific Turkish prefix ‘Gazi’ – “veterans” – and thus Antep became Gaziantep and the great church of old Sarkis Balian would eventually be renamed the ‘Liberation Mosque’ – “Kurtulus Cami” – to mark the same dubious victory over the French and Armenians, the latter being defamed as killers by those who had sent the Armenians of the city to their doom in 1915.
Not much justice there. Nor in the official Turkish version of that terrible history of the Armenian Holocaust in which – this is the least the Turkish government will concede – Armenians died ‘tragically’ in the chaos of the First World War, as did Muslims themselves. German military advisers witnessed the genocide. Hitler was later to ask his generals, before the invasion of Poland and the destruction of its Jews, who now, in 1939, remembered the Armenians. The official Turkish account of the fate of Gaziantep’s original Armenians refers to their “relocation” – a word used by the Nazis when they sent the Jews to their extermination in eastern Europe.
No, we shouldn’t contaminate the Turks of modern Turkey with the crimes of their grandfathers. Umir Kurt wrote his dissertation for the brilliant and brave Turkish historian Taner Akcam, whose work on the Armenian genocide has revolutionised historical scholarship in Turkey. Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deliberately moved the date of the 1915 Gallipoli commemorations to the very day of the anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide in an attempt to smother any memory of the crime – but the government allowed Armenians to parade through Istanbul in honour of their 1915 dead. Yet if the historical narrative from the 20th century’s first holocaust to its second holocaust is valid, then the path upon which the first doomed Armenians of Antep set out in their convoy of deportation on 1st August 1915 led all the way to Auschwitz. The ‘Liberation’ Mosque is a milestone on the journey.
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