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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. 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. 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.
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.
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. For when the First World War ended, Allied troops marched into Antep.
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. 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.
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.