The city of Gaziantep is located in Southeastern Anatolia. Before 1915, the city was inhabited by a significant number of Armenians. The old city had numerous Armenian churches. Beginning in 1915, and continuing through the next few years, Armenians were removed from the city.
We visited the historic Castle of Gaziantep, where we experienced our first introduction to the heavy propaganda by Turkish historians offering a chronicle of history that pierced our hearts and made each of us traveling in this group angry.
The Castle, built by the Crusaders high up on a hill in the old part of the city, is now a museum that is a monument to the Turkish residents who, in 1918-1922 allegedly fought the Armenians and French who occupied the city, denying the Turks their right to live in their own city. According to the story boards we read, the genocide that occured in that city was not against the Armenians, but by the Armenians against the Turks, with occupation of the area by the French. Large bronze monuments can be seen outside and inside the museum, and on many street corners and in roundabouts on the roads, honoring those who died at the hands of the Armenians and French.
According to Turkish history, in 1921-22, the Turks of Gaziantep defeated the French and re-claimed the city as their own. No explanation is offered as to what happened to the thousands of Armenians who had lived in the city before the recapture of the city.
Sadly, almost all evidence of Armenians in this city (and others in this area) has been completely wiped out. Churches have been converted to mosques. Graves have been destroyed. Homes and businesses are now occupied by Turkish and Kurdish families and businesses. Many of the old homes are in terrible disrepair, allowed by the current government to simply crumble into oblivion. Others are being razed to the ground, and new multiple level apartment buildings are sprouting up in their place. Undoubtedly, in the coming years this city and others like it will be completely whitewashed of any history of Armenians living here. Any buildings which may still be standing that have Armenian architecture are explained as having been built by the 12th century crusaders or commissioned by Persians or Seljuks. No mention is made of the many hundreds of years that Armenians occupied both Greater and Lesser (Cilicia) Armenia.
We had the good fortune to make a quick stop at the former Sourp Yeghia Church and School. This massive church is now a mosque, but anyone who knows Christian and Armenian architecture can see that this building was once an Armenian Church. Its dome is now replaced with the tradition dome of a mosque; minarets now tower tall over its roof. The school complex in the back is in complete ruin, left to rot. Inside one can see the traditional arches of an Armenian Church, the narthex, the altar and candle niches, all now converted to the form of a mosque. This building was constructed in 1882 -- right in the middle of the old town where Armenians lived, worked and worshiped. See the pictures on Brian's photo gallery.
We also made a stop at the Gaziantep Museum, where we saw exquisitly preserved mosaics from the newly discovered Zeugma excavation, about 45 kilometers from Gaziantep. The site where these mosaics were discovered dates back to the time of Alexander the Great, in 300 BC. It was found beneath a grove of pistachio trees farmed by the locals in the village.
Gaziantep is known for its Aintap kebab (VERY spicy), pistachios, and baklava. We ate all of that, and more, on our visit. However, notably missing from all of the restaurants in this area is alcohol. Because of the Muslim religion, few if any restaurants allow any alcohol on the premises.
We left Gaziantep in the morning on Saturday, but only after stopping at a local baklava shop, and a local shop selling nuts, hot red pepper (a MUST for the Amirian sisters) and other goodies.
Next stop -- Sanliurfa.