Journalist Robert Fisk goes on traces of Armenian Genocide in Antep

Armenpress 12:29, 17 October, 2016

YEREVAN, OCTOBER 17, ARMENPRESS. What no-one will tell you in Gaziantep, what no guidebook mentions, what no tourist guide will refer to, is that this very building 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, journalist Robert Fisk writes in The Independent.

“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”, Fisk writes.

He says almost the entire Christian population of 36.000 of what was then called Antep, up to 32.000 Armenians were deported to the Syrian cities. The Muslim citizens of Aintep 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. 

The author says prowling around the church-mosque enclosure, he 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 Fisk pushed it open and found that scaffolding has been placed against the walls for a renovation.

Robert Fisk tells 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. 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”, he says.

Fisk says outside the church he saw a Syrian refugee. The latter said he knew the mosque was once a church.

“Just over a century ago, the Arabs of northern Syria were among the only friends the Armenians found in the vast deserts into which they were sent to die”, Robert Fisk writes.

However, he met a Turkish man in a shop below the cathedral. Fisk asked him if the church had been Armenian, the Turk chuckled, looked at him and said nothing. 

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