BY HASMIK PILIPOSYAN
Aintabtsi Hayer, miatsek! (Armenians of Aintab, Unite!)
The Ararat Eskijian Museum wore the image of Old Aintab on Sunday, September 15 as fifty or more true Aintabtsis and supporters gathered to hear a lecture by Umit Kurt, PhD candidate in the department of History at Clark University. The lecture, titled The Emergence of the New Wealthy Class Between 1915-1922: The Seizure of Armenian Property by Local Elites in Aintab, focused on the importance of acquiring Armenian wealth and material possessions to the local Kurds and Turks in Aintab before and during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. To what extent did the lust for Armenian property act as a motive for the killings? Kurt described a “link between the role of stolen Armenian assets in the integration and stabilization of Turkification, which makes confiscation of Armenian properties a social process”. The fate of the Armenians was not only linked to the Committee of Union and Progress party (CUP) orders, but behavior of the local elites.
Material rewards were given for collaboration at the regional level. In Kurt’s words, “the large distribution of Armenian property provided a useful incentive that strongly reinforced Armenian hatred and other political and personal issues.” Besides the local elites, many other state companies were also involved in the seizure of Armenian properties including auction houses, property assessors, trustees, and transportation companies in support of Turkish anti-Armenian policies in Aintab. The opportunities for success and growth facilitated the removal of Armenians, whereas the effects of the loss of properties to the victims were demoralizing and stigmatizing. Additionally, the deportation of Armenians to the Syrian Desert proved effective in separating them from their properties as they were made not to return. A new local wealthy class emerged and prospered through the obtainment of Armenian wealth and property.
After the lecture, Umit Kurt displayed a short film called My Father’s Aintab and old and recent images of the Armenian quarter in Aintab. The evening followed with a Q&A session where one of the audience members asked Umit why he chose to research the destruction of Aintab’s Armenians and their properties. As a native of Aintab, when Umit was younger, he did not know about the presence of Armenians or about the Armenian quarter in Aintab. When one of his friends invited him to a unique coffee shop to meet, Umit’s life and interests changed forever. When he reached the coffee shop, he first noticed the intricately carved, monumental front door of the coffee shop and was amazed at the internal beauty and homey design, which contained every feature of an Armenian home. He asked the owner, who was Turkish, to show him around the place and the upstairs section composed of many rooms aesthetically extrinsic to Umit’s eyes. Umit noticed the numbers “1894” (when the first Hamidian massacres took place) on the wall and asked about the previous owner. The man replied, “I don’t know, Armenians were here.” Later, he discovered that a man named Nazaret Agha of the Kimia family owned the house, before it became a coffee shop. It became the groundbreaking point in his life where he sought out to research the history of the Aintab Armenians and in the meanwhile, also write his own story.
Umit Kurt is of Kurdish descent maternally, but is not certain of his father’s side. He is a PhD candidate at Clark University and student of Taner Akcam, a prominent scholar on the Armenian Genocide. During the Q&A session, Umit was asked if he received any objections or had been tried for “insulting Turkishness”, in which he responded that he has not yet encountered any objections from the Turkish government regarding his research on the stolen Armenian properties. In the last minutes, Umit Kurt spoke words that made everyone smile. He said, “I don’t work for Armenian people; I work for my own people to reckon their own historical wrongdoings.”