Armenian Aintab from the Hittites to Cilicia

Due to an earthquake in Turkey, the Armenian city of Aintap, once the domain of Armenian rulers in Cilicia and a UNESCO site, now lies under Turkish occupation in Gaziantep.

Archaeological evidence suggests that civilization existed on this ancient land as far back as 6,000 years BCE.

Throughout millennia, the city—known as Deluché—served as a religious center for the Hittite queen Teshup. Today, it remains a village called Dülük, where ancient stone tombs and temples have survived.

Aintap was strategically located at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road, connecting the south to the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the north and west.

In the vicinity of present-day occupied Gaziantep, archaeologists discover artifacts from the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, objects from the time of Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, Romans, Byzantines, and Armenians. The oldest findings include stone tools from the Dülük cave, dating back to the Paleolithic era.

The name “Antep” translates from Hittite as “royal land” and from Persian as “place of springs.” During the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, it served as the residence of Cilician kings.

In 1266, Cilician King Hetoum I launched two campaigns against the fortress of Aintap. Despite Egyptian sultanates and Timur’s invasion in 1404, Aintap remained Armenian.

In the 18th century, around 100 villages in the vicinity of Aintap were settled by Armenians. Later, the Ottoman authorities intentionally resettled Kurds here to displace the indigenous population, imposing Turkish language.

Only in the late 19th century, when the “Armenian question” gained international attention, were Armenians allowed to open schools, reintroducing their native language into daily life.

According to the Armenian Patriarchate census in Constantinople (1912), the Sanjak of Aintap (including the districts of Aintab and Kilis) had an Armenian population of 44,414.

In the city of Aintap itself, at the beginning of the 20th century, the population reached 50,000, with 20,000 being Armenians. The remarkable St. Mary’s Church was constructed between 1873 and 1893 by architect Sarkis Balyan.

During the 1915 genocide, the Armenian population of Aintap was deported to the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor.

After Turkey’s defeat in World War I, surviving Armenians returned to Aintap, as this territory fell within France’s sphere of influence according to the Allies’ agreement.

However, the French failed to ensure the safety of the Armenian population. Turkish authorities remained in place, and Muslims were not disarmed. Atrocities against the Armenian population ensued.

Thanks to heroic self-defense, the Armenians of Aintap avoided massacre. Unfortunately, France, unwilling to confront the Turks, abandoned Cilicia, leaving the Armenians of Aintap at the mercy of bloodthirsty occupiers.

The struggle for Aintap and its fortress posed one of the greatest challenges for Kemalists. Armenian self-defense units heroically resisted the occupiers.

The heroic defense of Aintap by Armenians in 1920-1921 remains a testament to courage and sacrifice. Yet, after France’s betrayal, the fortress and city fell. Buoyed by victory, the Turks added “gazi” (victorious hero) to the city’s name, resulting in Gaziantep.

In late 1921, the Armenians of Aintap, fearing further massacres, resettled in Syria, Lebanon, the United States, and some to the Armenian SSR. Thus concluded the Armenian history of heroic Aintap.


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