By Ümit Kurt. A Turk’s discovery that Armenians once thrived in his hometown leads to a groundbreaking investigation into the local dynamics of genocide.
Ümit Kurt, born and raised in Gaziantep, Turkey, was astonished to learn that his hometown once had a large and active Armenian community.
The Armenian presence in Aintab, the city’s name during the Ottoman period, had not only been destroyed—it had been replaced.
To every appearance, Gaziantep was a typical Turkish city. Ümit Kurt has recently won the 2022 Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association Book Award Honourable Mention.
Kurt digs into the details of the Armenian dispossession that produced the homogeneously Turkish city in which he grew up. In particular, he examines the population that gained from ethnic cleansing.
Records of land confiscation and population transfer demonstrate just how much new wealth became available when the prosperous Armenians—who were active in manufacturing, agricultural production, and trade—were ejected.
Although the official rationale for the removal of the Armenians was that the group posed a threat of rebellion, Kurt shows that the prospect of material gain was a key motivator of support for the Armenian genocide among the local Muslim gentry and the Turkish public.
Those who benefited most—provincial elites, wealthy landowners, state officials, and merchants who accumulated Armenian capital—in turn, financed the nationalist movement that brought the modern Turkish republic into being. The economic elite of Aintab was thus reconstituted along both ethnic and political lines.
The Armenians of Aintab draws on primary sources from Armenian, Ottoman, Turkish, British, and French archives, as well as memoirs, personal papers, oral accounts, and newly discovered property-liquidation records. Together they provide an invaluable account of genocide at the ground level.
Ümit Kurt is an Assistant Professor in the Schoolumanities, Creative Industry, and Social Sciences (History) and an affiliate of the Centre for the Study of Violence at the University of Newcastle, Australia.
A former Polonsky Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, he is the co-author of The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide.
Article by Harvard University Press