Turkey Appropriates Armenian Ceramics

Turkey Appropriates Armenian Ceramics

The museums of the world contain a large amount of human wealth which over time has lost its origin. Such was the fate of the beautiful pottery samples taken from the city of Kütahya in present-day Turkey. In the Louvre, in the British Museum, this part of human art is referred to as “Turkish” or “Ottoman” ceramics. But is it really like that?

Until the 1960s, no one was interested in this question – creations from Kütahya were considered to be something provincial and not related to Ottoman culture in general. But when interest increased, the Armenian inscriptions on ceramics, which indicate the artifacts’ Armenian origin, alerted the Turks.

Here, the Turks cleverly twisted – they claimed that this pottery had been ordered by the Armenian rich from Muslim potters who cast Armenian inscriptions to them. Turks also justify Armenian inscriptions on carpets, claiming that this is also a part of Islamic art made for Armenians. This was even supported by a number of major specialists.

The reality was, of course, different. In this region, already in 2,000 BC, high-quality polished dishes, most often red, were produced. It is assumed that this type of dishes later spread to the Middle East. In Urartu, this art reached its peak, with the rhyton from Erebuni being an example of its craftsmanship. The Armenian capitals Dvin and Ani remained major craft centers with professional potters.

Kütahya in the Late Middle Ages became the center of Armenian ceramics. Ancient red clay vessels have been found here. In the 17th-18th centuries, there were only two centers of the ceramic industry in the Ottoman Empire – Armenian Kütahya and İznik (formerly Nicaea). These cities were rivals.

At the same time, the ancient vessels from Kütahya resemble early products in İznik, which indicates their origin. But İznik was considered a solely Turkish center. İznik was under the patronage of the Ottoman sultans and was strongly supported by them. However, in the 18th century, İznik ceased to be the largest center, and Kütahya took its place.

Here, not only cups, pots, vessels, and bottles were produced but also tiles. 9,500 pieces of tiles from Kütahya were made for the decoration of the Constantinople palace of Fatma, the daughter of Sultan Ahmed III. At the request of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was also decorated with 10,000 pieces of Kütahya tile.

However, in the 20th century, Kütahya also surrendered. Cheap imports from Europe were more profitable than expensive Armenian products made in the city. In 1914, there were only four workshops left.

The abundance of materials found in the city led to the conclusion that the dishes from Kütahya were mainly intended for the middle class and Armenians and Christian minorities. The inscriptions on the dishes and the relationship of ceramics with the ancient Armenian samples fully pointed to their origin.

After the Genocide, Armenians from the city spread throughout the world, though they left the country voluntarily –governor of the province Ali Faik Bey refused to carry out the government’s plan to deport and exterminate the Kütahya Armenians. However, the governor realized that the Armenians could only dream about safety since he himself would be inevitably punished.

In 1922 in Jerusalem, Balian and Karakashian opened a workshop called “Palestinian ceramics”. Hagop Karakashian still is the owner of this workshop. Today, Armenian pottery can be found everywhere in Jerusalem. It is popular with locals and tourists. The Kütahya business is still alive.

But, as already mentioned, many will be “wondering” who made the ceramics in Kütahya. Under Turkish nods, someone will come to the conclusion again that this is all Turkish, and Armenian inscriptions were made by order.

Artur Hakobyan, IAPA Antitopor

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