A Farewell to Arms: Broken Hopes and Total Departure from the Homeland, in The Heroic Battle of Aintab

Lecture | April 10 | 12-1:30 p.m. | 270 Stephens Hall

 Umit Kurt, Polonsky Fellow, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

 Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES), Armenian Studies Program

Umit Kurt earned his PhD in history at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University in 2016. He is Polonsky Fellow in the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. Dr. Kurt is engaged in his work with examining transfer of Armenian wealth, transformation of space, elite-making process, ordinary perpetrators, collective violence, microhistories, inter-ethnic conflicts, Armenian genocide and early modern Turkish nationalism. He worked as a postdoctoral fellow in 2016-17 in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of The Great, Hopeless Turkish Race: Fundamentals of Turkish Nationalism in the Turkish Homeland, 1911-1916 (Istanbul: İletişim Publishing House, 2012) and the co-author of The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2015)

The Turkish-French war took place between the Turkish-Kemalist nationalist forces and French troops in Aintab, modern day Gaziantep, in 1920- 21. The war started on April 1, 1920 and ended with the city’s surrender to the French military forces on February 9, 1921. Following the diplomatic negotiations between France and the Kemalist government as well as the Kemalist victory against the Greek army in the Western Anatolia, a mutual agreement [Ankara Agreement] signed between Grand National Assembly in Ankara and the French government on October 20, 1921, all activities on the Turkish-French fronts ceased. The agreement was a result of the French retreat from Aintab, as well as the resettlement of Aintab Armenians to the French mandates of Aleppo and Beirut starting March 1921.

There are ample amounts of archival materials, memoirs, diaries and various other sources written in Turkish and Ottoman Turkish on the Turkish-French War. Furthermore, individuals who themselves witnessed or participated in this war wrote down the history of the city within this particular period. How the war started, developed and ended is described in detail in these materials. However, absent from these sources, memoirs and diaries are the narratives of Armenians, who are almost always depicted as ‘the opposite side’, ‘the enemy’ and ‘the traitor’.
In Armenian historiography, this war has been described as Aintab Herosamarde (The Heroic Struggle of Aintab). In this lecture, Dr. Ümit Kurt will explore how this war was narrated based on an original source written in Armenian by Kevork Baboian, titled The Heroic Battle of Aintab. Kurt presents us his English translation of this important book with the detailed history of the Armenian struggle for survival in Aintab between 1918-1922. It is a unique and significant work because it is based on detailed eyewitness accounts of real people who were in the city at that time.

Kurt argues that the famous battle of Aintab against the French—which resulted in the gifting of the honorific prefix Gazi (veteran), renaming the city as Gaziantep on 8 February 1921—seems to have been as much the organized struggle of a group of genocide profiteers seeking to hold onto their loot as it was a fight against an occupying force. This resistance sought to make it impossible for the returning Armenians to stay in their native towns, terrorizing them in the hope of causing them to flee.

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