Erzurum and its Partial History

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It has been nearly a week since I arrived in Turkey. My first two stops were Ayder, a village tucked away in the Kaçkar mountains, and Trabzon, a port town which is a nice base for day trips to Sumela Monastery. My third stop is Erzurum, a very old city farther inland on the eastern side of Turkey. Today was my first day and I went straight for the Erzurum Museum, seen above.

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It had some incredibly old artifacts, some of which dated back 5,000+ years. Above are some of the ceramic pieces they have from the Urartu kingdom.

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These inscriptions come from the same period.

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What I did not expect was the final hall of the museum. Erzurum had been one of the centers of a sizeable Armenian population that once lived in what is now eastern Turkey. It was also a major deportation center during the Armenian Genocide. Turkey does not recognize what occurred as genocide,  and the tension between Armenia and Turkey over this issue still has not dissapated (their border remains closed partly due  to this). So while Armenians have a monument and museum commemorating the genocide and a national holiday on April 24th (Remembrance Day), Turkey refuses to call it genocide and instead has a museum hall dedicated to the massacres of Turkish civilians by Armenians during the first World War. Though I am sure such atrocities did occur, they simply do not compare to the near complete devastation of the Armenian population during this time. What is really sad is how well the exhibit exemplifıes the attitudes Armenians and Turks have toward each other. (My previous post on the Azeri cemetery in Armenia shows that this animosity exists between Azeris an Armenians as well.)

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Above are the artifacts found in the mass graves of Turkish civilians and the description of the excavation itself.

Of course, these claims must be taken with a very large grain of salt. Strong Turkish nationalism permeates throughout the entire exhibit. You simply can’t take seriously an exhibit that uses the term ”Armenian terrorists” to describe Armenians in general. The exhibit seems to give weight to the bogus theory that Armenians are actually descendants of Albanian Christians. And fınally, the supposed quotation of a Britiısh diplomat describing the revolt of the Armenian population around the turn of the 20th century is both very undiplomatic written in poor English, leading me to question its authenticity. It reads: ”Did the Turks or the Armenians started it? Yes, of course these fool and deceitful Armenians were guilty for all.” This section actually reminds me a lot of the İsraeli military museums I visited in Tel Aviv.

By the way, if anyone does find some reputable sources on any massacre of Turkish civilians, please send me the link.

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And no Turkish museum would be complete without Atatürk! He is everywhere. Every square, statue, or flag seems to be of him.

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Above are pictures of what İ suspect to be Armenian churches in Erzurum. None of them are described as such. But having seen several different churches all over the Republic of Armenia and in Karabakh,  I am fairly sure these are Armenian. Two of them had signs that said the buildings’ orgins are unknown. A Kurdish carpet-seller I met confirmed that there were mosques in the city that were originally churches.

On the churches ‘lost’ or destroyed after 1915,  see this article.

Despite the partial picture of history one gets in Erzurum, it is a still an interesting place and well worth visiting.

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10 thoughts on “Erzurum and its Partial History

  1. Hi, I do not know if you would still read this old post. But I still want to give some answers to your questions.

    Both Turkey and Armenia suffer from one sided history, they only portray their own suffering and neglect the other. So Turkey largely skips over Armenians and Armenians do not mention the massacre of Turks by them at all. Most of Western media and academics also completely ignore the Turkish victims.

    1. Did Armenian troops massacre Turks/Muslims in Erzerum?

    Yes they did, not only there but also in most of eastern Anatolia. It happened in 1918 before the Turkish army retook the city from the Armenians. The city was captured by Russia in 1916 and handed over to the Armenians after 1917. the Russian revolution when the Russian troops left the area. Some nationalists argue to justify this massacre and say it happened as revenge for the Armenian genocide. This is dumb to say as the killed victims were probably not related to the genocide at all, they were civilians, men, women, children, old men.

    Authentic Ottoman pictures of some Turkish victims of this region. [[http://ersinalasirt80.blogcu.com/ermenilerin-turk-katliami/5514825]]

    (The Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey: a disputed genocide, Guenter Lewy)
    “……….the city of Erzinjan in February 1918, they found a destroyed city and hundreds of bodies in wells and shallow graves…..Erzurum fell soon thereafter; and there, too, large numbers of Muslim dead, including women and children…”

    2. Are the buildings in the picture Armenian churches?

    No, none of them are. They are 12th-14th century Mausoleums of the Muslim elite.
    The buildings are called Kümbet, yes they resemble Armenian churches because of their pointed roofs. This is a result of cultural exchange, local Muslim building style was influenced by the Armenian architecture. However they are not churches, they are graves of persons.
    The Kümbet on the 1st photo is part of the (Yakutiye Medrese) (Islamic school).
    second photo are the (Üç Kümbetler ), the third one I do not know but it is obviously an Kümbetl from its appearance. But a cultured person would first learn and read something of the region he was going to visit. And yes there can be Armenian churches converted to Mosques but none of these buildings are. [[http://books.google.com/books?id=bW06PE0GRXEC&pg=PA208&dq=erzurum+kumbet+tombs&hl=nl&sa=X&ei=xRMzUqiHKqW60wXm1YH4Cw&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=erzurum%20kumbet%20tombs&f=false]]

    So after I read your ignorance, sceptism towards Turkish suffering and your prejudice of seeing in everything an ”Armenian suffering” thinking Muslim tombs are converted churches, I want to ask you not to be so partisan and prejudiced yourself.

    Erzurum has been a Muslim city between 7th-9th century and since the 11th it was almost always, except for several years of Christian/Russian occupation, a Muslim town.
    Before the Armenian genocide the city was also majority Muslim and Turkish. probably since the 16th century. In the 19th century, before Armenian persecution, all western sources describe it as majority Muslim. It has lots of medieval Muslim architecture.

    Turkey and Turks have a rich history that spans 9 centuries in Anatolia, so it does not consist of the idiot image prejudiced Turcophobes have of it. “Everything ancient, beautifull and old is Christian and everywhere Christians where brutally slaughtered”. Christians fate is one sided and exaggerated, the Muslim one ignored, Turkish history, culture legacy ignored or downplayed and as a people they are demonized.

    Besides do not forget Armenia was 40% Muslim in 1897, Azeri Turks lived for 9 centuries in there. Today none remain and their history is completely erased (Mosques, schools, cemeteries, architecture) and nobody in the world gives a shit. Armenians did this even though they internationally non stop complain about this treatment they got from Turks and dream of even more “revenge”. So they are hypocritical, it seems you are also.

    • Thanks for your comments. The book you cited by Lewy was the exact thing I was looking for when I said “reputable sources on any massacre of Turkish civilians.” You seem to agree that it was indeed a genocide, though he doesn’t in his book (from what I gathered).

      I don’t agree, naturally, with your charge of hypocrisy, however. I assure you, no one is more critical of current Armenian attitudes towards Turks and the Azeri population that was removed from Armenia and Karabagh. I find much of them repellent, and even documented the destruction of an Azeri cemetery here.

      And I don’t deny Turkish suffering during WWI. As I wrote in this post, “I am sure such atrocities [against Turks] did occur.” That does not connote skepticism. But as, you said, there aren’t many Western (English) sources that document it. That’s why I asked for a reference.

      But to even suggest that during WWI what happened to Turkish civilians at the hands of Armenian militias was anywhere close in scale to was happened to Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman authorities seems ludicrous. And that is the context of the exhibit that this post was talking about. The exhibit is really blatant (and poorly done) propaganda, the kind you would see in Armenia against Azeris, and that was the real point of the post.

      You might be completely right about those being mausoleums. I couldn’t tell for sure (which is why I said “suspect”), and there were no signs. One would think if everyone knew they were mausoleums that that would have been written somewhere. As it is, they said the origins are ‘unknown’. In addition, the only person I asked about it did indeed say that churches had been converted into mosques – though clearly not the buildings pictured here – so I figured those might also have been churches.

      If you have a source documenting these buildings, or others like them, as mausoleums, I’d genuinely like to see them.

      One more thing. If you read the rest of my blog, you’ll see that I spend most of my time trying to document Muslim suffering, specifically that which I believe my own government is responsible for (Palestine, Iraq, etc). So if anything, I’m biased in the opposite direction to which you suggest. And I am, indeed, Christian.

      Thanks so much for the response!

      • Hello, If you are indeed sincere in not chosing sides in human suffering then you are on the right path. It does not matter who comitted the crime or who was the victim, it is always a crime and equally bad. There is also no point that people are making contests of the suffering their people were inflicted or what they inflicted to others, all are equally bad no matter the scale.

        For example for Muslims it is always a sin if you commit crimes. An example are murder or theft, against Muslims but also against non muslims, no distinction. Yes there is a lot hatefull deceptive anti islamic propoganda that will tell you this is not true but you probably already know this. Only exceptions in killing is a war situation, but this only related to the battlefield, to soldiers and resulting looting. Islam is against bloodshedding and destruction these are avoided as much as it can be. Murder of innocent civilians or forcefully converting people is forbidden. In the Quran, holy book of Islam, Allah the creator, says against the hebrews, but this also applies to Muslims ” Who kills a innocent person it is like who killed all humanity and who saved an innocent person its like he saved all humanity.
        :
        Surat Al-Ma’idah [5:32]

        …..Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.

        The scale of Muslim Turkish suffering is very high but normally nobody knows or cares about this as Muslim or Turkish lives are not worth anything according to most of world opinion.

        But you probably knowthe risk that if you are going to stand up for Muslims rights and suffering too much you will also be demonized and ignored yourself by Most of the world.

        If you are interested you can read online:
        (Death and Exile the Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922,) Justin McCarty.
        Describes millions of Ottoman Muslims being murdered or exiled from Balkans, Caucasus and in Anatolia.

        If you want to read about the atrocities in Eastern Anatolia by Armenians There are many Turkish sources but you can read online:

        (Niles and Sutherland Report) written by American officers investigating this area in 1919. They conclude that allmost all villages and towns in the entire area had been destroyed by Armenians and remaining people were almost starving.

        https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Report_of_Niles_and_Sutherland_-_Investigation_through_Eastern_Turkish_Vilayets.pdf

        I dont write this to justify behaviour against Armenians but there is also another side of the story.

        Those are Muslim Mausoleums called Kumbet, and are common in many areas in Anatolia, you can search info of them very easily on the internet, just write, Erzurum kumbet, muslim Seljuk tombs and such.
        I gave their names in the previous message, you can search it.

        Here is a tourist book of Turkey, with some info.

        http://books.google.com/books?id=nMwSYnCPY28C&pg=PA319&dq=kumbet+erzurum+tombs&hl=nl&sa=X&ei=8tVCUtv5Msis0QXho4DoBg&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=kumbet%20erzurum%20tombs&f=false

        Well I tried to explain somethings, I hope you understood. Thanks for your answer and for saying you try to be unbiased.

        Good day.

    • 1) Armenian massacres of Turks/Kurds was retaliation for the genocide, and is in no way comparable to the suffering that they were forced to endure (and the consequences of the genocide are still felt by Armenians TODAY). Also, this retaliation happened in 1918, when most Armenians were already slaughtered.
      2) The link to the pictures you provided have been proven to be Armenian casualties by historians and scholars and are actually used to PROVE there was a genocide.
      3) Pointing to Gunter Lewy to prove a historical fact is like pointing to the bible to prove Noah flooded the world. Lewy has long been debunked as a reputable historian, and it has been proven that he is bought by the Turkish government through Pacifica Institute to deny the Armenian genocide, as is Jeremy Salt, and others. You can google the letter between the Turkish government and a genocide denier, in which the genocide denying alleged historian, tells the government HOW to lie about historical facts. Gunter Lewy is laughed upon by all reputable scholars and historians as an avid genocide denier. One does not need a degree to see he is bluffing when speaking about the Armenian genocide because he does not use ANY sources.
      4) Yes, the kumbet’s could possibly be Armenian church architectural influences, such can also be found at the Ishak Pasha Palace. And yes, some churches have been converted to mosques (i.e. Kars Apostles Church, now Kumbet mosque).
      5) Yes, some of these regions had a majority muslim population. This is due to the smart tactics of Sultan Arslan, when he dispersed areas heavily concentrated by Armenians and brought in Kurds to stabilize the demographics of the regions as non-Armenian majority.
      6) Erzurum was not a muslim city in the 7th century, It is not until the 11th century, after the battle of Malazgirt, that much of these regions were given Ottoman control.
      7) Turks do not have history on these lands until the 11-12 century onward. There is no such concept of “Ancient Turkey”. Nomads cannot have solidified civilizations.
      8) Azeri’s did live in Yerevan, and Syunik regions. Yerevan city council highly prizes the Blue mosque and maintains it very well. They are allowed to pray inside and provide farsi language classes. Whereas Armenians need permission from Erdogan’s regime to pray inside Akhtamar church in Van.

  2. Just the fact that you call Armenian highland “Eastern Anatolia”, already shows that you are the one who is hypocritical and biased. As you were just suggesting Joel “… a cultured person would first learn and read something of the region he was going to visit…”, so do your research about the region, find out that the city’s actual name is Karin (and I am proud to have Karno roots), and then realize that Armenian question is not a bilateral debatable issue – rather, it is the undeniable right of all Armenians to reestablish their sovereign state in their historical homeland which they nourished for 5000 years before and after Turks came, and everything else, even the Armenian Genocide, is a derived from that.

  3. I didn’t think so many comments would appear a year after I posted this, but I already deleted one because it contained inappropriate language and wasn’t constructive. If people are going to discuss this, particularly Armenians and Turks, then it has to be civil, or else it’s not worth doing at all. Thanks for your comments.

    • Hi Joel, This is an interesting topic and I would be interested in finding reliable sources regarding massacres by armenians and other history of this area (not focused on genocide). Did you find any good books? I am currently reading Taner Akcam, who i would recommend.

      • I’ve heard about Akcam’s book, in fact just saw it at an Armenian festival in Costa Mesa, California. It’s actually quite difficult to find sources on this topic, and it’s not really my area of ‘expertise’, though it’s incredibly fascinating. Let me know what you find in that book, and if I stumble upon anything, I’ll let you know!

  4. My paternal Grandmother was born in Erzurum in the late1880′ early ’90’s, she never aid a word of her home town, she came to the USA around 1909 to marry my Grandfather in Rhode Island, All I’ll ever know is what I read about Erzurum What shocked about the Museum there was them saying Armenians were Albanian Christians when Albania is in SE Europe, Balkans I think, no resemblance in language!! I was taught Armenians are the indiginus people of Eastern Asia Minor a combination of the various Tribes,and Nations, Urartu, Nairy, Hayasa, etc

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