Kharpert – a historical perspective

This seminar is part of the Silence and Visuality Seminars on Armenian Art & History – an interdisciplinary series presenting current research by emerging and established scholars, and conversations with distinguished contemporary artists.

Seminar Conveners are Dr Suzan Meryem Rosita Kalaycı, Director of the Oxford Network for Armenian Genocide Research, and Dr Vazken Khatchig Davidian, Associate Member of Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. This series of talks is hosted by the Oxford Network for Armenian Genocide Research and supported by TORCH funding.

Ara Sarafian is a historian specialising in late Ottoman and modern Armenian history. He is currently the executive-director of Gomidas Institute (London).  He shares:

‘I first went to Kharpert [Harput] in eastern Turkey in 1985. Prior to WWI, the city consisted of around 15,000 people, one third of them ethnic Armenians. I still remember the moment in 1985, when a local man, sitting near a Muslim shrine, told me that the whole area used to be Armenian (an obvious exaggeration), and how they had all been sent away during WWI. In the following years, as I developed as a historian, I maintained a special interest in Kharpert.

Kharpert makes a remarkable case study of Ottoman Armenian history because of the large volume of Armenian language records we have on the region from the late Ottoman period, as well as readily accessible western sources, such as British and American consular records, or the private and institutional records of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. There is also a significant body of Armenian language survivor memoirs and compatriotic studies related to the region.

In recent years, I have worked on the Kharpert region as a case study of the Armenian Genocide. After all, Kharpert was along the so-called “deportation routes” of 1915, as well as the location of major outright massacres that included the local population of this region. The American consul in the region, Leslie Davis, called it the slaughterhouse province of the Ottoman Empire.

Today, Turkish authorities are rebuilding Kharpert as a touristic centre, with the selective preservation and restoration of Muslim-Turkish sites, and the exclusion of any Christian Armenian ones as a matter of course. In 2018, Turkish authorities even submitted a proposal for UNESCO to endorse their work by designating Kharpert a World Heritage site. The word “Armenian” does not appear once in their proposal.

So, in my presentation, I propose to discuss how I stumbled on the Kharpert issue in 1985, how the Gomidas Institute came to launch the “Project Kharpert 2022” project at the end of last year, and everything else in between. My power-point presentation will give insights into critical 19th and 20th century sources related to Armenians in the Kharpert region, as well as the denial of that history by official Turkey today.’