By Raffi Bedrosyan
Last week, while criticizing Israel and US on the Jerusalem issue, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated with great conviction, without batting an eye: “There has never been any genocide, holocaust, massacre, ethnic cleansing or torture in our history.” This wholesale denial of historic facts regarding the treatment of minorities by the state is nothing new, but with each denial, history just keeps on repeating itself with sickening regularity, massacres of Armenians followed by massacres of Greeks, Assyrians, Alevis and Kurds.
This article will focus not on the denial of genocide, but more on the denial of the very existence of the Armenians and their contributions to Turkey in so many ways.
In a previous article (“Armenian Island on the Bosphorus”), I had touched upon how a single family of Armenian architects, the Balyans, had shaped the skyline of Istanbul, particularly along the Bosphorus, with their creations of palaces, mansions, military barracks and mosques. Although revered and respected as Royal Architects during the Ottoman reign, their Armenian identity was denied by the Republic of. Turkey, and they were mentioned as the Italian Balianis by official tourist guides until the early 2000’s.
Even more famous than the Balyan family, an architect living in the 16th century, Mimar (Architect) Sinan (1489-1588) has left his mark all over the Ottoman Empire single-handedly creating 92 mosques, 55 schools, 36 palaces, 48 hamams (bath house),3 hospitals, 20 inns, 10 bridges, 6 water channels and hundreds of other government buildings, almost all of them still standing after five centuries. His
masterpieces are the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, which is in the UNESCO World Heritage list of buildings. The average Turk knows him as the Great Turkish Architect
Sinan, and his name is given to Fine Arts and Architecture universities. But he is an Armenian from the Agirnas village of Kayseri province, seized away from his parents as a boy, Islamized, circumcised and raised as soldier and subsequently as architect by the state. When he died at the ripe age of 99, he was buried near Suleymaniye Mosque. During the 1930’s, the Turkish state was dominated by racist intellectuals who claimed that the Turkish race was superior to all other races and that there was a definable set of Turkish race characteristics in shape of skull and other features. To prove their point and to demonstrate that historically intelligent Turks match their defined racial characteristics, these so-called anthropology experts decided to exhume the remains of Architect Sinan, a most prominent Turk from the past. Unfortunately, Sinan’s skull did not match these experts’ theoretical Turkish skull dimensions, and as a result, the skull was kept hidden. To this day, the whereabouts of the skull is still unknown, and Sinan’s body lies in the grave without the head.