Far from the capital of either nation, the drama of Anatolia’s Armenians is on display in the heart of Afyon’s Old City. Armenians accompanied Sultan Abdülhamid II to this provincial capital in the late 19th century and stayed until their forced and violent expulsion from all of Turkey.
Many of the buildings in town are still well preserved and the inhabitants usually acknowledged that their homes were built by “non-muslims.”
Some of the houses still have the document with the original owner’s name in a frame on the wall.
The document above hangs in the Şehitoğlu Konağı, a particularly well-preserved example of the Armenian building. It has been restored as an inn and restaurant. Aside from the legal document and the local history, the building contains a wine cellar, an alien concept in a Muslim home.
The Armenians built each home with their Islamic neighbors in mind, going so far as to include a gusülhane in every bedroom of their own homes in case their neighbors visited overnight. These are closet-like rooms with a bath inside, built to fulfill the Islamic rule of washing after sex.
Many of the houses also contain what my guide called “Mary’s corner” – a small altar place that used to contain a picture of the Virgin. After the Armenians were forced to leave the city (“after all those troubles,” as the tour guide called it – “after the so-called genocide” my host explained with a wink) the houses were not occupied in case the owners were to return.
Eventually, the Turks did move in, but they still often leave flowers by “Mary’s Corner” as a sign of respect.
The Armenians also built a large Sufi Mosque, the Mevlevi Camii, in the Old City, which houses an expanding museum about Sufi rituals and philosophy. The 27th (or 26th? it got confusing) descendant of the Sufi poet Rumi lives in Afyon and I will be meeting with him later this week.
Another well preserved Armenian building in the Millet Hamamı -once a bathhouse and now a local arts center – which was also built by Armenians in the 17th century.
In Afyon, there are mosques, homes and even trees that carry the Armenian prefix, but everyone was quite definitive when I asked if any of them have returned. “No,” said my host, “I am sure.”