On the road to Gesaria, 1909 [Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University - O_166]

On the road to Gesaria, 1909 [Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University - O_166]


Turkey 1914-15

Gesaria, June 15, 1914.

My dearest sister,

The map of Europe hangs at the front of the class, as it does every Monday morning, but instead of staring at France like I usually do, at the star that marks Paris, and imagining Papa at the Café Métropolitain, writing a poem or arguing politics with his friends (without a thought to the family he has left behind), I keep glancing at the edge of the map, at the uncoloured patch that is Anatolia.

How far are you from us now? Are you close enough to the mountain that you can reach out and touch it? If the railway had been built, the one that almost bankrupted Grandfather Stepanian, you’d already be far away from us, your face pressed against the train window, your eyes wide with everything you were taking in. It’s of little consolation that you are still so close, that it will take you many days to reach the station at Ulukişla.


Read a brief history of the Armenian Genocide on the Armenian National Institute website

Watch a film on the Armenian Genocide Museum website (warning: graphic images)

KAYSERI (Gesaria)

Kayseri (Gesaria in Armenian) is a city in central Anatolia, Turkey, on a flat plain below the foothills of Mount Erciyes (Mount Argeus in the story).   Find out more about Kayseri here.

The main Armenian districts were located in the large area between the Church of Saint Mary and the Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. The houses were built from a finely grained volcanic stone, with upper stories overhanging the narrow streets. Window frames and arches were often embellished with sculptured decoration. Houses with extensive vaulted basements were common as many owners were merchants. Some houses had a small internal courtyard, sometimes with its own well.

The walls were clad with timber or plaster panelling with an elaborate system of cupboards, shelves, and niches. There was seating along the edges of the rooms, especially along walls with windows, called a sedir, made of timber and covered in carpets or cushions.  There was no free-standing furniture.

Ceilings were clad in timber, divided into small patterned panels; floors paved with cut stone slabs.  Often one area of a house was open to the exterior, called a sofa, which overlooked a courtyard or garden. Usually located on the upper floor of a house, it looked out onto, and was in full view of, the street, and was often clearly expressed on the street facade in the form of an ornate balcony.

Text (abridged) and photos from virtualani.org website.  For complete text on and more photos of Armenian houses in Kayseri, click here.

Photos of Kayseri:

These pictures were taken by Gertrude Bell in 1909 during her travels in Anatolia. They belong to the Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University.

Armenians in Kayseri

From early antiquity, the Armenian people developed a rich and distinctive culture on the great Armenian highland plateau, extending from Asia Minor to the Caucasus. On that crossroad, they interacted on many levels with civilizations of the Orient and Occident. Immediately to the west of the Armenian highland and the Euphrates River lay Lesser Armenia with Sebastia at its center and Cappadocia with Mazaca, later known as Caesarea (Gesaria/Kesaria/Kayseri), at its center.

Interactions between Armenia and Cappadocia date to early antiquity, when Cappadocia became a contested marchland between empires of East and West. Caesarea also played an important role in Armenian Christian history, as it was there that Gregory the Illuminator, the evangelizer of Armenia, spent his formative years and it was there that he was ordained the first prelate of Armenia in the early fourth century. Because of the turbulent history of the Armenian kingdoms, the Armenian element in Cappadocia increased steadily in the Middle Ages.

During the centuries of Ottoman rule, the Armenians of Kesaria were noted as goldsmiths and skilled craftsmen, professionals and producers of carpets, linens, textiles, leather goods, pottery, and cured beef. Beyond the confines of the city of Kesaria with its 20,000 Armenian inhabitants were numerous villages with a combined Armenian population of some 50,000. With their tightly-knit communities, strong religious faith, schools and churches, the Armenians of the Kesaria region managed to preserve their distinct identity down through the centuries. Like almost all other areas of Armenian existence in the Ottoman Empire, however, they were uprooted and deported toward the Syrian deserts in 1915, with very few of the survivors ever returning.

From Armenian Kesaria/Kayseri and Cappadocia, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian.  UCLA Armenian History & Culture Series 12, published in 2013.  Used with the permission of Professor Hovannisian.

SMYRNA (Izmir)

The city of Smyrna (now known as Izmir), one of the oldest cities on the Mediterranean, was first settled in the third millennium BCE.  It has a long an complex history.  An ancient Greek city described by Herodotus, re-founded on a new site by Alexander the Great or his lieutenants, it later became a Roman city celebrated for its library and school of medicine.  It was an important seat of early Christianity.  Annexed by the principality of Aydin, fought over by crusaders, conquered by Tamerlane, it was absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in 1425.

It was the most important Ottoman port from the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century.  The Greeks (there were more Greeks in Smyrna than in Athens), the Armenians, the Jews and the Turks lived in their own quarters.  There were other Europeans: British, French, Dutch, and Italians, and also Americans.  Occupied by Greek forces in 1919 and recaptured by the Turks under Mustafa Kemal in 1922, the city was ravaged by fierce fighting and the Greek and Armenian quarters were set on fire, leading to great loss of life.

Information taken from Britannica.com and other sources.  For complete entry on Britannica.com click here.

The following images are courtesy of the Levantine Heritage Foundation:


Listen to Isabel Bayrakdarian sing Holy, Holy  with the Tatev Choir.