Fine examples of mid-nineteenth-century Armenian architecture may seem an incongruous feature of this once-wealthy trading center in southeastern Turkey, but are only one of many elements in a well-preserved example of cultural and religious integration in the late Ottoman Empire. The missionary hospital and school, constructed at the request of Tepebaşı’s merchants, still stand alongside a collection of synagogues, mosques, and Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches in the historical district of Gaziantep. At the center of the district is Sira Han, the largest and grandest of the city’s hanis, or travel lodges, featuring kitchens, animal stalls, and guest rooms that welcomed both wealthy merchants and refugees. During World War I, Tepebaşı was a destination for Armenian refugees, whose craftsmanship is still visible in intricate ironwork, carved stone arches and columns, basalt ornamentation, and colorfully tiled courtyard fountains.
Following the exodus of many cultural groups from Gaziantep during the First World War and Turkey’s War of Independence, once-bustling Tepebaşı fell into decline. Today, however, increased population growth, the result of the nearby Ataturk and Birecik dam projects, threatens the future of the historical district, which is plagued by inadequate preservation planning and poor zoning enforcement. Two busy highways border it, and commercial buildings under construction in the district threaten its historical setting. The guestrooms of Sira Han, whose second story was destroyed by fire in 1994, lie empty. Tepebaşı’s advocates realize that successful preservation and revitalization of the historic district is contingent upon reintegrating its buildings into the community. In this vein, the restoration of Sira Han as a world-class museum to house ancient mosaics rescued during dam construction is proposed as a catalyst for urban revival.