"It is important to preserve the memory and transform it into a lesson for future generations to not hate your neighbour, because we were all one population once," Uçaner said. "These buildings speak for us, and they need to be protected and repurposed to be part of our present."
Since the 1970s, Gaziantep has grown from a 120,000-person town of primarily ethnic Turks to a bustling two-million-person metropolis – and much of this growth is due to the Syrian civil war. Thanks in large part to its location along the southern border with Syria, Gaziantep has absorbed an estimated 500,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the nearby conflict. Despite the fact that Syrians once peacefully co-existed here with Turks and Armenians, the recent influx of Arabic-speaking residents has led to tensions.
Yet, Uçaner hopes his secret jazz cafe can not only preserve the memory of a more cosmopolitan Gaziantep but serve as a bridge connecting its past with its present. In recent years, it has displayed photo exhibits documenting the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and hosted panels and lectures about the city's multicultural past.
In 2021, Uçaner and several customers – including a sociologist, an urbanist and a musician – also launched the project Memory of Anteb to highlight the architectural and cultural legacy of Armenians and Muslims who once lived in Gaziantep.
"The history of Gaziantep was written by official historians in line with the denial policy of the country. We wanted to rewrite that history in a more peaceful present," Uçaner said.
Today, during lazy summer afternoons or cold winter nights, artists and musicians of all backgrounds come to drink a hot cup of tavsan kani çay (red "rabbit blood tea"), chat and get inspired by music from around the region.
"It's here, playing with other musicians, that I learnt we play the same songs but with different lyrics, depending on our language," said Ezzat Dahman, a Syrian-Palestinian oud player who regularly performs Turkish and Syrian music at the cafe. "That shows just how similar our cultures are and how many things in common we have."
Dahman had the idea to launch his own music project at the cafe, called Music Against Racism, to bring Turks, Syrians and Kurds closer together. "The idea will be to play Syrian and Turkish traditional songs that have the same melody together, to foster mutual understanding."
Regular customers are also treated to Turkish folk music, which bears traces of Arab and Armenian melodies. "We like to discover new forms of music we had never been accustomed to, like jazz or classic," said customer Irem Deniz Adali, holding a glass of Suryani red wine, typical of south-eastern Turkey, as she tapped the wooden table to the rhythm of an old folk song. "But what's even more beautiful is how this place gives us a chance to revive the old, diverse, festive past of this region."
The earthquake may have temporarily stopped these gatherings, but they quickly returned in full force as the building didn't suffer any major structural damage. "If you're aware of a place's past, its community can move forward to build a more peaceful present," Uçaner smiled, before welcoming a few other guests at the door.