26 April 2006

601) Loyalty In Exile: The Ottoman Dynasty And The Armenian Migir Efendi

Prof Dr. M. Metin Hülagü
Erciyes University Faculty of Arts and Science Department of History / Kayseri


The history of Turkish-Armenian relations is as old as that of the invasions the Seljuks initiated in the Eastern Anatolia region. As a consequence of these invasions, the Seljuks became acquainted with a group of people that were adherents of the Gregorian sect of Christianity who came to the region to escape from the cruelty of the Illyrians in the 6th century B.C1. . .

During the years the Ottoman Government was established, a majority of the Armenian population was living throughout around Cukurova, in Eastern Anatolia, in the Caucasus, in Iran, in Byzantine territory, and around Georgia in small kingdoms and princedoms under foreign control and under the control or dependence of the Seljuks. The Armenians did not have an independent or unified political or social organization.

1 Salahi R. Sonyel, Minorities and the Destruction of the Ottoman Empire, Ankara 1993, p. 38.

Osman Gazi was the first to allow the Armenians to become organized as a single community in Kutahya.

The first Armenian religious centre was constructed in Kütahya. When Bursa became the capital, the majority of the Armenians, who settled in Kütahya as a result of the dissolution of the Armenian Kingdom in Cukurova, started to settle in Bursa. Thereafter, their religious centre became Bursa. The territories where the Armenians inhabited were eventually included in the Ottoman borders during the reign of Sultan Selim I and Sultan Süleyman. In addition, when Sultan Selim returned from the Battle of Chaldiran (1514), he brought a few Armenian craftsmen from Tabriz with him and had them settle in districts in Istanbul2.

As a result of the regulations implemented in 1461 during the reign of Sultan Mehmet II, Hovakim, the Bishop of Bursa, was appointed to be the Patriarch of all the Armenians within the Empire. Hovakim, as a patriarch, was responsible for all the tasks of the Armenians from religious to civil services together with a firman assigning him to a wide range of authorities from judging to imprisoning3.


Like other people living in the Ottoman society, the Armenians lived as a community under the control of a central authority. Legally, they had the same rights as the other nations and were under no circumstances exposed to any oppression and unfair attitudes. They even attained better positions than the Muslims in quite a few areas.

It is possible to divide the Armenians living in the Ottoman State into five classes in terms of their social status: The first group consisted of the Armenians who owned a fortune and dominance, were in charge of private or judicial institutions, and gained even more prominence in the nineteenth century. The second group was comprised of the businessmen, such as tradesmen, investors, and industrialists in Anatolian cities and towns, especially in Istanbul. The third and largest group was composed of peasants spread nearly all over the Empire. The fourth

2 Sonyel, the same work, pp. 43–44.
3 Sonyel, the same work, p. 44.

group was made up of semi-independent Armenian mountaineers, leading their lives austerely in isolated and steep mountainous regions, like Sasun and Zeytun. The fifth and last class was composed of priests and the upper-class clergy4.


The Armenians, economically, constituted one of the most prosperous communities of the Empire. They had an important place in the economic and commercial life of the Empire and obtained a considerable amount of capital. On account of their exemption from military service and being away from the risks of war, they rose to a high level economically and attained a privileged position5.

The first two classes, especially the second class, constituted the amira class, possessing a single and privileged status. Amira is derived from the Arabic word, emir, which means prince or commander. This term was used by the Armenians for the leaders of the Armenian community who owned fortunes and received the approval of the Ottoman Empire in different ways6.

Most of the amiras felt the necessity to convert their capital into investment in Istanbul. Therefore, some people taking part in this class became sarrafs (money-changers), jewellers, investors, or bankers. Each of them managed to draw attention to their professions. A good many Armenian bankers carried out commercial enterprises in Galata, Hasköy and the Ottoman capital. Besides addressing the needs of the Ottoman society and dominating the markets, these bankers were desired by the Ottoman palace. The Chief-Jeweller and sarrafs were chosen among the Armenians. The members of dynasty were ornamented with the jewels these people designed7.

4 Sonyel, the same work, p. 119.
5 Sonyel, the same work, p. 120.
6 Sonyel, the same work, p. 120.
7 Sonyel, the same work, pp. 120, 123.


Turkish-Armenian relations were established based on reciprocal confidence and respect and continued for centuries. The Armenian community was always supported by the Ottoman administration and under its protection. For instance, during the reign of Sultan Mehmet II, the Ottoman Government welcomed 70,000 Armenians coming from Crimea, where they were exiled by the Byzantine Empire, and enabled these people to own property and make a homeland on the coast of Marmara Sea. The tolerance and respect they exhibited towards the rights, freedom, and faiths of the Ottoman sultans and Muslim society lasted until the collapse of the Empire.

Not only did the Ottoman sultans protect the Armenian population but they also enabled lots of Armenian citizens from different professions to be assigned to the tasks in the private services of the Ottoman sultans or various administrative echelons of government.

The willingness of the Armenians to serve in the Ottoman government, their assimilation into Turkish culture and their intelligence and industriousness allowed them to attain the high positions in government.

Hoca Ruhican became the Kürkcübaşı (head furrier) of Sultan Murat IV and Hoca Astuacatur became an architect in the Palace. In 1644, Abro Celebi was charged with supplying the Ottoman army with provisions. Sarkis Celebi Efendi was employed as a translator in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Selbos Amira became the Başbezirgan (head trader) of the Grand Vizier in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. One of the members of the well-known Duziyan family became the Director of the Mint in 1757. Known in the governmental circles as Duzoglu, which was his family name, Hagop Duziyan and Mihran Bey Duziyan, his relative and successor, were the founders of the modern mint in the Ottoman Government. Excluding the years between 1819 and 1832, the Duziyans’ inspection of the Mint continued almost with the privilege of dynasty until 1880. During the 1780s and 1790s, Garabed Amira Manougian was the dominant character of navigation between Istanbul and Russian ports, and this business enabled him to make a big fortune.

In the 1750s, Hovsep (Yusuf ) Celebi monopolized the importing of clocks from England and controlled the distribution and sale of them within the Empire. The Balyan family gained a significant reputation in architecture. Meldon Arabian or Araboglu became the Chief Architect of Sultan Ahmed II. This task was later undertaken by another Armenian, named Sarkis Kalfa. This task was nearly under the monopoly of the Balyan family from 1750 until the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

During this period, the Balyan family constructed many palaces, mosques, public buildings, and garrisons. The Balyan family came into prominence among the Armenian community owing to the political and charitable activities they implemented8. Other Armenian families also became prominent in Ottoman society. The Tatean family was in charge of gunpowder duties for seventy-five years. The Cezayirliyan family was an Armenian family responsible for the customs. The Noradounghiyan family was in charge of the supply of bread for the Ottoman army. The Arpiaryan family was running the Directorate of Silver Mines9. In the Ottoman administration, the Armenians raised to the highest positions, such as governorship, inspectorship, and even to the vizierate, beyond ordinary official posts.

Every Grand Vizier and Minister of Foreign Affairs officiating between 1850 and 1876 had an Armenian advisor. Armenians, named Hamamcean and Seferian, were the advisors of Ali Pasha. Sahak Abro was an advisor of Fuad Pasha; Yovsep Vardanean, known as Vardan Pasha, of Damat Mehmet Ali Pasha at first, then of Cevdet Pasha; Grigor Otean (Krikor Odian) of Mithat Pasha10.

The Armenians were in the foreground in diplomacy, as well. In comparison to the other minorities, they progressed far in this task. Garabet Artin Davutoglu, who was of Armenian descent, was appointed to the office of Ottoman Chargé D’Affaires in Belin in 1848; Diran Bey to the office of Chargé D’Affaires in Brussel in 1857 and Hagop Efendi to the office of Chargé D’Affaires in Paris in 1859. While Odian Efendi was sent to Paris on a special mission, Sarkis Efendi was assigned to the Legation in Rome in 1872.

8 Sonyel, the same work, pp. 121, 123.
9 Sonyel, the same work, p. 121.
10 Sonyel, the same work, p. 211.

The Ottoman Armenians were not only limited to the tasks mentioned above but they also served in quite a few other fields. For example, both health and education constituted another field in which the Armenians were employed. It was mostly the doctors of Armenian descent who were responsible for the health of the people in the palace, especially of the Sultan himself. Sultan Mehmet II was by no means doubtful about employing an Armenian doctor, named Amirtovlat, in his palace. The doctors of Armenian origin worked in the palace during the reign of nearly all the sultans. For instance, Manuel Shashian, Pavlaki Shasian, Servichen, and Kasoar Sirapian were some of the Armenians working as doctors in the palace11.

In the Ottoman palace, among the Armenians working in the area of medicine and military organizations, it is possible to count Sasyan Manuel (1775-1858), Sasyan Pavlavki (1806-1887), Servicen Efendi (1815-1897), Doctor Sinapyan Kaspar Bey (1814-1872), Doctor Kapriyel Pasha Sevyan (1822-1900), Doctor Hagop Davutyan (1813-1878), Doctor Parunak (Feruhan) Bey (1824-1868), Doctor Istepan Pasha Aslanyan (1822-1902), Doctor Mıgırdic Parladi (1822-1873), Doctor Agop Ohannesyan Bey (1825-1860), Doctor Dikran Pestimalciyan Pasha (1840-1894), Doctor Hovsep Beyran (1825), and Doctor Antranik Gircikyan (1819-1894).

The dignitaries of the Ottoman government, especially the Sultan, trusted the Armenians working in the different echelons of the government and left the administration the government and the doors of the palace open to them. The close relations of the Gumus Gerdan family, one of the leading families of the Armenian community, the situation in which the doors of the palace were kept open to this family at all times, and Sultan Abdulmecit’s having dinner at this family’s table every week were all the most obvious examples of confidence in the Armenians12.

11 Sonyel, the same work, p. 212.
12 Sonyel, the same work, p. 212.


The Turks and Armenians lived together for nearly nine centuries. They did not encounter any problems during that period. Turkish-Armenian relations within the Ottoman administration were based on mutual respect, confidence, and loyalty. In administrative and social aspects, such a circumstance provided the Ottoman Armenians with a special status of being called Teb’a-i Sadıka-i Sahane or Millet-i Sadıka (The Loyal Nation). The common Armenian citizen led a quite peaceful life, while others, that is, 29 pashas, 22 ministers, 33 members of Parliament, 7 ambassadors, and 11 consul generals, officiated in higher positions in the Ottoman Government.


It is known that the Ottoman sultans and dignitaries of government had confidence in the Armenian people; therefore, the Armenians heartily endeavoured to prove the same confidence in the Ottoman sultans, Ottoman administration and the Muslim people. In this sense, after the Ottoman royalty was deported in 1924, it is crucial to keep in mind that the relations between Mıgır Efendi, Ali Vasıb Efendi and his father, Ahmed Nihad Efendi, proved how deep these relations were and how suitable it was to designate the Armenians as Millet-i Sadıka (The Loyal Nation).


Ali Vasıb Efendi was born in Istanbul in 1903. He was the son of Ahmet Nihad Efendi, the grandson of Sultan Murad V. He studied at Mekteb-i Sultani (Galatasaray High School) and Mekteb-i Askeri (Turkish Military Academy). He went to Europe with his family after the abolition of the Caliphate and deportation of the members of dynasty in 1924. He lived in France for nearly ten years. He died in Iskenderiye, Egypt in 1983. His relationship with Mıgır Efendi during the period he lived in France forms the main subject of our paper.


The first acquaintance of Ali Vasıb Efendi and Mıgır Efendi dates back to earlier times when Ali Vasıb Efendi had not yet started to study at Mekteb-i Askeri. During this period, two teachers were chosen for the education of Ali Vasıb Efendi. While Hayri Efendi, the Imam of Kılıc Ali Mosque, was charged with Kur’an-ı Kerim (The Holy Quran), ulum-ı diniye (religious and moral instruction) and Turkish courses, Mıgır Efendi was preferred for French and other sciences.


Mıgır Efendi was an Armenian Catholic. When he was assigned to tutor Ali Vasıb Efendi at the palace, he was working as a commissar (government official) in Bursa. He was one of the students of poet Tevfik Fikret, so he was referred by the poet to Ali Vasıb Efendi’s father for his discipline and education13.

For Ali Vasıb Efendi, Mıgır Efendi was a polite, well-mannered, philosophical, and good person. He had great influence on the discipline and education of Ali Vasıb Efendi. He never behaved strictly towards Ali Vasıb Efendi; on the contrary, he tried his best to teach with patience and courtesy. He also exhibited a ready attitude for long discussions. From 1912 to late 1917, Ali Vasıb Efendi took courses from Mıgır Efendi, such as French language and literature, mathematics, medicine, chemistry, philosophy, history, and geography. When Ali Vasıb Efendi was at the Turkish Military Academy and Sehzadegan Mektebi (The School of Princes) in Ihlamur and Mekteb-i Sultani (Galatasaray High School) later, Mıgır Efendi went to Ali Vasıb Efendi twice or three times a week and they had discussions about the courses. The relationship of Ali Vasıb Efendi with Mıgır Efendi was not only limited to the discussion of courses. It also included some social activities, especially in 1912, like going for walks, going to the cinema and even going to a place called as Petit Champ in Tepebasi14.

13 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, Bir Şehzadenin Hatıratı, Vatan ve Menfada Gördüklerim ve İşittiklerim, Hazırlayan: Osman Selaheddin Osmanoğlu, İstanbul 2005, YKY, p. 38.

14 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 39.

In spite of all the negative cases that would occur in the following years, Mıgır Efendi did not give up teaching and tutoring Ali Vasıb Efendi. Those times were full of troubles not only for the country and nation but also for Ali Vasıb Efendi and Mıgır Efendi. The occupation of Istanbul by the British and French; afterwards, the Greeks’ landing in Izmir, the oppressions over the Istanbul Government to sign a treaty, which in the end, like the Treaty of Sevres, was regarded as a death sentence for the country, the attempts to partition the Ottoman Government, and attitudes injuring the self-esteem of a Turkish nation moved along extremely swiftly and intensively. The Ottoman Government came to such a position that it could not deal with educational activities in accordance with the conditions of that time. It became impossible to pay teachers’ salaries. Despite harsh weather conditions such as rain and snow in winter, Mıgır Efendi, as a patriotic teacher, exhibited such an altruistic manner that he went from Besiktas to Ihlamur on foot with great difficulties only because of his faithfulness and affection towards the Ottoman administration and members of the palace. As a consequence, it was financially not possible for Ali Vasıb Efendi to continue his twoyear-education in Ihlamur. Sehzadegan Mektebi in Ihlamur was closed, for it could not pay the teachers’ salaries and the government did not show any interest. Like all students, Ali Vasıb Efendi, too, had to stay at home. Making no demands and exhibiting great altruism, Mıgır Efendi, however, sometimes continued to study and have discussions with Ali Vasıb Efendi in his house15.


The close relationship between Ali Vasıb Efendi and Mıgır Efendi came to an end in the following years when Mıgır Efendi left Istanbul to become a priest and secluded himself in a monastery. He left Istanbul in 1922 and went to Venice by an Italian ship, the Triyatino, buying a ticket for a third-class compartment. He gave away his precious library to the church and his belongings to friends and people in need. When Ali Vasıb Efendi went to see him off, Mıgır Efendi did not take any amount of cash with him except a few pennies, and he left Istanbul with 15 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 91.

a yearning for prayers and praises and a determination to deprive himself of everything and to lead a life as a recluse16.

After he left Istanbul in 1922, he arrived in Venice. He secluded himself on an island monastery, one branch of which was in Milan. Besides starting a new life in the monastery, he changed his name to Frere Jean Battiste, so as to break off his connections with the past17.

Ali Vasıb Efendi could neither meet nor get in touch with Mıgır Efendi, to whom he was grateful for his discipline and education, until 1924, when the members of the dynasty were deported18. The deportation of the members of dynasty by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in 1924 made it possible for Ali Vasıb Efendi to see Mıgır Efendi. During the period when he was in Europe, he went to Milan in order to see his teacher, Mıgır Efendi, whom he remembered as an honourable and respectable person19.

When Ali Vasıb Efendi arrived in Milan, the first thing he did was to go to the monastery and look for Mıgır Efendi. All the Armenian priests in the monastery welcomed Ali Vasıb Efendi with great respect and honour and offered him their special liqueur. During his visit in Milan, where he stayed for three days, he requested that the executives of the monastery permit him to be together with Mıgır Efendi. The Armenian priests instantly accepted his request. Ali Vasıb Efendi and Mıgır Efendi took a stroll in the Duomo and around Milan. They ate at the restaurants and talked to each other. These two old friends spent the Milan nights strolling and having a good time together20. Deeply involved in conversation with Ali Vasıb Efendi, Mıgır Efendi instantaneously broke off his relationship with the monastery life to which he had sacrificed a great deal for the purpose of being admitted; furthermore, he took off his priest’s clothes and put on the clothes of Ali Vasıb Efendi and enjoyed going to public places for dancing at night21.

16 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, pp. 129 and 181.
17 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 181.
18 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 130.
19 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 181.
20 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, pp. 181–182.
21 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 182.

The conversation between Ali Vasıb Efendi and Mıgır Efendi did not come to an end with the three-day-meeting they spent in Milan. As a friend, the sincere and spiritual dependence of Mıgır Efendi on Ali Vasıb Efendi continued the following days. The letters which Mıgır Efendi wrote Ali Vasıb Efendi, who was then living in Nice, and the philosophical letters which he later posted from Nice to Iskenderiye were the means of friendship between them22.

Ali Vasıb Efendi travelled to Milan and Venice with his father for a few days in 1928 so as to visit Mıgır Efendi. The purpose of this journey was to persuade him to leave the priesthood and come to Nice with them23.

Ali Vasıb Efendi second times went to the Catholic Armenian monastery on the island together with his father, and said that they wanted to see Mıgır Efendi, called by his new name, Frere Jean Battiste. Mıgır Efendi came and embraced them, and he was quite pleased that Ali Vasıb Efendi and his father visited him. The Armenian priests offered them their famous liqueur and talked in Turkish because they had mastered Turkish24.

Ali Vasıb Efendi and his father requested that the abbot, who had great reverence for the Ottoman dynasty, to permit them to be together with Mıgır Efendi during the period they were in Venice. This request was immediately accepted by the abbot25. During this three-day-visit, Ahmed Nihad Efendi, Ali Vasıb Efendi’s father, requested that Mıgır Efendi leave the monastery and come to Nice where they were living. Mıgır Efendi, who regarded serving the Ottoman dynasty as a duty, depended on the dynasty wholeheartedly, who had withdrawn from his position and material things in Istanbul, and had decided to sacrifice his secular life for the sake of religion and a spiritual life, remained in a tearful state and replied to this proposal in an affirmative way26.

22 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 182.
23 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 208.
24 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 208.
25 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 209.
26 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 209.

In respect to the information Ali Vasıb Efendi gave, Ahmed Nihad Efendi had the expectation that Mıgır Efendi would accompany Ahmed Nihad Efendi and be responsible for the tasks of steward in their house27. Mıgır Efendi arrived in Nice via Paris, having left the priesthood in the spring of 1929. Ali Vasıb Efendi and his father met him at the station. A room was allocated for him in Ahmed Nihad Efendi’s villa in Boulevard Carton. Although Mıgır Efendi had left the monastery, he was not pleased with serving the members of the dynasty in another country28.

It was impossible for Mıgır Efendi, who had philosophical, independent opinions, to be at Ahmed Nihad Efendi’s call from morning till night and approve of whatever he said and thought. The morality of both was diametrically opposite. In the event that Mıgır Efendi did not do what Ahmed Nihad Efendi said, it was certain that Ahmed Nihad Efendi would and would get annoyed with him. The task of a steward, in other words, having the run of the house and shopping at the market, was not the kind of task that Mıgır Efendi would want to perform. Ali Vasıb Efendi had then told his father that Mıgır Efendi could not perform the task of a steward. Ahmed Nihad Efendi became furious upon hearing it. However, after a while, what Ali Vasıb Efendi had said came true; as a result, Mıgır Efendi had to leave the house29.

After leaving the monastery and Ahmed Nihad Efendi, Mıgır Efendi was referred to the Caliph Abdulmecid. Mıgır Efendi kept again his affection and sincerity towards the Ottoman dynasty. Mıgır Efendi was asked to be of service to the Caliph Abdulmecid in Villa Karabasel as a steward with a salary of a few hundred francs and was settled in a large room and office in the villa. He, nevertheless, did not get on well with the Caliph as formerly was the case with Ahmed Nihad Efendi, but he tried to act in a polite and gentle way without responding to the annoyances30. However, this situation was not long-lasting, and Mıgır Efendi then had to lead his life on his own.

27 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 209.
28 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 213.
29 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 209.
30 Ali Vâsıb Efendi, p. 215.


Although it had been a long time since Mıgır Efendi left Istanbul, and the members of the Ottoman dynasty were deported to keep the dynasty apart from the government, it is important to realize how convenient it is to use the term Millet-i Sadıka (The Loyal Nation) from the fact that Mıgır Efendi continued to show affection towards the Ottoman dynasty (royal family) as if no changes had occurred. He abruptly desisted from his new way of life which he had built up with a great deal of effort beyond affection. The love and sincerity towards the Ottoman dynasty is not only limited to Mıgır Efendi but it was also expressed by the abbot of the monastery and the Armenian Catholics. The relationship between Mıgır Efendi and members of the dynasty after 1918 is surely of great importance..


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