16 December 2006

1286) Armenians In The Architecture Of The Late Ottoman Period

Selman CAN*

As of the establishment of architectures’ association, non-Muslim architects, such as Armenians and Greeks, were employed in the Ottoman State whenever needed. The number of them was not restricted to a certain figure within the association and it reached differing figures at various times. According to the lists of architect caliphs determined in the Ottoman archives so far, the number of non-Muslim architects was not higher than 3 in the 16th century[1], whereas their percentage within the Hassa Architects’ Ocağı rose to %47.5 in the first half of the 17th century while it declined to %9 towards the end of the same century.[2] We have no list of their number of this Ocak in the 18th century. However, there is a contention that their number increased more than it did in the previous centuries because of the fact that non-Muslim architects’ names were commonly encountered in a number of housing and development activities in this century.[3]

In a list[4] of the early 19th century, the number of architect caliphs is 52 and it is striking that no other non-Muslim architect’s name than the dead Mülazım Yani Kalfa is not mentioned.[5] It can be deduced from this document that the number of non-Muslim architects within the Hassa Architects’ Ocağı did not increase in the 18th century, but on the contrary, it decreased completely until the 19th century. The facts that the order of the architects’ association began to be destroyed after the late 17th century and that no merit was taken into consideration in appointments and dismissals led to the lack of staff with the required qualifications in the Ocak. The number of architects could not be increased due to financial reasons and there were attempts to reduce the existing number. However, a group of architects was formed in the 18th century[6]: they were not paid salaries but employed in some of the required housing and development activities; they were given the name of ‘Mülazim Ocağı’; they did not have a certain degree, title and staff rank; they were paid money just in return for their service excepting the ‘ulufeli ocak architects’ (haric ez-tertib). Since the majority of the non-Muslim architects were within this group, it was not surprising that their names did not take place in the list of the Hassa Architects’ Ocağı that we determined for the early 19th century.

It is seen that non-Muslim architects were not included in the architect caliphs employed under the management of Ebniye Directorate, either, which was established following the abolition of HAO in 1831. According to a report prepared by Seyyid Abdülhalim Efendi, the director of Ebniye, in 1834, there were more than 40 architect caliphs in the organization and none of them were non-Muslim.[7] Only when the Ebniye Council was formed in 1848 within the body of Ebniye Directorate were the experienced Greek and Armenian master builders appointed as the members of the Council. The non-Muslim master builders appointed in the Ebniye Council were as follows: Kirkor, Minas and Younger Ohannes of the Armenian origin; Panayot, Todori and Onikos of the Greek origin. Besides, Ohannes and Istefan of the Greek origin can be included in the list, who would attend the meetings when required.[8]

With the new system of bidding, called Munakasa (open lowering), which began to be practiced after the establishment of Ebniye Council, the procedure in the construction of buildings changed completely. In this system, a building intended to be erected would be offered for bids with an estimated amount of cost after its plan and projects were prepared by the Ebniye Directorate. The work would be awarded to the lowest bidder, namely to the contractor who offered the lowest bid in terms of the estimated amount. This case was of significance and much use for the Armenian and Greek architect master-builders, who were rather competent at trading and who controlled the sales of construction materials. Non-Muslim master-builders attended almost each bid. The contractors who undertook more than one work at the same time were supposed to charge someone who had a ‘Competency Certificate’ to substitute him in each building. However, those charged by the contractors would hardly ever have such a certificate, and these men were often the members of their congregations. When it later turned out that Kiryako who was charged by Istefan, who undertook to mend and restore the Ahiçelebi Mosque in Eminonu in bidding, did not do his work as supposed and showed the expenses as higher than they really were, those without a competency certificate were certainly banned from being charged at such work after 20th March 1853.[9]

In some cases, bidding system was replaced by the preference system. This was especially true for such buildings as palaces and pavilions which required a high amount of cost. It was very hard for the native architects to undertake such tasks as the contractor. This was mainly because they often did not have enough capital to do such work and they already had difficulty earning their own lives under the existing conditions, let alone attempt at such capital-requiring works. It is known that the architects employed in the organization could not take their salaries for long and could only get come limited amounts as their share from the buildings for which they investigated and explored the conditions. Seyyid Abdülhalim Efendi, the last chief architect of the Ottomans, reported the case to Sultan Mahmud II, stating that hardly any Muslim preferred to work as an architect any longer and so there might break out a trouble with the architects in the future.[10]

Unlike the Muslim architects who were getting into a worse situation from time to time within the last two centuries of the Ottoman State, the non-Muslims architects were kept exempt from the tax that they were indeed responsible for and thus had private rights, namely privileges. The title of privilege and exemption granted to Foti Kamyanos Kalfa, the architect of Uskudar Selimiye Mosque, is a good example for this procedure. The rights granted to Foti Kalfa through this title of the year 1805 were as follows: He was exempt from all the taxes for which all the Muslim architects were responsible; he had personal immunity in the society; it was impossible to search for him on the street, at home or elsewhere; he could wear whatever he liked to; he could benefit from the privilege of traveling within the country; he was also exempt from judgment, according to which he could only be judged in Divan-i Asafi (Yüce Divan), not in ordinary courts.[11] The rights obtained through such exemption titles passed from the father to his sons and from one relative to another. Not unlike Foti Kalfa, Kirkor Balyan also had a title of exemption under the reign of Sultan Mahmut II and following his death, another title was given to his son Karabet and son-in-law Ohannes as a result of his own title.[12]

All the above developments enabled Armenian master-builders to emerge in the 19th century. Especially the family of Balyans undertook many architectural works for three generations as a result of their close affairs with the palace. Of them, Serkis Balyan was granted the title of "Sermimar-ı Devlet" under the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II[13] although this title had been abolished in 1831.[14] This was, therefore, a peculiar one given to Serkis Balyan himself thanks to his personal connections with the palace. It meant the best and most authorized architect as the head of the Ottoman architecture organization.

There was a continual dispute between the Armenian master builders and Turkish architects. It is a known fact that they did their best to keep the Turkish architects from the palace for their own benefit. For example, Kırımlı Mahmut Aga, who acted as the chief architect between 1827 and 1829 was removed from his post as a result of Kirkor Balyan’s tricky plot. The tense atmosphere between Kirkor Kalfa and Mahmut Aga began during the building of Heybeli Ada Deniz Harp Okulu in 1827. Out of the two plans by both, Sultan Mahmud II preferred the project of Mahmut Aga. The building which is reported by Pars Tuğlacı to have been projected by Kirkor Balyan[15] was indeed prepared by Crimean Mahmut Aga.[16] After a while, Kirkor Balyan paid to Mahmut Aga’s workers working for the building of the ahır that was built for the horses of Sultan Mahmud II in 1829, and later Kirkor Balyan made them use improper and bad materials for it. The roof of the ahır fell down some ten days later, leading to the death of eleven horses.[17] Thereupon, Sultan dismissed Mahmtu Aga from his post, expelling him and his family to Bursa for exile.[18]

The structural change in the architectural organization of the late period of the Ottoman State, lack of knowledge about the building and repair of the buildings and inability to examine the bidding conditions due to the fact that archive records are currently beyond reach have resulted in the fact that the real architects of many buildings are still unknown exactly and the master builders who undertook them as contractors have been perceived as the architects. The real architects of some buildings determined from the Ottoman archive documents are as follows: Sultan II. Mahmut Tomb by Mühendis Abdülhalim Efendi[19], not by Garabed Balyan[20]; Bayezit Fire Tower by Seyyit Abdülhalim Efendi[21], not by Senekerim Balyan[22]; Rami Barracks by Seyyit Abdülhalim Efendi,[23] not by Kirkor Balyan[24]; Ortaköy Mosque by Seyyit Abdülhalim Efendi[25], not by Nikoğos Balyan[26]; Mecidiye Barracks (Taşkışla) by the English architect William James Smith,[27] not by Serkis Balyan[28]; Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque by Greek Nikolaki Kalfa,[29] not by Serkis Balyan[30]; and Sarayburnu Warehouses by August Jasmund[31], not by Simon Balyan[32].

As the Armenian master builders were involved in illegal affairs in their works, they began to fall into disrepute towards the late 19th century. August Jasmund reports that he found the Armenians opposing to him in his field as the Ministry of Public Works was crowded with them and that the works were unusually carried out through the dialogues and discussions behind the scenes, for which the buildings erected for the state were accepted and taken over though they were disgracefully and scandalously built.[33]

It later turned out that even Serkis Balyan, who was granted the title of Chief Architect of the State, had been involved in incredible unlawfulness in buildings. It was seen through an inquiry which was initiated in 1882 and ended in 1886 that from the buildings he built under the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz and Abdülhamid II, he debited more than 300,000 liras to his own account.[34] Following the completion of the inquiry and a subsequent trial against him, he was dispossessed of all his wealth and belongings.[35] However, he was forgiven by Sultan Abdulhamid II upon the demand of Mavroyani Efendi, the chief doctor of the palace, in 1888.[36] After the 1890s, the effects of Armenian master builders on the Ottoman architecture disappeared and got lost, a result which was mainly produced by their unlawful practices and the political events of the period.[37]


*- Atatürk University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Erzurum, TURKEY. selmancan@hotmail.com

[1]- Erhan Afyoncu, "XVI. Yüzyılda Hassa Mimarları", Prof.Dr. İsmail Aka Armağanı, İzmir 1999,

p.200

[2]- Fatma Afyoncu, XVII. Yüzyılda Hassa Mimarları Ocağı, Ankara, 2001, s.63.

[3]- Sinan Güler , "18. Yüzyılda Hassa Mimarlar Teşkilatı", 18.Yüzyıl İstanbul'unda Sanat Ortamı , Sanat Tarihi Derneği Yayınları 3, İstanbul 1998, p.145-151. Mustafa Cezar, Sanatta Batıya Açılış ve Osman Hamdi , İstanbul 1971 , p.110.

[4]- Otoman Archive of the Prime Ministry (Abbreviated as OAPM in the folloving guotations) C.Maarif Number: 5481, 27 Şaban 1216 / 2 January 1802

[5]- It is agreed thad the 3 akçe daily fee of the Kalfa should be given to Mülazım Mehmet Eşref.

[6]- Mustafa Cezar reports that the vacant posts in Hassa Architects’ Ocağı were filled with the ones appointed from Mülazım. Mustafa Cezar, Ibid, p.45.

[7]- OAPM, HH. Number:26244.

[8]- OAPM, İ.Mes.Müh. Number:175, 7 C.âhır 1264 / 11 May 1848.

[9]- OAPM. A. MKT. MVL, File Number: 65, Documents Number:14, 9 C.âhır 1269 / 20 March 1253.

[10]- OAPM, HH. Number: 26244.

[11]- Kemal Beydilli, "III. Selim Devrinde Verilen Bazı Muaf ve Müsellemlik Beratları Hakkında: Foti Kalfa'nın Beratı", Osmanlı -Türk Diplomatiği Semineri (30-31Mayıs 1994), İstanbul Üni. Edebiyat Fak. Tarih Araştırmaları Merkezi, İstanbul, 1995, p.86.

[12]- OAPM. C. Maarif Number: 4451, Evâsıt-ı C.evvel 1251 / 10 September 1835 and OAPM, HH, Number: 27724, 1251 / 1835.

[13]- OAPM, Cevdet Dahiliye, Number: 62375, 27 R.evvel 1295 / 31 March 1878.

[14] - OAPM. , Cevdet Saray, Number:2860 , 1247 / 1831.

[15]- Pars Tuğlacı , Osmanlı Mimarlığı'nda Balyan Ailesi'nin Rolü , İstanbul 1993 , p.46.

[16]- OAPM, HH. Number: 29310 , 1243 / 1827-28.

[17]- Ahmet Lütfi , Tarih-i Lütfi , Volum:2 , İstanbul 1291 , p.163.

[18]- OAPM, C.Maarif, Number: 5525 , 22 C.evvel 1245 / 19 Numbervember 1829.

[19]- OAPM, İ.D, Number: 3, 22 R. 1255 / 5 July 1839

[20]- Pars Tuğlacı, Ibid, s.278.

[21]- OAPM, MAD, Number: 8959, s. 59, 21 Ramazan 1241 / 29 April 1826.

[22]- Pars Tuğlacı, Ibid, s.86.

[23]- OAPM, Hatt-ı Humayun Number: 29041-C, 27 Safer 1248 / 25 June 1832.

[24]- Pars Tuğlacı, Ibid, s.53

[25]- OAPM, EVd. Number: 13498, 3 Zilhicce 1264 / 31 October 1848.

[26]- Pars Tuğlacı, Ibid, s.381.

[27]- PMOA, HH. EBA. File Number:1, Documents Number:4, 23 Safer 1267/ 29 December 1850.

[28]- Pars Tuğlacı, Ibid, s. 534

[29]- Dolmabahçe Palas Archive, Documents Number: II/ 989.

[30]- Pars Tuğlacı, Ibid, s.497.

[31]- OAPM, P.PRK.ML. File Number:10, Documents Number:65, 29 Şevval 1307/18 June 1890.

[32]- Pars Tuğlacı, Ibid, s.660.

[33]- Mehmet Yavuz, “Mimar August Jasmund Hakkında Bilmediklerimiz”, Sanat Tarihi Dergisi (Aydoğan Demir’e Armağan), Sayı / Number: XIII/I, Nisan/April 2004, İzmir, (Page:181-205), p.197.

[34]- OAPM, Y.PRK.AZN. File Number:2, Documents Number: 49, 17 Şevval 1303 / 19 July 1886.

[35]- OAPM, Y.PRK.AZJ, File Number:13, Documents Number: 44, 26 Temmuz 1304/ 7 August 1888.

[36]- OAPM, Y.MTV. File Number:54, Documents Number: 38.

[37]- OAPM, Y. EE, File Number:127, Documents Number:57, 20. R.âhır 1308 / 3 December 1890. About: When the Serbest Fırka came to the power in England, the issue of Armenians was revived; the Armenians and Greeks employed by the Ottoman State worked to the detriment of the State and so were dismissed; Turkish language was used in the Foreign Ministry instead of French.



Source: © Erciyes University 2006


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