30 October 2007

2139) Armenians In Bursa And Its Vicinity Between 1860 And 1880

Instructor Özgür YILDIZ
Erciyes University Atatürk’s Principles of Research and Implementation Center / Kayseri


Turks and Armenians have lived in harmony for ages. The Ottoman Empire was one of the empires that had used “the art of living in harmony” and tolerance successfully. Turks and Armenians have lived in Bursa and its neighborhood in harmony for ages. Armenians established churches and chapels in this region and practiced their beliefs freely. According to the American Board of Foreign Mission’s [ABCFM] documents, some Armenians lived in Bursa and its neighborhood between 1860 and1880.. .

Armenians and Turks received their education in the same schools. The language of instruction in these schools was Turkish and Armenian. Turkish and Armenian orphans lived together in the Armenian orphanage in Bursa. The documents which we examined showed that there were no major problems of public security between Turks and Armenians in this area. It is clear that the missionaries became thoroughly familiar with the stations of Bursa within the years of 1860 to 1880.1 This paper, based on the ABCFM documents, is aimed to give information about the Armenians who lived in Bursa and its vicinity between 1860 and 1880.

This paper’s main objective is to bring a new perspective to Turkish and Armenian relations.


As all over the Ottoman Empire, Armenians spoke their language freely in Bursa. In a letter dated May 24, 1873, Missionary Richardson wrote for the Armenians who lived in the center of Bursa that Turkish and Armenian languages are used in Bursa...1 It is understood from these letters that Armenians spoke their language freely2. We understand from a letter dated March 18, 1875 that there were no problems about publication. Armenians produced weekly publications and articles in their mother tongue in Bursa3.

According to the annual reports, there were also outlying villages in which Turks and Armenians lived together. For example, Mihaliç, which was within 12 hour’s walking distance to Bursa, had 900 houses, 150 of which belonged to Armenians. There was no security problem in this village4. It is seen that Turks and Armenians lived together at Kirmasti and Edincik as well. Armenians observed their religious beliefs freely in Edincik, and am Armenian could read his Holy Book freely with other Armenians5.

Under the Bursa station’s out-stations were Bilecik, Balıkesir, Eskişehir, Karahisar, Kütahya, and Ankara. To better understand the Ottoman community, I would like to summarize a letter written by Mr. Parson on May 5, 1862.

“Mr. Parsons visited Angora [Ankara] in April, taking with him Baron Hampartsoon, the colporteur [one who sells religious books]. They started on Friday April 11, visiting Sabanja, Koorbeleng, and Nalichan on the way, and reached Angora on Saturday April 19, where they were cordially welcomed by Baron Abkar, the native helper, and by four persons from the Roman Catholic Armenian community, who

1 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 593, No:790
2 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 593, No:800
3 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 592, No:60
4 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 582, No:451
5 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 582, No:453

are under the excommunication by the priests for their adherence to the doctrines of the Protestant church.

Four years ago, when Abkar first visited Angora, Hasan converted with him, professing to be an Armenian arguing in favor of the fast but in a way which indicated that he was not easy. At length he confessed that he was a Muslim, but said he wished to become a Christian.

From the time that he was fully enlightened, he ceased not in preaching Christ and his crucifixion to all persons as he had opportunity - to Muslims, Jews, Greeks, Armenians and Roman Catholics - until the first day of the last month of Ramadan, when, instigated by his father-in-law and other bigoted Turks, the Pasha had him arrested and imprisoned.

On the fourth day he was called before the Pasha who asked, ‘Are you a Moslem?’

He replied: No, I believe not in Mohammed, who is dead, but in Christ, who lives ever more. My rule of faith is this book. -showing his New Testament.

The Pasha said: Religion is free, you can be what you like but why have you, an apostate, been living with a faithful woman?6

The important thing here is the sensitivity of an Ottoman commander to religious freedom. Still, it will be fruitful to analyze the matter with respect to family life. There was no dispute between Turks and Armenians in Ankara regarding religious matters. However, Armenians had some problems among themselves. It is clearly reported in some American documents that there were contradictions and quarrels between the Catholic Russian Armenians and Protestant Armenians. To the contrary, we found no documents (some 500 documents analyzed) mentioning that there were problems between Turks and Armenians7.

6 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 586, No:27
7 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1166

The Ottoman tolerance for religious diversity may clearly be seen in all the Anatolian regions as well as in Istanbul8. A tolerance in all parts of life is necessary in order to create a comfortable environment for all citizens. It can be seen that an Armenian priest was free to direct religious ceremonies easily in a Protestant Armenian Church in Setbaşı-Bursa9. According to the information gathered from a letter by Scheneier Benjamin in 1870, the priest of an Armenian Church established in 1848 was Dionican, the priest of an Armenian Church established in 1857 was Hohammes Stepian, and the priest of a Muradiye Church built in 1865 was Alexander Parhtiliyian. The Armenians performed their religious duties freely in these churches10.

As it is understand from the reports of Bursa station between 1866 and 1867, there was an Armenian church at Kütahya, which was an outstation of Bursa11. At Kütahya, there were two newspapers published to teach Christian doctrine and these newspapers were read by Armenian people12. We see that there was a church in Balıkesir in 1865, too, and the Armenian community performed their religious duties freely there13. There were 5,000 Turks and 400 Armenians in this city at that time and the minority observed their beliefs without any problems14. There were 6 Armenian Protestants in Edincik, who continued their religious activities regularly as well15. Hagi Madteas, who lived at Karahisar and was an Armenian preacher, like all other Protestants could perform his religious duties without any problems. He also knew Turkish and Armenian languages16.

There were Armenians at the Muradiye outstation as well. They, too, held their religious prayers easily.17 They cooperated and worked with

8 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 583, No:597
9 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 588, No:478
10 P.A.B.C.F.M Reel: 594, No:16
11 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 582, No:477
12 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1177
13 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1135
14 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 582, No:498
15 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1147
16 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1157; Reel: 588, No:453
17 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1135

the Turkish peasants. There were four Christian Armenian families at Eskişehir, who performed their Protestant activities18.

From American Board Archives, we can learn the number of Protestant Armenians who lived in Bursa and its vicinity. There were 146 Armenian Protestants in central Bursa, 18 in Mihaliç, 17 in Edincik, 5 in Yenişehir, 35 in Bilecik, 26 in Muradiye, 4 in Eskişehir, 13 in Kütahya, and 15 in Ankara19. Any Armenian who lived in these areas could keep their Sabbath and carry out their religious ceremonies.


When Turkish and Armenian relations are examined socially and culturally, it can be noted that Turks and Armenians were educated at the same schools. For example, an Armenian orphanage was opened in Bursa, and Turkish and Armenian orphans lived in this orphanage together. Furthermore, in 1865, there was a school in Bursa in which Turks and Armenians were educated together. The medium of instruction in this school was Turkish and Armenian20. There was also an Armenian school at Karahisar in which American course books were followed21.

As it is understood from a letter dated April 12, 1867 written by Bursa missionary Joseph. K. Greene, he visited some Armenian houses at Yenişehir and mentioned that Turks and Armenians attended the same school there and used the same course books22.

The Armenian orphanage opened in Bursa at that time made great contributions to mutual relations between those two communities. The document about the Armenian orphanage in Bursa is of great importance for historians.

The numerous kind friends in England of Broussa [Bursa], M. A. Secretary of the Turkish Missions Aid Society in London, would kindly, on his recent tour through the Bible lands, visit this institution also.

18 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 586, No: 622
19 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1141
20 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1142
21 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1154
22 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 584, No:1176

On the 29th of March 1887 the Reverend Visitor arrived with other friends in Broussa, on the 30th the visitation and an inspection took place, and on the 2nd of April the following official statement was received by Mr. and Mrs. Baghdasarian from Constantinople.

Constantinople April 1st 1887. Having visited on the 30th of March the orphanage and schools conducted by Mr. and Mrs. Baghdasarian at Broussa. The following brief statement is offered for the satisfaction of those interested in the orphanage.

On approaching the orphanage our party, which was expected, was welcomed very cordially by the children. About one hundred in all clean in their persons and dress and with happiness and contentment in their looks. They first assembled in the Chapel and after a hymn of praise a very cordial welcome in Turkish was addressed specially to Rev. T. W. Brown, M.A. Secretary of the Turkish Missions Aid Society, by the only Turkish pupil son of an officer, in the name of the whole school. Various pieces were then recited by the pupils of both sexes in Armenian, Turkish, Greek, and English interspersed with hymns in those languages and in French accompanied by the harmonium. The Rev. Mr. Brown and Dr. Thomson then addressed and questioned the pupils, who had been for some length of time in the orphanage and seemed to understand perfectly.

The premises were then inspected, including two large class-rooms on the ground floor, dining-room, kitchen, bath-room etc. Two separate and spacious dormitories for the boys and the girls on the floor above were a very great improvement on the state of things Dr. Thompson had seen four years before, when the dormitories were on the ground floor.

The pupils were then assembled in one of the school rooms and Dr. Thomson and Mr. Brown examined them in Germen reading, in Geography physical and political, and other branches greatly to their satisfaction and lastly the drawings and needlework were inspected while Mr. Baghdasarian presented Mr. Brown with a programmed of work of every day of the week as well as a list of the names of all the pupils indicating their age, nationality, time of admission, and whether an orphan, boarder, or day scholar with the fees paid by the latter.

We have great pleasure in bearing our testimony to the perfect discipline of the schools, the unmistakable contentment and happiness of the pupils, the neatness and cleanliness both of the pupils and of every part of the premises, the good health which all seemed to enjoy, and to the thoroughly intellectual training, both in general knowledge and in divine truth, which the pupils manifestly received. Mr. and Mrs. Baghdasarian seem indeed to have succeeded to no small extent in attaining their high ideal of so conducting the orphanage as to render it a pure and happy Christian home.

We, therefore, cordially commend it to the support of its already numerous friends in Britain, Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere, as well as to the native Protestant churches of this country, to which it has already offered so valuable assistance23.

According to the document, the Bursa Armenian orphanage was opened in 187524.

This was established through donations. It was the priest Gregory Baghdasarian who founded the orphanage. Mrs. and Mr. Baghdasarian directed the orphanage together. The Turkish authorities did not object to the establishment of this orphanage. The most interesting side of the document is that the Turkish and Armenian orphans were accommodated in the same place. Modern sciences were taught in the school near the orphanage. In the orphanage both Turkish and Armenian languages were spoken. From this document, it can be understood that Americans carried out their missionary activities in this orphanage and that the children were obliged to learn the Gospel and sing psalms together.

Over 600 children were accepted in this orphanage from the time it was founded. At this orphanage there were 50 children in 188025. However, it offered food and clothing to 500 orphan girls and boys. However, the placement and accommodation of orphans began to be a problem.

The help of Turkish authorities was sought and subsequently welcomed by the Ottoman State26. The Ottoman Empire supported the decisions

23 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 596, No:570-571
24 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 615, No:1189
25 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 615, No:1189
26 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 615, No:1189

taken about the Armenian orphans. In addition, the philanthropist Christians granted $10,000 to a city at Asia Minor to make a dispensary for the orphans and this philanthropy was stated in this document27.

On 24th of July 1890, Mr. Mihran was appointed the secretary of the committee in order to gather help for the orphanage in Bursa. Cyrus Hamlin (the former Istanbul missionary and director of Robert College) declared that he would support these facilities28.

L.S. Crawford (Bursa ABCFM Missionary) believed that this orphanage was useful for the Turkish Government. All the grants for the orphanage had to be written down29. The education of the children in the orphanage was very important for them and they continually monitored the children’s progress. In addition, the children’s medical treatments were done as private cases30.

According to the documents from the Ottoman Archives, the Ottoman Empire watched the orphanage closely. The orphanages established by foreigners at various places in the country had always been under inspection. They kept track of the minority orphans who belonged to them. The lives and transfers of the orphans were noted. They always cared for their citizens.

As it is understood from a handwritten document sent in code from Bitlis, the Armenian orphans living in Bitlis were to be transferred to the American Missionary orphanages in Bursa and Izmir31. The governor of Bitlis himself monitored the event32. The governor stated that the passes for these orphans were issued by the police, Zaptiye Nezareti, who gave permission for those orphans to travel to those places. The children set off for the orphanages belonging to American Missionaries and first arrived at the English Consulate in Erzurum and then were sent to Trabzon with the consul’s advice. The English consul in Trabzon reimbursed these orphans for travel expenses and sent them to Izmir and Bursa on

27 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 615, No:1189
28 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 615, No:1190
29 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 615, No:1190
30 P.A.B.C.F.M. Reel: 607, No:610
31 BOA, A.M.K.T.MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/1
32 BOA, A.M.K.T.MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/3

board the steamship called Bunye, owned by a Greek company33. The Ottoman Empire watched closely whether they arrived in Bursa and Izmir or not34. Thus, the Armenian citizens’ orphans were protected35. It was evident that the Ottoman Empire was aware of the activities of the orphanages in Izmir and Bursa. To sum up, we can say that there was collaboration and friendship between the Turkish and Armenian citizens of the time.


According to the statements made by Kirkor Damatyan, the Patriarch of the Armenian Church:

We are celebrating the 700th anniversary of the state which dominated three continents. The most important feature of the Ottoman Empire is that it has managed, 623 years, to gather the members of three religions, speaking different languages and coming from different origins. The Ottoman Emperors gave the right to have different religions, and freedom of prayer not only to the Muslims but also to the members of other religions. As a result of this tolerance of the Ottoman administration, the Christians and Jews living within the borders of the Ottoman Empire had the opportunity to observe their religions freely and comfortably.

As mentioned by the Armenian Patriarch, the Ottoman state provided much tolerance in the field of religion36. This religious tolerance was felt throughout the stations of Bursa, too. As a result we can say that the Armenians and Turks living in Bursa and its neighborhood between 1860 and 1880 showed “the art of living together” peacefully. They were educated in the same schools and they lived in the same orphanages. Ottoman tolerance was felt in every aspect of life. After 1880, the Armenians were provoked by some powerful countries. This was the beginning of the following events. The Ottoman Empire enacted a law called Tehcir (relocation) for the safety of both communities. As a

33 BOA, A.M.K.T.MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/5
34 BOA, A.M.K.T.MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/8
35 BOA, A.M.K.T.MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/9
36 Krikor Damatyan; Ermeni Kilisesi metropoliti, Osmanlı’da Hoşgörü Birlikte Yaşama Sanatı, Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfı Yayınları, İstanbul, 2000, syf.175.

result of this law, some Armenians were made to go to the south of the country and live there. It is the responsibility of all nations to remember historic facts and face the future under light of these facts. This study has been made to clarify some historical realities and remind the world of Ottoman tolerance.

A. Papers of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission (P.A.B.C.F.M.)
1- Reel 582, Belge No: 451, 453, 477, 498
2- Reel 583, Belge No: 597
3- Reel 584, Belge No: 1135, 1141, 1147, 1154, 1157, 1166, 1176, 1177
4- Reel 586, Belge No: 27, 600, 622
5- Reel 588, Belge No: 453, 478
6- Reel 592, Belge No: 60
7- Reel 593, Belge No: 790, 800
8- Reel 594, Belge No: 16
9- Reel 596, Belge No: 570, 571
10- Reel 607, Belge No: 610
11- Reel 615, Belge No: 1189, 1190

B. Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (B.O.A.)
1- A.MKT. MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/1
2- A.MKT. MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/2
3- A.MKT. MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/3
4- A.MKT. MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/5
5- A.MKT. MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/8
6- A.MKT. MHM. Dosya No: 702 Gömlek No:21/9

C. Books;

KRIKOR Damatyan; Osmanlı’da Hoşgörü Birlikte Yaşama Sanatı, Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfı Yayınları, İstanbul, 2000


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