05 December 2007

2229) Religious Differentiation Undergone By Armenian Community In 19th Century And Its Repercussions In Kayseri

Res. Asst. Ramazan ADIBELLİ
Erciyes University Divinity Faculty Department of the History of Religions / Kayseri

These last years, especially in the context of the so-called genocide, lots of conferences dealing with the Turkish-Armenian relations during the Ottoman period have been held, and a lot of essays have been written.. .

As a result, these activities have had the effect of neglecting other aspects of the problem by reducing the Turkish-Armenian relations to only one dimension. For example, the process of religious differentiation that fragmented the Armenian community and its repercussions on the social order were scarcely examined, despite the importance of the subject. Therefore, the study of this process will not only clarify how the members of the Armenian community perceived themselves, but also why and in what way the atmosphere of “living together” which developed over the centuries gradually perished.

After drawing the main lines of the process of religious differentiation, this essay, based essentially on the declarations of the witnesses of that period, will examine the repercussions of this process upon the 19th century Armenian community of Kayseri in order to make the matter more concrete.

We think that by means of the tools provided by the historical phenomenological method this matter will be explained better. This bipolar method taking in account the historical context will describe the world view or in another word the “Weltanschauung“ of the people who lived in that period. The historical approach exposes the way in which man who is inevitably an historical being is shaped by the historical conditions and makes him a research subject. However, when used alone this method may lead to some misconceptions, so that being himself a human being the researcher, while trying to understand people whom he has made his object, evaluates them within the framework of his own paradigm, to say it another way within the perspective of his own “frames of thought”. Historical facts presented through a pre-established psychological, sociological or political web of reading will inevitably be confined within the limits of comprehension inherited from the researcher’s time, his education, his beliefs, and so on. We believe that the addition of the phenomenological method to the historical one will prevent this problem, for man who is the object of the historical research looking at the world from a determined framework is at the same time the subject of the historical events. With the phenomenological method which has, as one of its basic principles, the bracketing of the pre-conceived ideas and prejudices, man who was made an object becomes a subject anew. In this way, we not only explain how the historical conditions had affected man and what the aim was of that man, but also how he is the subject of historical events. Therefore, we can reconstruct a picture which reflects the historical reality more precisely and authentically.


Because of their internal problems and the struggle with the Sassanids, Armenians were not able to participate in the Council of Chalcedony (Kadıköy) held in 451 AC, and therefore they didn’t approve the decree issued from this Council concerning the double nature (divine and human) of Christ. Henceforth, adhering to the monophysite trend of Christianity, they formed the Gregorian Armenian Church.1 In addition,

1 Davut Kılıç, Osmanlı İdaresinde Ermeniler Arasındaki Dinî ve Siyasî Mücadeleler, Ankara, 2000, p. 23. In this paper, the term “Orthodox Church” will refer only

before the creation of their own alphabet the Armenians used Greek as their official language and Persian as their administrative language. After the constitution of the Armenian Church as an autocephalous church, inspired by the Greek alphabet, Saint Mesrob (362-440) created at the beginning of the 5th century the Armenian alphabet composed of thirty-six letters. Subsequently, the Armenian community drawn together around their Church gained their cultural autonomy.2

Before the Seljoukid conquest there were two Armenian princedoms in the east of Anatolia which were subject to Byzantine Empire. One of these was Ani, which belonged to the Bagratid dynasty, and the other was the Vaspurakan, which was administrated by the Ardzuruni dynasty. When raids by the Turks began, the Vaspurakan prince, Senekharim, made an agreement with the Byzantine Emperor Basil II (976-1025) and in 1021 ceded Van to the Emperor. A great number of his subjects then went to Sivas, which was also ceded to him, and thus the Armenian princedom in Van came to an end.3

In 1045 Constantine IX conquered Ani and put an end to the sovereignty of the Bagratid dynasty. All the Armenians were forced by these new rulers to adhere to the Orthodox Church of the Byzantine Empire and even their wooden church was burnt. The Armenian historian Matthew of Edessa (†1144) described this event. “[...] Greeks increased their oppression [...] and they wanted all the Armenians to adhere to the heretic Kalketon [Kadıköy] creed”. Orthodoxy which was the State religion of the Byzantine Empire, and the other Christian creeds were considered as heretic. Therefore, to convert the Armenians, the Orthodox Church continuously put pressure upon them.4 Because of their different language, religion and culture, the Orthodox populato the Orthodox Church of the Byzantine Empire. The Gregorian Armenian Church is today named “Armenian Orthodox and Apostolic Church” which is sometimes referred to as the “Armenian Orthodox Church”.

2 Mehlika Aktok Kaşgarlı, Kilikya Tâbi Ermeni Baronluğu Tarihi, Ankara, 1990,p. 47.
3 Refet Yinanç, “Selçuklular’dan Osmanlılar’a Ermeniler” in Azmi Süslü ve diğer.,Türk Tarihinde Ermeniler (Temel Kitap), Ankara, 1995, p. 79.
4 Urfalı Mateos, Vakayi-Nâme, tr. Hrant Andreasyan, Ankara, 1962, pp. 112-113.

tion and clergy insulted and despised the Armenians and treated them as inferior because they didn’t practice the sacraments in the same way.5 For instance, Markos,the Orthodox bishop of Kayseri,“always insulted the Armenians and called all the dogs Armen”.6

In the 11th century, that is to say before the Seljoukid conquest of Anatolia, it was impossible to see either religious institutions and monasteries belonging to the Armenians or independent leaders of the Armenian Church because, according to the Orthodox Church, all the Christians in the city (Kayseri) without distinction of race or language, had to obey the single religious authority. In such a city, it was prohibited either to have a bishop belonging to another nation or to perform a different religious ceremony.7 Religious ceremonies, like baptisms, marriages and funerals, were performed in Greek, the language of the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church.


From the conquest of Anatolia in the 11th century to the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, like the other non-Muslim people, the Armenians gained cultural and religious freedom that they never had before.8

Contrary to the Byzantine emperors, the Seljoukid and Ottoman sultans never interfered in the religious affairs of their non-Muslim subjects.9 According to the Islamic jurisprudence, the main criterion used to differentiate people was formulated so that the subjects were divided into two groups: on one hand, the Muslims, and on the other hand, the

5 Abdurrahman Küçük, “Türklerin Anadolu’da Azınlıklara Dinî Hoşgörüsü” in Abdurrahman Küçük & Harun Güngör, Millî Bütünlüğümüzün Kaynağı: Asya’dan Anadolu’ya Taşınanlar, Ankara, 1997, pp. 37, 561.
6 Urfalı Mateos, op.cit., p. 131.
7 Türkiye Ermeni Patrikliği, Kayseri S. Krikor Lusavoriç Kilisesi, Istanbul, 1986, p. 37.
8 Claude Cahen, Osmanlılardan Önce Anadoluda Türkler, tr. Yıldız Morgan, 2nd ed., Istanbul, 1984, p. 204.
9 Osman Turan, Türk Cihan Hâkimiyeti Mefkûresi Tarihi II, Istanbul, 1969, pp. 134-135.

non-Muslims, called “zimmi”.10 According to this concept, religion was seen as a criterion for considering a person as a brother/a sister or as a foreigner. Accordingly a Muslim saw his co-religionist as his brother/sister without distinguishing his/her country, colour, race or language. As Bernard Lewis has rightly remarked, the Muslim Turks have adopted this concept so deeply that no one else among the nations who have accepted Islam went so far in identifying itself with the Muslim community or in other words with the millet.11

After the conquest of Constantinople, Mehmet II was aware of the complexity of the ethnic, religious and social situation of the population living within the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, and thus laid the foundations for the millet system12, which was effective until the Lausanne Treaty (1923). In the beginning, three millets were formed:

1) Millet-i Rum (Greeks)
2) Millet-i Yahudi (Jews)
3) Millet-i Ermeni: (non-Orthodox Christians, including the Armenians, Chaldeans, the Syrians, the Nestorians and the Jacobites)

Each millet had at its head a millet başı who was responsible for the civil and ecclesiastic affairs of his community.

After Bursa became the capital of the Ottomans in 1326, the religious centre of the Armenians, who were allowed to be organized as a separate community by the central administration, shifted to Bursa. In 1462 Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror brought the Bursa Armenian Bishop Ovakim with some Armenian families to Istanbul, appointed him as the Armenian Patriarch and allocated them in Samatya a church called Sulu Monastery as the seat of the Patriarchate.13 This social organisation 10 Enver Ziya Karal, “Non-Muslim Representatives in the First Constitutional Assembly 1876-1877” in Benjamin Braude & Bernard Lewis (ed.), Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, New York, 1982, vol. I, p. 387; Bernard Lewis, Modern Türkiye’nin Doğuşu, tr. Metin Kıratlı, 5th ed., Ankara, 1993, p. 326.

11 Lewis, op.cit., p. 327.
12 Lewis, op.cit., p. 333.
13 Azmi Süslü & Yusuf Hallaçoğlu, “Selçuklulardan Osmanlılar’a Ermeniler” in Azmi Süslü ve diğer., Türk Tarihinde Ermeniler (Temel Kitap), Ankara, 1995, p. 103.

remained structurally unchanged until the reforms period, that is to say
until the middle of the 19th century. After this period, the Armenian
millet became fragmented and new millets appeared.14


After the activities of the Catholic missionaries sent beginning in 1781 by the Vatican and France, some Armenians were leaning to Catholicism. Although the Armenian Church persuaded the Ottoman Government to take the necessary measures against their missionary work, it didn’t succeed in stopping these activities.15 Finally, due to French intervention on December 22, 1831, the priest Hagop Çukuryan was appointed as the Catholic Armenian Patriarch. This date, which represents the acceptance of the Catholic Armenians as a separate millet, represents at the same time the beginning of the process which nearly a century later put an end to the millet system.

The first Protestant missionaries coming to Turkey were members of the British and Foreign Bible Society. After settling in Izmir in 1804, this society sent its missionaries throughout the Anatolian peninsula and distributed to the population a great number of Bibles gratis.16 In 1818 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions decided to create a mission in the Middle East and charged with this task the missionaries Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons. In order to print the publications that would be used for their task the Protestant missionaries set up a printing house in Malta. In 1824 two Armenian priests converted to Protestantism and set up the first missionary school in Beirut. The missionaries H.G.O. Dwight and William Goodell came to Istanbul in 1831 and began their missionary activity. A short time after his arriving

14 Kemal H. Karpat, “Millets and Nationality: The Roots af the Incongruity of Nation and State in the Post-Ottoman Era” in Benjamin Braude & Bernard Lewis (ed.), Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, New York, 1982, vol. I, pp. 142-143.
15 Abdurrahman Küçük, “Türklerin Anadolu’da Azınlıklara Dinî Hoşgörüsü”, op.cit., p. 571.
16 Kamuran Gürün, Ermeni Dosyası, Ankara, 1983, p. 40; Ilias Anagnostakis & Evangalia Balta, La découverte de la Cappadoce au dix-neuvième siècle, Istanbul, 1994, p. 47, n. 1.

in Istanbul Goodell completed the translation of the New Testament into Turkish, written with Armenian letters, and nine years later he accomplished the translation of the Old Testament. In addition, they published many religious books. With the increase of the number of the missionary schools, manuals and periodicals directed towards the public were published.17 As seen before, the method used by the Protestant missionaries was, at the beginning, the establishment of educational institutions and the distribution of Christian literature to the population. Furthermore, the missionaries lent a hand in health services and, by setting up hospitals, to attract people to their religion.18

In 1846, Çamurcuyan, the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul excommunicated from his community those who had converted to Protestantism. But in spite of this, supported with financial assistance and encouraged by educational institutions, conversions increased. The Protestant Armenian community separated in 1850 from the Gregorian Armenian Patriarchate and was officially recognized by the Ottoman administration as separate millet.19 At the end of this process the Armenian Millet which had preserved his unity until the middle of the 19th century split into three parts: the Gregorian Armenian Millet, the Catholic Armenian Millet and the Protestant Armenian Millet.


1) The Armenians among the population of Kayseri In 1021, the Byzantine Army occupied Van and exiled approximately 40,000 Armenians living in the Van Lake area and settled them mainly in the regions of Sivas and Kayseri.20 Even after the conquest of Kayseri by the Turks, Armenians continued to settle in Kayseri and its environs. For example, between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of

17 James Thayer Addison, The Christian Approach to the Moslem. A Historical Study, New York, 1942, pp. 81-84.
18 Amerikalı misyonerlerin Talas’ta kurdukları hastanesi bu amaçla yıllarca halka hizmet etmiştir.
19 Kılıç, op.cit., pp. 164-181; Addison, op.cit., p. 87.
20 Ali Sevim, Anadolu’nun Fethi. Selçuklular Dönemi, 2nd ed., Ankara, 1993,p. 40.

the 16th century, in order to escape from the oppression of the Safavid Empire, 80 Armenian families migrated from east Anatolia and the Caucasus and settled down in Talas, a village situated 6 km. southward of Kayseri.21 In addition, Ottoman documents mention Armenians who had migrated from Kozan to Kayseri.22

In the Census Register of Kayseri which included a period of thirty years (1831-1860) Muslims subjects are pointed out with the term “ehl-i Islam” and the non-Muslims with the term “millet”. The term millet-i rûmiyân was used for the Orthodox Christians and the term millet-i ermeniyân for the Gregorian Armenians.23 At the same time one see that this millet-i ermeniyân was in itself divided into three groups or congregations (cemaat):

1) Cemaat-i ermeniyân-u Kaysariyân,
2) Cemaat-i ermeniyân-u Sisiyân,
3) Cemaat-i ermeniyân-u Şarkiyân.

R.C. Jennings, the English historian who specialized in the 18th century history of Kayseri, remarks that this difference is probably due to the fact that these Armenians were members of different dioceses. Accordingly, the first group (Cemaat-i ermeniyân-u Kaysariyân) was composed of the first Armenians who settled in Kayseri and who were dependent on the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate. The second group (Cemaat-i ermeniyân-u Sisiyân) consisted of the Armenians who depended on the bishopric of Sis (today Kozan). The Armenians who were attached to the bishopric of Edchmiazin near Erivan formed the third group (Cemaat-i ermeniyân-u Şarkiyân).24

21 Hasan Özsoy, “XIX. Yüzyılda Talas ve Talas’ın Amerikalılar Tarafından Misyon Merkezi Olarak Seçilmesinin Sebebleri”, I. Kayseri ve Yöresi Sempozyumu Bildirileri (11-12 Nisan 1996), 2nd ed., Kayseri, 2000, p. 256.

22 Akif Erdoğru, “XVI-XVII. Yüzyıllarda Kayseri Zimmileri”, I. Kayseri ve Yöresi Sempozyumu Bildirileri (11-12 Nisan 1996), 2nd ed., Kayseri, 2000, p. 73.

23 Mustafa Keskin, “H. 1247-1277 Tarihli (Kayseri) Müfredat Defterine Göre Kayseri ve Tâbi Yerleşim Yerlerinde Nüfus Dağılımı (1831-1860)”, II. Kayseri ve Yöresi Sempozyumu Bildirileri (16-17 Nisan 1998), Kayseri, 1998, p. 288.

24 Ronald C. Jennings, “Urban Population in Anatolia in the Sixteenth Century: A Study of Kayseri, Karaman, Amasya, Trabzon, and Erzurum”, International

Another historical reality which appears in this register is that the Muslims and non-Muslims of Kayseri did not live in separate districts, and, therefore, there wasn’t any ghetto in the city.25 Moreover, the different communities of Kayseri not only were side by side but also in the villages and neighbourhoods the inhabitants were mixed.26

It is possible to say that having lived for centuries in an atmosphere of living together, the Kayserian society became a stable and harmonious structure. Captain Fred Burnaby who visited the region of Kayseri in the 19th century witnessed that there was great harmony between the Turks and the Christians.27 All the historical documents agreed that the mother tongue of all the inhabitants of Kayseri, including the Armenians and the Orthodox Christians, was Turkish.28 The Armenians of Kayseri had Turkish names like Uğurlu, Kaplan, Huda Virdi, Şah, Su, Aslan, Yahşi, Murad, Kara Göz, Toros, Timur, Kara Bey, Şah Balı, Sinan, Hoca Bey.29 We know from those historical data that the only difference between the Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Jan. 1976), p. 30.

25 Ronald C. Jennings, “Zimmis (Non-Muslims) in Early 17th Century Ottoman Judicial Records. The Sharia Court of Anatolian Kayseri”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of Orient (JESHO), XXI/3 (1978), p. 280; Refet Yinanç, “XVI. Yüzyıl Sonlarında Kayseri Mahalleleri ve Nüfusları”, I. Kayseri ve Yöresi Sempozyumu Bildirileri (11-12 Nisan 1996), 2nd ed., Kayseri, 2000, pp. 367-376; Mustafa Keskin, “1247-1277 Tarihli (Kayseri) Müfredat Defterine Göre Kayseri ve Tabi Yerleşim Yerlerinde Nüfus Dağılımı (1831-1860)”, op.cit., p. 290; Mustafa Keskin, Kayseri Müfredat Defteri 1831-1860, Kayseri, 2000, p. IX; Rıdvan Yurtlak, 66/1 Numaralı Kayseri Şer’iye Sicili (H. 1067/M. 1657) Transkripsiyon ve Değerlendirme, Yüksek Lisans Tezi, Erciyes Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, Kayseri, 1998, p. 112, belge 72/32. Bu tür belgeler bundan böyle şu şekilde gösterilecektir: KŞS 66/1: 72/32.

26 Lewis, op.cit.,354.
27 Captain Fred Burnaby, On Horse Through Asia Minor, London, 1887, vol. I, p.148.
28 Şemseddin Sami, Kâmusü’l-A’lâm, Istanbul, 1314 (1896), vol. V, p. 3803. Ayrıca bkz. Simeon, Tarihte Ermeniler 1608-1619, tr. Hrand D. Andreasyan, 2nd ed., Istanbul, 1999, p. 255; Charles Texier, Asie Mineure, Paris, 1862, p. 554; Henry F. Tozer, Turkish Armenia And Eastern Asia Minor, London, 1881, p. 138;.

29 KŞS 66/1: 66/29; Rukiye Yürüker Akşit, 297 Numaralı Şer’iye Sicili (H. 1319-1322/M. 1901-1904) Transkripsiyon ve Değerlendirme, Yüksek Lisans Tezi, Erciyes Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, Kayseri, 1998, belge 36/59; KŞS 297: 42/66; KŞS 297: 89/102; KŞS 297: 102/113.

population was due to the people practicing different religious traditions. The fact that the individuals belonging to the different communities in Kayseri shared similar customs reveals the degree of integration in the Kayserian society.

In order to better understand this fact, the information provided by Tozer is quite important:

We were introduced to his [the Armenian Protestant pastor, Mr. Keropé Yakobian] wife, but she did not appear until the time of our departure. Female seclusion is practiced by the Christians in this country almost as strictly as by the Mahometans; indeed, except when we visited American families throughout our journey, the female sex may be said not to have existed for us at all.30

We know from the historical sources that this phenomenon was not particular to Kayseri. The German Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) who came to Turkey in 1835 was the guest of Mardıraki, a wealthy Armenian living in Arnavutköy (Istanbul) and the chief translator for the War Minister Mehmet Hüsrev Paşa. In a letter dated the 9th of February 1836, Moltke writes:

Basically, it is possible to call these Armenians “Christian Turks”. They have taken so many things from the customs of the ruling nation and even from its language. Their religion, that is Christianity, permits their taking one woman. But this woman is immediately kept away from view, like Turkish women. When Armenian women go out, only their eyes and the upper part of their nose can be seen.31

Another important anecdote reflecting the worldview and moral values of the Armenians living in Kayseri is given by the English traveller Henry C. Barkley:

One sturdy black-bearded fellow, between thirty and forty years of age, said he had often wished to try his fortunes in America,

30 Tozer, op.cit., p. 104.
31 Helmuth von Moltke, Moltke’nin Türkiye Mektupları, tr. Hayrullah Örs, Istanbul, 1969, p. 35. Extracted from Nejat Göyünç, “Tukish-Armenian Cultural Relations” in Türkkaya Ataöv (ed.), The Armenians in the Late Ottoman Period, Ankara, 2001, pp. 24-25.

and that having no wife and children he could do so, only his papa would not let him go! We asked him if he did not consider himself a man, old enough to judge for himself; but he assured us it was the “custom” to obey a father in all things, without venturing to offer an opinion –that is to say, a man of sixty, if his father is alive, must obey him.32

The haremlik-selamlık notion, or more generally the privacy notion, and the basic educational principles like the never-ending submission of the child to his parents were characteristic elements in the Ottoman culture of that time. It is very interesting to see an Armenian individual among the population of Kayseri having lived through centuries in a climate of tolerance having the same basic customs as a Muslim individual.

As a matter of fact, the European travellers who noticed this situation having not this custom did not understand this behavior and were naturally astonished.

2) Missionary Activities

a-The Protestant missionaries

In 1854, the American missionaries established for the first time in Kayseri a missionary centre, and in 1870 they set up a “station” (uç istasyon) in Talas, which was connected to Kayseri.33 Then, setting up a hospital, a school for boys and a school for girls, they started their educational activities.34 Apart from two American Protestant families, there were many American pastors. Many of them had been educated in Great Britain by the Mission. Thus, the Kayserian Protestant Armenian pastor, who had the English traveller Barkley as guest, had been educated in Scotland for two years.35 There were teachers and bible lecturers from the two sexes who received a salary from the Mission and who were

32 Barkley, A Ride Through Asia Minor And Armenia, London, 1891, p. 138. 33 Hasan Özsoy, “Kayseri’ye Amerikalı Misyonerlerin İlk Gelişleri ve Talas Amerikan Kız Okulu”, II. Kayseri ve Yöresi Sempozyumu Bildirileri (16-17 Nisan 1998), Kayseri, 1998, p. 255.

34 Earl Percy, Highlands of Asiatic Turkey, London, 1901, pp. 61-62; Karl Baedeker, Konstantinopel, Balkanstaaten, Kleinasien, Archipel, Cypern, Leipzig, 1914, p. 299.

35 Barkley, op.cit., p. 104.

dependent on the pastors called “men of Evangel”. 36 Consequently, in a short time many Armenians converted to Protestantism.37

b-Catholic missionaries

In 1884, five French missionaries from “Compagnie de Jésus” (Jesuits) established in Kayseri a school for boys. The students of this school, who numbered 350 in 1891, were taught Turkish, French and Armenian.38 Consequently, in a few years 800 Armenians converted to Catholicism.39

3) The effects of the missionary activities on the Armenian Millet Consequently, the Armenian Millet was divided into three. The Gregorian Armenian population reacted severely against the missionaries and against those who had converted among them. To confront this situation, as pointed out before, the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul tried to take preventive measures. It is interesting to see that the conversion of some Armenians to Catholicism and Protestantism resulted in the change of attitudes of these groups toward each other despite the fact that they had lived together for centuries. At the end of the 19th century, the English traveller Henry C. Barkley, who was in Kayseri, observed:

The Turks are the best friends of the missionaries […] No, the real enemies of the mission work are the Christians, and they carry their enmity so far that the missionaries and their wives cannot go out into the streets without being abused in the vilest language, mobbed or stoned, and it is a constant occurrence for these ladies as they pass through the streets to have dirt thrown upon them, or some woman or child spit in their faces. 40

36 Barkley, op.cit., p. 151.
37 Kemal Karpat, “Ottoman Population Records an the Census of 1881/82-1893”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. IX, No. 3 (Oct. 1978), p. 261; Vital Cuinet, La Turquie d’Asie. Vol. VI: L’Anatolie centrale Angora, Koniah, Adana, Mamouret-ul-Aziz, Sivas, Istanbul, 2001, p. 47.
38 Le Conte de Cholet, Arménie, Kurdistan et Mésopotamie, Paris, 1892, p. 61.
39 Cuinet, op.cit., p. 47.
40 Henry C. Barkley, op.cit., pp. 151-152.

According Le Conte de Cholet “the Orthodox Armenians who were the only enemy of the Jesuits were trying to hinder them.”41 Le Conte de Cholet explains the reason of this enmity as follows:

The Armenians, who have nearly all the commercial life of the city [Kayseri] in their hands and are consequently very wealthy, are on very good terms with the Turkish rulers. They are probably more close to the Muslims than they are to their Catholic kinsmen. [According to] the Latin bishop of the city [Kayseri] Mgr. Bogos [...], all these distresses are due to the Orthodox Armenians, who being jealous of their kinsmen converted to the Catholic creed, wanted to give them as more damage as they could.42

Missionaries were the best support of the foreign powers, such as Great Britain, France and Russia, in penetrating in the affairs of the Ottoman State.43 By means of the schools and printing presses set up by the missionaries, the ideas coming from Europe spread throughout the Ottoman lands. Nationalism, a European invention which was one of the most important of these, began to transform the self-perception of the individuals belonging to the different millets.44 In the schools established by the missionaries, teachers who were brought from other countries taught in a language that the indigenous Christian children did not know45, and national feeling or, in other words, minority consciousness, was instilled in them.46 The real aim of these so-called educational activities was to teach Armenian children so that they would come to realize the interests of “the generous nation” which had given them these opportunities.47 However, it is not possible to say that the missionaries

41 Le Conte de Cholet, op.cit., p. 60.
42 Le Conte de Cholet, op.cit., p. 64.
43 Le Conte de Cholet op.cit., p. 60.
44 Benjamin Braude & Bernard Lewis, “Introduction” in Benjamin Braude & Bernard Lewis (ed.), Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, New York, 1982, vol. I, p. 28.

45 Sapancalı H. Hüseyin, Karaman Ahval-i İctimaiyye ve Coğrafiyye ve Tarihiyyesi, Ankara, 1993, p. 193.

46 Henry F. Tozer, op.cit., p. 107; Abdurrahman Küçük, “Türklerin Anadolu’da Dinî Azınlıklara Hoşgörüsü”, op.cit., p. 572.

47 Le Conte de Cholet, op.cit., p. 62. Krş. Sultan Abdülhamid, Siyasî Hatırâtım, Istanbul, 1974.

obtained the result they wanted. Le Conte de Cholet who criticises the Armenians for their unskillfulness, remarks with regret that in 1890 none of the Armenians in Kayseri and around it had participated in the attempts to revolt.48

Until a relatively late date, we don’t see among the people living within the Ottoman Empire the idea of national differences prevailing over religious differences. As stated before the millets within the Empire were not ethnic nations in the sense the European understood, but simply religious communities. Individuals belonging to these communities, when expressing their identity, took as reference not racial origin but religious affiliation. Barkley who came in Kayseri in the end of the 19th century relates:

[…] the Armenians of Asia Minor divided themselves into three different peoples –Armenians, Catholics, and Protestants. To them religion is a nationality, and one constantly hears a man say, “No, I am not an Armenian, I am a Catholic, or a Protestant.49

To differentiate the Gregorian Armenians from the Catholic ones, the former were called “Old Armenians” (Ermeniyân-i Kadim).50 As the term “giaour” (infidel) was a great insult for the Turks; similarly calling a Gregorian Armenian “Protestant” was a great insult. As a matter of fact, being himself a Protestant, knowing that this term represented a great insult for the Gregorian Armenians, Barkley was very embarrassed when they called him “Protestant”.51

The identification of religion with nationality remained in the Ottoman society unchanged until the beginning of the 20th century. The Turkish-Greek population exchange carried out following the Lausanne Treaty (1923) illustrates this point very well. Within the frame of this exchange the Muslim population living in Greece was transferred to Turkey whereas the Orthodox Greeks (Rums) living in Anatolia were

48 Le Conte de Cholet, op.cit., p. 63.
49 Henry C. Barkley, op.cit., p. 146.
50 J. W. Parker, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea and Armenia, London, 1842, p. 220.

51 Barkley, op.cit., p. 161.

transferred to Greece.52 That is to say, in spite of having Turkish as their mother tongue, the Karamanlı Christians were sent to Greece because they were members of the Orthodox Church. As a result, what was done was rather a Muslim and Orthodox exchange than a Turkish-Greek exchange.53

During the Armenian exchange and resettlement in 1915, the Catholic and Protestant Armenians considered neutral were exempt.54 Even this event confirms the fact that the Ottoman administration did not consider the Armenians as a monolithic bloc, but each Armenian millet as a particular community. If the Ottoman State had a notion of nationality in the sense the European understood it, namely, in an ethnic sense, the Armenians would have been treated in the same manner.


One of the typical characteristics of the Ottoman society is the fact that it was based on the millet system which was shaped according to religious affiliations. According to this model the main criteria defining the identity of individuals was naturally the principle of religious affiliation. The reduction of the differences among the groups constituting the society to only one, namely the religious difference, permitted the creation of a peaceful cohabitation. Thanks to this system each millet was able to preserve its religious rituals and traditions until its end. By preserving or even by imposing the each individual to stay in his/her millet and consequently by maintaining the differences between individuals belonging to the different millets this system hindered the disappearance of those millets by being assimilated by the Muslim community which constituted the large majority of the population. In this process of living together which continued for centuries, a social integration mechanism (the millet system) appeared so that all the individuals in the society participated in the same fundamental organization.

52 Justin McCarthy, Müslümanlar ve Azınlıklar, tr. Bilge Umar, Istanbul, 1998, p. 137.

53 Lewis, op.cit., p. 352.
54 Azmi Süslü & Yusuf Hallaçoğlu, “Selçuklulardan Osmanlılar’a Ermeniler”, op.cit., p. 104.

At the beginning of the 19th century, apparently there was not any difference between an Armenian and a Turk living in Kayseri apart the religious one, since both spoke Turkish, both took Turkish names and both had the same cultural and moral values. After the middle of the 19th century when the Armenian Millet had split, Armenians having converted to Catholicism or Protestantism became foreigners for the Gregorian Armenians. That is why they underwent severe reactions for, while individuals accepting the same religious tradition as a life reference were designated by the personal pronoun “we”, individuals belonging to other religious traditions were considered as the “other” an even as “foreigners”.

Many researchers who have tried to understand the past with the paradigm of our time, like the travellers of the 19th century, have not grasped the fundamental viewpoint of the man of that period and view the “Armenians” in the Ottoman State as a single bloc and have identified them with the Armenians of today. However, an Ottoman Armenian did not have in mind any idea of ethnic belonging. That is why he described himself as an “Armenian” only because he was a member of the Gregorian Armenian Church, and when he converted to another religion, like Catholicism or Protestantism, he ceased to be an “Armenian”.

As individuals having self-perceptions more and more shaped with the values of a secular world, we must admit that it is difficult to grasp viewpoints belonging to the past, but in order to be able to understand the historical events, we must take account of the existence of different viewpoints in different times.


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