04 January 2008

2263) Interaction Between Cultures In Ottoman Administration: Relations Of Abdulhamid II With Armenian Statesmen

Res. Assist. Serkan GÜL
Erciyes University in Yozgat Faculty of Arts and Science Department of History / Yozgat

The Congress of Berlin and its revision of Treaty of San Stefano in 1878 have been admitted as the events when the “Armenian Question” emerged as a serious international problem. These events occurred during the first years of the reign of Abdulhamid II, and, thereafter, the “Armenian Question” occupied the agenda of the Ottoman Empire for a long time. Through Abdulhamid’s 33 years of reign, the Armenians repeatedly revolted against the Ottoman State. The “Armenian Question” turned into such a problem that it went beyond being the Ottoman Empire’s internal problem and turned into an international campaign against the Ottoman Empire. It would not be a misconception to define the reason for the existing situation as a result of an international power struggle and political rivalry. . .

The Great Powers followed the policy of supporting the Armenians unconditionally against the Ottoman Empire in world public opinion. This support was so great that the precautions taken by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian revolts were reflected as atrocities against the Armenians. Abdulhamid was especially portrayed as an enemy and killer of the Armenians. Thus, he was called “the Red Sultan”.1

In this point, the question should be asked: Was Abdulhamid really an enemy of the Armenians, and did he really follow a policy of massacring the Armenians? The answer of the question can be very comprehensive but a part of the answer will be evaluated here. If Abdulhamid can be declared an enemy of the Armenians, the activities of Abdulhamid must be consistent with this claim. However, when the reign of Abdulhamid is closely examined, it can be seen that there are many examples proving just the opposite of the claim. Many examples prove that not only did Abdulhamid not have an intrinsic enmity against the Armenians but also that he had great confidence in the loyal Armenian citizens. The given examples will demonstrate that Abdulhamid clearly distinguished rebel Armenians from loyal Armenian citizens.

Many Armenian statesmen and bureaucrats served in different State institutions of the Ottoman Empire. The number of the Armenians who served in the central offices was determined to be 2,633.2 They were mostly deployed in the Ministries of Finance, Hazine-yi Hassa (Imperial Treasury), Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, and Justice. There were many ministers and high rank bureaucrats among the Armenian officials. Besides the bureaucrats in the central administration, there were many officials who served in the provinces.3 In fact, the Armenians had been in the Ottoman State service for centuries. However, the nineteenth century became a golden age for the Armenians. Especially with the disfavor of the Greeks, who had been very effective in the State administration for a long time, after Greek independence, the Armenian statesmen became highly favorable in the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians began to be

1 Joan Haslip, Bilinmeyen Sultan II. Abdülhamid, İstanbul, 2001, p. 250.
2 Ayşe Tozduman Terzi, Osmanlı Maliyesinde Söz Sahibi Üç Nazır, Uluslararası Türk-Ermeni İlişkileri Sempozyumu, İstanbul, 2001, p. 21.
3 For the Armenian officials’ number, their offices in the provinces during the Hamidian Era see Mesrob Krikorian, Armenians in the Service of the Ottoman Empire 1860-1908, London, 1977. And for the interpretation on the Armenian bureaucrats working in the provinces, also see İlber Ortaylı, II. Abdülhamid Devrinde Taşra Bürokrasisinde Gayrimüslimler, Osmanlı Devleti’nin 700. Kuruluş yıldönümünde Sultan II. Abdülhamid DönemiPaneli, Bilge Yayıncılık, 2000.

called as Millet-i Sadıka (Loyal Nation) because of their services and loyalty to the State.4

The comments written by Abdulhamid in his memoirs demonstrate how he evaluated the situation of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire:

To accuse us of persecuting the Armenians is ridiculous. If the history of our Empire is surveyed, it would be detected that the Armenians had always been very rich. Those who know this situation will affirm that the Armenians were much wealthier than the Muslim citizens.

The Armenians occupied high ranks including vizierate in the State service for a long time. When I say that the Armenians constitute one of third of all State officials, I would not be exaggerating...5

The words of Abdulhamid, which continue, expressly state the favorable conditions that the Armenians had.

Although Abdulhamid has always been accused of being the most oppressive Sultan against the Armenians, contrarily the Armenians took part in the State service at the highest levels. Some of the most noteworthy of these officials were Hazine-yi Hassa Ministers of Abdulhamid:

Agop Kazazyan, Ohannes Sakız and Mikail Pashas. In addition, Gabriel Noradunkyan and Artin Dadyan Pasha were some other important figures of the Hamidian Era.

Agop Kazazyan was one of the most prominent figures to hold service in the Hamidian Era. As well as significant tasks he held in the Ottoman State service, he also received the personal trust and friendship of Abdulhamid. The sources quote that Agop was a member of a poor family and did not receive any higher education.6 However, he came to

4 Ercüment Kuran, Tarihte Türkler ve Ermeniler, Yeni Türkiye; Ermeni Sorunu-II, c.38, Ankara, 2001, s. 617. Ercüment Kuran, here, indicates that the Turks and the Armenians had many common customs and pleasures. And he also stresses that the Armenians undertook service in many fields so they were being called in the 18. and 19. century Ottoman sources as Millet-i Sadıka.
5 Abdülhamid, Siyasi Hatıralarım, Istanbul, 1999, p.72.
6 Y.G Çark, Türk Devleti Hizmetinde Ermeniler 1453-1953, İstanbul, 1953, p. 156.Also see Levon P. Dabağyan, Sultan Abdülhamit ve Ermeniler, İstanbul, 2001, p.272.

the fore thanks to his success in the State service. After undertaking several duties in the bureaucracy, he was appointed to the Directorate for Turkish Correspondence Office in the Ottoman Bank. He stands out with his success and work there. It is claimed that he especially rose after uncovering malpractice in the bank. Thus, he was recommended by Forster, the General Director of the Ottoman Bank, to Abdulhamid, who appointed him the Director of Hazine-yi Hassa. Hazine-yi Hassa was organized as a ministry in 1880, and Kazazyan was appointed as the Minister. Then, he was nominated to the Ministry of Finance in 1887 as well and undertook the responsibility of both ministries.7 Agop Kazazyan’s nomination to the Hazine-yi Hassa was very important because the post was only open to individuals who had the personal trust of the Sultan.8

With the accession of Agop as the Minister of Hazine-yi Hassa, the execution of Emlak-ı Müdevvere (Endorsement of Property) came on the agenda in order to increase the amount of property and income of the Sultan.9 During the era of Sultan Abdulmecid, some property had been overlooked or had stayed in the hands of others while Emlak-ı Humayun (Imperial Property) was being transferred to the Finance Revenue.10 These lands needed to be re-enrolled in Hazine-yi Hassa. This was a considerable and significant job carried out by Agop Kazazyan.

Kazazyan also made the inclusion of several properties’ custom duties in Hazine-yi Hassa possible.

It is stated that Agop Kazazyan had to deal with reactions by many statesmen who criticized the policy Kazazyan followed. Grand Vizier Said Pasha criticized the applied policy with the following words:

…I cannot consider services of those who were following this policy as an accurate service to the Sultan. Thus, I did not appreciate the applications of the Minister of Hazineyi Hassa Agop Pasha during my fourth grand vizierate period.11

7 Terzi, op.cit., p. 22-23
8 Dabağyan, op.cit., p. 273
9 Vasfi Şensözen, Osmanoğullarının Varlıkları ve II. Abdülhamid’in Emlaki, Ankara,1982, p. 41
10 Şensözen, op.cit., p. 41
11 Mehmet Sait, Sait Paşa’nın Hatıratı, cilt.2, İstanbul, 1328 (1910), p. 216. The original expression of Said Pasha was as follow: ‘‘Buna delalet edenlerin hizmetlerini

Abdulhamid’s statements prove that he ignored the complaints about Agop Pasha and appreciated his deeds. Abdulhamid forwards his opinions about Kazazyan in that expression:

…thanks to revenues of my land and woodlands I made a great fortune. Agop Pasha is a wise finance officer. He managed my possessions fruitfully and increased their income up to 500,000 (golden) liras per a year. It was an exceptional idea to convert the property not owned privately and the trust estates ownerships to the Sultan’s possession.12

The point to notice is that Agop Pasha performed his tasks in a way that was appreciated by the Sultan. Moreover, Sultan Abdulhamid was not contented just with appreciating Agop Pasha by words. Kazazyan was decorated with the second-degree Order of Mecidiye, the firstdegree Order of Osmani, the rank of Vizierate, the Order of Murassa Ali Osman, Murassa Mecidiye and the Order of Privilege by the Sultan. Furthermore, it was known that Abdulhamid showed his generosity to Kazazyan in different ways. Abdulhamid donated to Agop Pasha some of his property located in Thessalonica and Nisantasi.13

The well-known dialogue between Kazazyan and Abdulhamid reveals their close relations.. The sultan asks him where he goes and what he does when he leaves the palace. In response, Agop says that he likes to go out for riding; whereupon, the Sultan donates a horse to Agop as a gift. This horse would unfortunately end the life of Agop. He fell down and died.

The passing away of Agop Pasha made the Sultan Abdulhamid profoundly sad. Abdulhamid sent his chief chamberlain to the mother of Agop Pasha and promised her that he would meet all her needs. After she heard the Sultan’s profound grief caused by the death of her son, padişaha hizmet-i sahihe addedemiyorum. Buna müpteni idi ki dördüncü defa sadaretim zamanında Hazine-yi Hassa Nazırı Agop Paşa’nın bu yoldaki hizmetini takdir etmezdim.’’

12 Şensözen, op.cit., p. 43
13 Terzi, op.cit., p. 24

she said, “Whether one of my sons has died, the other is still alive. God grants a long life to our Sultan.”14

In general, it is clear that the reason of Abdulhamid’s appreciation for Agop Pasha is not the increase in income by Agop Pasha’s managing his possessions successfully. It is the fact that the practices of Agop Pasha made him admirable in the eyes of the Sultan. However, the Sultan also held deep sentiments for Agop Pasha, such as his profound trust in him. Moreover, the dialogues between Agop Pasha and the Sultan and the attitude of the Sultan following the death of the Pasha reveal the sympathy of the Sultan for Agop Kazazyan.

Following the death of Agop Pasha, again an Armenian statesman, Mikail Pasha, was assigned to the Ministry of Hazine-yi Hassa. After his service in the Chamber of Translation (Bab-ı Ali Tercüme Odası), he maintained his State service in various government offices such as Şura-yi Devlet Nafia Dairesi, Galata Gümrüğü Nezareti and Beyrut Rüsumat Nezareti. He would also be a member of Meclis-i Rüsumat and Şura-yi Devlet in the following period. After undertaking the presidency of Cemiyet-i Rüsumiye, he was appointed the Undersecretary of Ministry of Finance. In 1888, Mikail Pasha was acknowledged the Director General of newly founded Ziraat Bank. Due to his attractive performance in the post, Mikail Pasha received the admiration of the government and the Palace.

As well as being the instructor in Mülkiye Mektebi, he was approved the Minister of Hazine-yi Hassa.15

Like his predecessor Agop Pasha, Mikail Pasha exerted great effort in the aim of increasing the incomes of Hazine-yi Hassa. He moved many properties and privileges to Emlak-i Humayun. The following words of Abdülhamid show us the satisfaction of the Sultan for his service; “Mikail Pasha is a better administrator, too. He succeeded to increase the imperial incomes by issuing some privileges to big companies.’16 For his services, Mikail Pasha was decorated by Abdulhamid with the first rank Ali Osman Order. He was given the rank of Vizierate and Pasha in 1893. In addition to these ranks, he was distinguished with the Golden

14 Çark, op.cit., p. 159
15 Terzi, op.cit., p 25
16 Şensözen, op.cit., p. 43

Order of Merit, Golden and Silver Orders of Privilege, and Murassa Mecidi Order.17

Sakız Ohannes Pasha was the successor of Mikail Pasha for the Minister of Hazine-yi Hassa. Ohannes began his career in the Chamber of Translation. He was appointed to the Chamber of Translation and Correspondence in the Ministry of Education as the Press Director in 1863. When the Şura-yi Devlet (High Court of Administration) was established in 1868, he was nominated to the first department of the Muhakemat Şubesi (Branch) as the consultant. At the end of the same year, he was nominated as the member of the Şura-yi Devlet. Thanks to success in his work he could undertake the General Secretary of the Foreign Affairs, which was an extremely critical and important position, for three months in 1871. He became the consultant of the Trade Ministry in 1872 and an instructor of politics, economics, and administration methods at the Mülkiye Mektebi in 1877. Then, he was appointed to the Chamber of Accounts as the Inspector General, and he kept his position uninterruptedly for 17 years. He was finally nominated as the Minister of Hazine-yi Hassa upon the decease of Mikail Pasha in 1897.18 During the office of Ohannes Pasha, the operation of the Baghdad-Basra ships and privileges of the Baghdad-Basra oil privileges were bound to the Hazine-yi Hassa. Despite the attempts to increase income, the Hazine-yi Hassa fell into a great depression and a budget deficiency resulted. Thus, the Hazine-yi Hassa were assigned to the Treasury with all its incomes and debts.19

Despite all the problems, the work and efforts of Ohannes Pasha were admired by Abdulhamid. He was distinguished with the first rank Mecidi Order and Golden Order of Merit, and Orders of Murassa Osmani, Murassa Mecidi, and Murassa Honor. He was also given the rank of Vizierate in 1907. Ohannes Pasha resigned from the Ministry in 1908. Soon after, Abdulhamid nominated the Pasha to membership in the Ayan Mecisi (Upper House of Parliament), but he did not accept

17 Çark, op.cit., p. 161
18 Çark, op.cit., p.163
19 Terzi, op.cit., p. 27

the membership, giving the excuses of his health and age.20 It is noteworthy that Abdulhamid did not remove Ohannes Pasha from office and nominated him to the Ayan Meclisi. As it was mentioned, during the offices of Agop Pasha and Mikail Pasha the Hazine-yi Hassa was being operated lucratively and steady so they gained personal admiration of Abdulhamid. However, during the office of Ohannes Pasha, the Hazine-yi Hassa was tottering on the verge of bankruptcy. Still, he was able to continue his job, and he was also awarded many Orders. All these should be considered as the reflection of Abdulhamid’s personal trust and sympathy towards Ohannes Pasha.

The Armenian statesmen not only undertook responsibility in the Hazine-yi Hassa. They took part especially in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as high rank officials. Gabriel Noradunkyan and Artin Dadyan were two of the many Armenian statesmen who served in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Gabriel Noradunkyan (1852-1941) studied in France and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1875. Gabriel Pasha served in the Ministry for a long time. For his services, he was given the State medals of Ula I, Ula II and Bala ranks.21 It is known that Abdulhamid appreciated the services of Gabriel Pasha. Abdulhamid expressed his trust to Gabriel Pasha by appointing him to the Ayan Meclisi. However, Gabriel Pasha was the member of the committee nominated to notify his dethronement to Abdulhamid. This event was a result of changing political situation and that deeply bothered Abdulhamid. Later, Abdulhamid indicated his discontent with Gabriel Pasha’s appointment as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1912.

Artin Dadyan Pasha (1830-1901) was one of the most important Armenian statesmen who served in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. He studied in France and took service in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Artin Pasha’s talents and services were appreciated and he was appointed to the Şura-yi Devlet membership as well as the General Inspectorship of Forests and Mines. Later, he became the Consultant of the Ministry

20 Terzi, op.cit., p. 28
21 Çark, op.cit., p. 155

of Finance. All these services brought about his appointment as the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Abdulhamid.22 It should be noted that his appointment to such a critical position at a very critical time was very important. He stayed in the office for a long time with only a short break. Any statesmen could only keep his position in the State service with the favor of Abdulhamid. Galip Kemali Bey, who worked with Artin Pasha, wrote in his memoirs, stressing the fastidiousness and sensitivity of the Sultan in the State affairs, that Artin Pasha worked harmoniously with Abdulhamid. Artin Pasha “could calm the Sultan and take responsibility even in very critical periods. As a result, the Sultan’s sympathy towards him became greater.”23

The last example is the Armenian Patriarch Ormanyan Effendi. Although the Armenian Patriarchs were not members of the Ottoman bureaucracy, it would be better to give an example related to the Patriarchs because of their political impact over the Armenians. Ormanyan Effendi was elected as the Patriarch by the Armenian General Assembly in 1896. Abdulhamid ratified this election, so Ormanyan Effendi visited the Sultan in order to show his gratitude. During the visit, the Patriarch demanded from the Sultan forgiveness of 1,200 Armenian prisoners jailed for political crimes, and this demand was accepted by Abdulhamid. Moreover, the death penalties of thirty Armenian prisoners were changed to lifelong imprisonment.24


Besides the mentioned figures, many other Armenian statesmen took service in the Ottoman bureaucracy. On the one hand, it is a fact that thousands of the Armenians served in the Ottoman administration and many in the highest ranks during the Hamidian Era. On the other hand, Abdulhamid is accused of being an Armenian hater. Here arises a question. How can we interpret these two contradictory judgments? When it is considered that the Armenians revolted in many parts of the Ottoman Empire and even attempted an assassination of the Sultan

22 Çark, op.cit., p.148
23 Çark, op.cit., p.150
24 Dabağyan, op.cit., p.311

in the capital of the Empire, the Ottoman Empire undoubtedly had to take necessary precautions. However, it should not be disregarded that despite all these events Abdulhamid clearly distinguished loyal Armenian citizens from rebels.

The Armenians took part extensively in Ottoman State service in the Hamidian Era in comparison to any other period in the Ottoman history, and they occupied very important posts. Most of them received the personal trust and admiration of the Sultan, and they always received compensation and rewards for their services in return. The Turkish-Armenian relations, with a deep historical background, have always demonstrated the best examples of social interaction. As a part of this interaction, the responsibility of many Armenian statesmen in the Ottoman State service stands as an important subject that needs to be emphasized.

As a last word, there is no evidence that proves Abdulhamid’s unconditional enmity towards the Armenians. However, there are many examples proving that Abdulhamid had a deep trust and sympathy towards the Armenian statesmen, and he benefited greatly from their knowledge and talents .


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