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10 June 2009

2878) Turkish –Armenian Relationships At The End Of The 19th Century

Abdullah POŞ
Doctoral Student Uludag University Institute of Social Sciences

During the Ottoman Empire, Armenians who were under Ottoman authority led peaceful and comfortable lives. They were given responsibilities in important positions in the Ottoman administrative and economic sectors of society. In the 16th century, viziers Mehmet Pasha and Halil Pasha, who became the leaders of the naval forces (Kaptan-ı Derya) and Grand Vizier in the 17th century, were Armenian-born Muslim administrators. . . There were ministers of the mint and palace jewelers from the Düzyan family (who were from Divriği). In the 18th century, there were palace doctors from the Şaşyan family, gunpowder factory ministers from the Dadyan family. In the 19th century, there were administrators in the Mint from the Bezciyan family and head-architects from the Balyan family. There were Armenian diplomats during Abdulhamit II’s reign and during the Battle of the Balkans. The advisors of many statesmen were Armenian during the Administrative Reforms and Constitutional Monarchy periods.1

1 For more information about this, please check Nejat Göyünç, Osmanlı İdaresinde Ermeniler, İstanbul 1983, page 49-56, Abdülhamit Kırmızı, “Son Dönem Osmanlı Bürokrasisinde Akraba Ermeniler”, Ermeni Araştırmaları, 2003 Winter, volume


Important opportunities in the Ottoman administration were not only for the Armenians in the capital. Armenians in rural areas were also given responsibilities for important duties, and in return they were exempted from taxes by the State. For example, in Tarsus, an important strategic, commercial and military point which bound Central Anatolia to Çukurova and Syria, 183 hane (households) and 39 mücerred (unmarried men) Armenians were exempted from many legal and customary taxes because they were working in castle services in Kulek Castle in 1519.2 It is possible to find many examples like this.

Not only the State but also individual Muslim Turks contributed in providing Armenians peaceful and safe living. Turks never treated Armenians as strangers. Whenever Armenians were treated unfairly by non-Muslim nations or by their own people, the Muslim Turkish nation always stood by the Armenians. A document in the Şer‘iye Sicilleri (Ottoman Judiciary Court Records) of Konya in 1689 shows clearly how Turks behaved toward Armenians. According to that record, two Turks had brought some Armenians who were living in their district to trial. However, other Muslims appeared in court and stated that they were having no problems with their Armenian neighbors. By expressing that they had no complaints about the Armenians, these Turks showed that they cared about the Armenians who had been taken to trial by other Turks.3 It is known that the same behavior was shown to other non-Muslims as well.4 It is possible to come across many such records in thousands of pages of Şer‘iye Sicilleri.5

II, issue 8, pp. 137-152, Burhan Göksel, “Meşrutiyet Öncesi ve Sonrasına Ait Resmi Devlet Yayınlarına Göre Türklerin Ermeni Toplumu ile İlişkileri”, Tarih Boyunca Türklerin Ermeni Toplumu İle İlişkileri Sempozyumu, Ankara 1985, pp. 161-164.
2 BOA, Tapu 69, pp. 515-518. Please check for the changes in castle population Ali Sinan Bilgili, Osmanlı Döneminde Tarsus Sancağı ve Tarsus Türkmenleri, Ankara 2001, pp. 397-398.
3 Yusuf Oğuzoğlu, “XVII. Yüzyılda Türklerin Ermeni Toplumu İle İlişkileri Hakkında Bazı Bilgiler”, Tarih Boyunca Türklerin Ermeni Toplumu İle İlişkileri Sempozyumu, Ankara 1985, p. 269.
4 Osman Çetin, “Bursa (Fethi, Etnik Yapısı, Müslim-Gayrimüslim Münasebetlerine Kısa Bir Bakış)”, Osmanlı, vol. IV, Ankara 1999, p. 274.
5 Tarsus Şer‘iye Sicilleri, book number: 331, page 27, document number: 30 (TŞS 331, 27/30). Please check also Oğuzoğlu, op.cit., pp. 265-270 for similar


Apart from a few adverse events6, the relations between Turks and Armenians did not encounter significant difficulties in the Ottoman era until the mid-19th century. Problems concerning both internal and external affairs began occurring as Armenians started becoming more nationalistic. During this time, some Armenians were enticed by the thought of freedom7 introduced as a result of the politics of the church8, missionaries,9 and powerful states. As the 19th century came to a close, it can clearly be shown that the nationalist Armenians initiated actions in order to make their dream of independence come true. For example, Mıgırdıc Portakalyan, an Armenian nationalist, participated in revolutionary movements both in and out of the country. He published an Armenian newspaper in Marseilles in 1885 in order to disseminate his ideas about liberty. By secretly distributing the newspaper in Çukurova and Maraş, he aimed to recruit young intelligent Armenians and interest them in pursuing a European education. His goal was to raise a generation of revolutionary Armenian youth.10

examples. 6 One of this adverse events occurred in Van. In 1566, about one thousand of Armenians gathered and caused troubles. This event was declared to the Council of Justice by the ruler in Van. BOA, Mühimme Book, number: 5, p.123. Another event occurred in Zeytun in 1780 and repeated some time. Please check Nejat Göyünç, “Osmanlı Devleti’nde Ermeniler Hakkında”, Yeni Türkiye Ermeni Sorunu Özel Sayısı II, issue 38, March-April 2001, p. 635.
7 Please check Yusuf Sarınay, “Fransa’nın Ermenilere Yönelik Politikasının Tarihi Temelleri (1878-1918)”, Ermeni Araştırmaları, Fall 2002, vol. II, issue 7, pp. 55-70.
8 Please check Abdurrahman Küçük, Ermeni Kilisesi ve Türkler, Ankara 1997, pp. 108-115, Erdal Ilter, “Ermeni Kilisesi ve Terör”, Yeni Türkiye Ermeni Sorunu Özel Sayısı II, issue 38, March-April 2001, pp. 854-893.
9 Please check Necmettin Tozlu, “Osmanlı Devleti’nde Ermeni Eğitim Kurumları ve Faaliyetleri”, Yeni Türkiye Ermeni Sorunu Özel Sayısı II, issue 38, March-April 2001, pp. 920-934. Erdal Açıkses, “Osmanlı Devleti’ndeki Misyonerlik Faaliyetleri İle İlgili Bir Değerlendirme (İki Merkezden Örnekler)”, Yeni Türkiye Ermeni Sorunu Özel Sayısı II, issue 38, March-April 2001, pp. 935-947. Ayten Sezer, “Osmanlı Döneminde Misyonerlik Faaliyetleri”, Yeni Türkiye Ermeni Sorunu Özel Sayısı II, issue 38, March-April 2001, pp. 948-960.
10 Hüseyin Nazım Paşa, Ermeni Olayları Tarihi, vol. I, Ankara 1998, pp. 167-174.


The young Armenians who were sent to Europe for this purpose and who worked closely with Mıgırdıc Portakalyan started to assemble committees dedicated to revolution. In 1885, nine of Portakalyan’s students founded the Armenekan Revolutionary Party. Three of the young Armenians who went to Paris for education later went to Geneva to take the first steps in the formation of the Hıncak Committee in 1887. In 1890, Armenians in Russia formed the Tansak Committee.11 The members of the Hıncak and Tansak Committees, in particular, instigated acts of provocation and terror in Ottoman lands through the establishment of local cell organizations. 12

Revolutionary Committees were aware that any resistance or revolutionary action would not be successful as long as the good relationship between Turks and Armenians, who had been living together in peace, was not broken. Because of this, the rebels gave priority to actions that would destroy the relationship between the two ethnic groups. For this reason, they called the faithful Armenians to participate in their traitorous ambitions. When some of them rejected this call, they were killed by rebels who were dressed in Muslim clothing. This was done in an attempt to encourage friction between the Turks and Armenians. In the Ottoman intelligence reports which were compiled by Huseyin Nazım Pasha, it is clear that these kinds of occasions happened with great frequency in the 1890s.13 One of the murders that were committed was in the Tokat Revolutionary Committee. Fourteen members of this committee killed Doctor Jozef,14 a member of the Armenian Catholic Committee, because of his loyalty to the Ottoman State. They wore Georgian clothes in order to impute the crime to Muslims. Two more murders were committed by a group of rebels in Van. This time Kurds were imputed in the crimes because the murderers were in Kurdish clothes while murdering Coç Aga and Artin Efendi (who was from the administrative council) because they did not support or join the rebels’ action.15

11 Please check Kamuran Gürün, Ermeni Dosyası, Ankara 1985, pp. 128-134.
12 Esat Uras, The Armenians in History And The Armanian Question, Istanbul 1988, pp. 109-110.
13 Hüseyin Nazım Paşa, op.cit., vol. I-II.
14 Hüseyin Nazım Paşa, op.cit., vol. I, pp. 18-19.
15 Ibid., p. 23.


Another location where these organizations flourished and revolutionary actions took place to a great extent was in the Çukurova region. According to Huseyın Nazım Pasha’s records, a letter which detailed the steps of the rebellion to be taken in Çukurova was sent from the London and Marseilles Armenian Committees to the Adana Armenians’ representative. In this letter, it asked that the preparations in the region start and that a telegram which gave information about the rebellion be dispatched via the English Committee in Cyprus to Europe before the night of the action. It was also announced that Western countries would send subsidiary forces to participate in the revolutionary action. It clearly stated that back up forces were going to be wearing the clothes of the region. According to the letter, those from America were going to dress in dervish clothes, those from Athens in villager clothes, those from France in Kurdish shepherd clothes, those from England in suhte (theological student) clothes, those from Switzerland in Deveci’s16 clothing, those from Italy in Albanian clothes, and those from Germany in fellah (peasant) clothes.17

As it is seen in these examples, the preferred method for the revolutionary committees to reach their goal was to destroy the relationships that had existed for the ages between the two ethnic groups and make them enemies of each other. For this reason they wore Muslim clothes while they killed the Armenians who were loyal citizens to the Ottoman State. In this way, they were both punishing the Armenians who did not support them and implicating the Muslims for the murders. Embassies of the European states in Istanbul and their consulates in other cities also took part in revolutionary actions. Foreign consulates and embassies were provoking the Hıncak and Tansak Committees into rebellion and then twisting the truth by announcing “Turks are butchering the Armenians.”18 They were attempting to influence both Ottoman and world public opinion by disseminating unfounded news

16 Deveci is who makes merchandise through camel train.
17 Ibid., pp. 70-73.
18 Please check Serpil Sürmeli, “I. Sasun İsyanı ve Gelişen Olaylar Çerçevesinde İngiliz Siyasi Tavrının Değerlendirilmesi”, Ermeni Araştırmaları I. Türkiye Kongresi Bildiriler, vol. I, Ankara 2003, pp. 317- 327.



about violent conflicts in regions, which in fact were not having any problems, in order to raise panic between the two ethnic groups who had been living in peace for the ages.19

How was the situation of the Armenians in Tarsus while these kinds of insidious actions were going on? Had anything changed in the formal relations between them and Muslim Turks as well as the Ottoman State? Were there any applications that restricted the Armenians’ religious and conscious freedom, commercial life or daily routines? In Tarsus, an additional picture of the harmonious relationship between the Muslim Turks and the Armenians at the end of the 19th century can be shown.

Turks did not disturb the places of worship where they conquered territory. On the contrary, they let everybody perform their religious duties freely. At the end of the 19th century, the existence of Armenian churches in Tarsus is evidence of this fact.20 The most important of these churches was Meryem Ana (Mother Mary) Church. On April 6, 1861, Armenians asked permission from the State to restore this building as it was in terrible disrepair. The State let them repair the church as long as they agreed to stay loyal to the rules.21

In Fatih’s era, non-Muslims were able to establish foundations and they were not interfered with unless irregularities surfaced. In the Şer‘iye Sicilleri, it was witnessed that some Armenians endowed their property holdings to the Meryem Ana Church.22

Turks not only gave religious autonomy to the Armenians but also did not interrupt their social lives. Their Patriarchate established their own courts and prisons but there was no barrier for them to the Ottoman kadı courts but the Armenians were also free to use the Ottoman kadı courts, even if their disagreements were with other non-Muslims. In the Şer‘iye Sicilleri it is seen that in the 1890s, Armenian people applied to the Tarsus kadı courts to solve their problems not only with Turks

19 Please check Sarınay, op.cit., p. 65.
20 TSŞ, 330 43/85.
21 BOA, İrade-i Hariciye, number 10262. Also check Ahmet Akgündüz, Yaşar Baş, Rahmi Tekin, Osman Kaşıkcı, Arşiv Belgeleri Işığında Tarsus Tarihi ve Eshâb-ı Kehf, İstanbul 1993, pp. 498-499.
22 TŞS, 330, 43/85.


or other non-Muslims but also between themselves. On September 17, 1889, an Armenian named Bagus was brought to court by his wife Manuk’s daughter, Hatun, for turning out of the house and not giving her the allowance.23 Again on January 6, 1890, a debt problem between two Armenians was tried in the court.24

The Ottoman kadı court was not only an institution that was solving conflicts but it was also serving as a notary.25 The fact that there are a succession of records of Armenians in Şer‘iye Sicilleri26 and the recordings of many property donations to the Meryem Ana Church charity27 is a proof that Armenians were treated fairly by the kadı courts.

These examples demonstrate that the relationship of the Armenians in Tarsus with the Ottoman State did not encounter a break as a result of the adverse events occurring elsewhere at the end of the 19th century. It is well-understood from the Şer‘iye Sicilleri that the two ethnic groups were also working well together in their daily lives. One of the most important elements of the Tarsus economy was raising small livestock.

28 Some of the sheep raised in Tarsus fulfilled the need for meat in the region, the rest of the sheep were sold to Istanbul.29 As a result, the partnership in raising and selling sheep between Turks and Armenians was developed. For example, according to a record dating back to April 11, 1890, from the Armenians, Kirkor, Bagya son of butcher Karabet from Adana, Serkis son of Berber, Artin son of Karabet, butcher Serkis from Urfa, and head-butcher Suleyman Aga bought 84 sheep with 17 shares to the Armenians and one to Suleyman Aga. These sheep were delivered by Karabet Aga son of Bagus, to a person named Numan from Ali Aga village for grazing on the grass there. After Suleyman Aga died, his sons thought that all those animals belonged to their father and they

23 TŞS, 319, 89/263.
24 TŞS, 330, 68/147.
25 İsmail Hakkı Uzunçarşılı, Osmanlı Devleti’nin İlmiye Teşkilâtı, Ankara 1988, p. 109.
26 TŞS, 330, 6-7/9.
27 TŞS, 330, 43/85.
28 TŞS, 330, 97/233; 331, 27/30.
29 Please check Bilgili, op.cit., p. 445.



shared the sheep among themselves. Seeing this, the Armenians chose Karabet Aga as their representative to apply to the court to recover the sheep from İsmail Efendi (the oldest son of Suleyman Aga) and Numan the shepherd and return them to their rightful owners.30

Furthermore, records indicate that Serkis son of Bedros from the Armenian district gave 60 silver coins (sîm mecîdiyye) to Mehmet from Çam Tepe village in order to buy animals in his name, which suggests that Turks helped Armenians in animal trading.31

Raising large animals was also an important business in Tarsus beside the small animal husbandry. For their physical power, horses32 and cows33 in particular were raised. There are documents that confirm there was a trade of large animal husbandry between Turks and Armenians. In one example, on May 14, 1891, Abraham Aga from the Armenian district bought one horse from Sadık Efendi in Tarsus.34 These documents illustrate that Turks and Armenians had a strong relationship in animal husbandry at the end of the 19th century.

Another evidence of the relationship between these two ethnic groups is lending and borrowing of money or property. Lending and borrowing were mostly done through the courts by signing papers. The amount, time and the ways of compensation (if not paid back) of the debt were stated clearly on these signed papers. We can find details in a document dating back to February 5, 1889. According to the paper, Osman son of Bayram from Bahirli village, owed 150 silver coins Karabet and gave his 150 dönüm of land to Karabet as collateral for 10 months. In the paper, it was stated that the requirement to sell the land at its real value if the debt could not be paid in the given time and the rest of the income to be given to the land owner, Osman.35 Turkish justice aimed to prevent the possibility of debtor’s denial, while also trying to prevent the creditor from doing injustice to the owner of the fields while selling them. A

30 TŞS, 330, 97/233.
31 TŞS, 331, 27/30.
32 TŞS, 330, 86/195, 91/206, 92/210, 98/235; 331, 8/12, 13/16, 23/26, 24, 29.
33 TŞS, 330, 54/107, 66/139, 69/148, 101/243; 331, 41/46.
34 TŞS, 322, 12/44.
35 TŞS, 330, 44/85.


document in the books we surveyed about two Armenians who had a debt disagreement and the debtor’s claim that he had paid his debt shows how necessary it was to take these kinds of precautions.36 There are many documents that show Turks and Armenians in Tarsus were usually in close relationship about judicial subjects, too. One dimension of judicial concerns was about attorneyship. Armenians sometimes chose Turkish representatives that would follow their court affairs regarding disagreements and relationships both between themselves and Turks. On January 6, 1890, when two Armenians could not solve their debt problem themselves, they applied to the court. The person who was accused of non-repayment claimed that he had paid the money back and he chose Hasan son of Ahmet, as a representative in court.37

Likewise, we witnessed that Turks had sometimes assigned the Armenian as their representatives. According to a record with the date February 4, 1889, in the court affair about the 150 silver coins with Osman son of Bayram, and the Armenian Karabet, Osman’s representative was an Armenian person called Serkis.38

Another dimension of the judicial relationship was about attestation. As mentioned above, Turks always treated Armenians as their neighbors, not as strangers. Apart from non-Muslims’ hurting or disturbing them, Turks did not let any other person or element from their own race harm or behave unfairly toward Armenians. We can find records in the Şer‘iye Sicilleri of Tarsus that supports this claim. On September 11, 1896, there was a disagreement between Serkis from the Armenian district and Mehmet from Çam Tepe village regarding a small animal husbandry. Serkis went to court and stated that he had a complaint about Mehmet. Ahmet witnessed against Mehmet, and Serkis won the case.39 It is evident that the Armenians in Tarsus had peaceful and fair relations with both the Ottoman State and the Turks at the end of the 19th century. In addition, they had mutual associations with the State

36 TŞS, 330, 68/147.
37 TŞS, 330, 68/147.
38 TŞS, 330, 44/85.
39 TŞS, 331, 27/30.


and the Turks in every part of daily life during the time the Armenian Revolutionary Committees and Western states were trying to spoil the good relations that had been in existence for ages between the two ethnic groups.
(C) Erciyes University

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