15 June 2009

2885) Bursa Armenians In The Opus Entitled ‘Bursa Tour’ By The Bulgarian Researcher Nikola Natchov


Dr. Hüseyin Mevsim
Ankara University Faculty of Language and History-Geography Department of Western Language and Literature / Ankara

Nikola Natchov, who lived between 1859 and 1940, is known as a researcher and bibliographer that has put his signature on valuable writings on 19th century Bulgarian history, which mostly describes the Renaissance, folk creativity and investigations about significant characters as well as Bulgarian culture and literature. Particularly, his publications entitled “White Mara Folksong in Bulgarian Folklore” (Mara, byala bılgarka, v naşiya naroden epos) and “Istanbul as a Bulgarian Cultural Center until 1877” (Tsarigrad kato kulturen tsentır na bılgarite do 1877 g.) . . have not lost their qualification as valuable sources for today. We know that Natchov worked as a teacher, clerk and librarian at different periods of his long life. Although he has stories and long essays with topics and characters taken from Bulgarian history, the critics have pointed out1 that he did not present accurate descriptions since he lacked ethnographic details and presented portrayal extremism.Natchov wrote his opus Bursa Tour, which is related to our topic, with the subheading Travel Notes (Pıtni Belejki) in 1879, just after the Ottoman-Russian War, and published some of his observations in various magazines during 1890s, which he

1 Reçnik na Bılgarskata literatura, Sofia, 1977, vol. 2, p. 431.

later published as a book in 1934. The actual title of this opus is Do Brusa I Nazad, literally translated as Round Trip Bursa. However, we believe that the title Bursa Tour is more appropriate in terms of its aptness in Turkish.

The reason for his coming to Mudanya from his birth town Kalofer2, via Plovdiv-Edirne-Istanbul and after that to Bursa, is to get his share of the inheritance after his father, who had a business of making heavy cloth cloaks, died unexpectedly 17 years ago when he was so young that he could not remember him and to continue his education at Robert College with the money he expected to get. Natchov who took the long journey for the first time wrote about his trip in detail, almost hour by hour. He transferredall the information and observations he had to paper. These notes provide a valuable witness to the social, economic and cultural life in Plovdiv, Istanbul and Bursa in the critical period after the Ottoman-Russian War as well as on the transportation services in the Empire. In our opinion, the fact that these journey notes were written by an amateur who had the tendency to write everything that he observed but not by a famous and professional author increases the value of them. Natchov was so much into the details like the number of the train stations counted one by one and the prices of the train and ship tickets as well the Armenians he met in Bursa. Actually, the author did not have the aim nor the concern to focus his attention only on Bursa Armenians; however, the Armenians who were the significant elements of the city in the attracted his attention.

In this opus, Nikola Natchov had interesting observations about the ability of the different races, religions and cultures to live together in the Ottoman Empire. After arriving in Mudanya he traveled to Bursa on a phaeton. In page 15 of his notes, we read this sentence: “2 Greeks, 1 Turk and I rode in a phaeton and our rider was an Arabian.” The statement beyond page 60 of the notes are further examples of this observation: “My uncle Manol, I, a Catholic Armenian called Artin Bogosyan and Ibrahim Aga who is a Turk rode in the phaeton. On the way my uncle

2 This town is in the valley between Stara planina and Sredna gora and is a great center of the business of making heavy cloat cloaks and cotton or silk cords in the Ottoman period.

Manol came across many Greek, Armenian, Jewish and Turkish people he had known from the past.”

In the last part of the book entitled Something More about Bursa (Oste neşto za Brusa) the author pointed out, while presenting some information about the city, that there is an Armenian Patriarchate and 2 Armenian churches there.

What remained for Nacov in Bursa from his father? He had 1/5 share (the remaining part belonged to an Armenian called Agop Agopyan) of the store that was in the business of making heavy cloth cloaks in the Long Bazaar, a room in Ipek (Koza) Han, money in exchange for the coarse woolen clothes his father distributed to the people in Bursa and nearby villages on credit and 800 kuruş accumulated in the trade assembly His father, who once upon a time was one of the most famous makers of coarse woolen cloth, had great prestige among the Armenian and Greek experts he raised

They sold the room in Ipek Han to an Armenian from Plovdiv named Kirkor Ohanesyan, who was known as an intellectual and wealthy person. The selling and bargaining process took a long time because the sides could not come to an agreement on the price. Natchov insisted on 60 liras whereas the Armenian stated that he could not raise over 40. Besides, it is told that Kirkor Ohanesyan offered something to a middleman for not giving tongue to this sale and, accordingly, not increasing the price of the room by finding new customers. In the end, the room was sold to Kirkor Ohanesyan, who migrated to Bursa 15 to 20 years ago and was in this sense his fellow countryman.

Further, a share of the store in the Long Bazaar was sold to Agop Agopyan for 45 liras. The transfer process took place in Evkaf.3 As this procedure had to be confirmed by Ahmet Vefik Pasha, they went to his office. Normally, a Bulgarian in the seller position is shy and anxious whereas Kirkor had a comfortable attitude since he had a close relationship with the Turks. In addition, he spoke excellent Turkish.

One of the people that owed Natchov was a Greek named Hadji Yanaki from the village Keles. The Bursa open market was set up on

3 The government department in control of estates in mortmain.

Mondays and Sundays. In the 13th of August, a Monday, Hadji Yanaki arrived in Bursa with his cocoons and thought of paying his debt with the money he earned from selling them. But the date was one on which the Armenians celebrate the Feast of Virgin Mary and their stores and shops were closed. Eventually, Yanaki could not find anyone to sell his cocoons that day. This example shows how much the Armenians participated in the trade activities, especially in the business of sericulture and making heavy cloth cloaks. Natchov emphasized that the Armenians were mostly known by the Bulgarians as left-handed and explained the reason for this; when making the sign of the cross the Armenians touch their fingers first to the left breast after the forehead. The brief but interesting details about the social life of Armenians are also mentioned in the opus of Natchov. They saw a magnificent Armenian house in one of their visits to the brook neighborhood. Also, the priest Ilarion Makariopolski, who was the combatant for the Independent Bulgarian Church and was transferred there after the Kütahya exile in 1861 autumn, stayed in this house. At the door of the house they met with an old, dark-skinned, white-haired Armenian woman that smoked. Actually, Natchov dealt with this smoking event one or two times more. He witnessed another old Armenian women smoking in the same neighborhood. According to the writer, in Bursa, the Armenian and Greek women, even the young ones, smoked almost without exception and infected the Bulgarian women with this vice.

Natchov and his uncle visited a Protestant Armenian hostel, which they have heard about from other people, on August 15 when the Orthodox Armenians were celebrating the Feast of Virgin Mary. Because they learned that here there were Bulgarian children who had become orphans in the last war. They saw the same clothed and newly bathed children playing in groups in a garden among fruit trees in the back of hostel. An organ sound was heard from inside. Kirkor Effendi, the head-teacher of hostel, was black-eyed, handsome and intelligent like nearly all the Armenians, greeted the visitors and welcomed them in the drawing room. The Bulgarians and Armenians spoke Turkish among each other. Kirkor Effendi said that there were 3 Bulgarian girls in their hostel. They were 7-12 years old and brought from Stara Zagora. The timid behaviors of the orphan children attracted their attention. They put their hands in back and it was obvious that they were raised with hard discipline and rules. Kirkor Effendi stated that a man from Stara Zagora named Gospodinov paid 50 Turkish liras per year for the care of these girls. According to the witnessing of Natchov, there were approximately 40 orphan children from various nations staying in the hostel.

Then they started to talk about general and daily issues with the head-teacher. Kirkor pointed out that the Bulgarian and Armenian communities shared the same tragic destiny and he was so glad that eventually the Bulgarians were free at long last of Turkish sovereignty. After mentioning about the Bulgarian public and the newly elected Prince Alexandre Battenberg with praise, taking a deep breath he spoke of the evil destiny of the country Hayastan (Republic of Armenia). He said that abundant beams belonging to the sun of freedom will never ever warm and brighten it.

How all the ethnic groups and religious elements in Bursa, a projection of a cosmopolite Ottoman, lived together is seen through the travel notes in which 20 year-old Natchov, with the lack of forming his identity as a historian or investigator, in an amateur way wrote and reflected on what he observed by not filtering his observations due to pre-conceived notions or prejudice, accordingly, not distorting.

It is understood from his opus that in the second half of 19th century Armenians had a significant role in the business of sericulture and making heavy cloth cloaks and stood in the center of the activities related with these occupations. In addition, they knew all the details about commercial trading very well. It is observed from their houses that they had high social status. Also, the smoking habit of Armenian women can be perceived as a sign of social status. They did not have any restrictions in education and religion and, consequently, any difficulties with the Ottoman government. However, there were some seeds of separatism starting to turn green according to Kirkor Effendi, the head-teacher of the Protestant Armenian hostel.

Finally, after 17 years, in an extremely turbulent period, Natchov could get the inheritance remaining from his father with no rights lost and the process carried out in an easy and quick way that even he was surprised, which is very important evidence of the justice and law in the Ottoman State.


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