0079) The Religious Concessions Of The Ottoman Empire Towards Armenians Within The Framework Of Church Reconstructions

Assist. Prof Dr. Gülbadi ALAN
Erciyes University Faculty of Arts and Science Department of History / Kayseri


The bilateral relations of Turks and Armenians have had a long historical background. Within this background the most important concern had been the peace and the comfort between these societies. The quality of the bilateral interaction had influenced the Armenians; not only did they speak Turkish but they also carried out their religious rituals using the Turkish language. In this respect, the main reason of this interaction is the concessions of the Ottoman Empire given to the minority societies in the fields of economic, administrative, social and cultural developments . .

These concessions of the Ottoman Empire had influenced the religion of the Armenians, as well. For not opposing the major governmental policies of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians had been left free in their religious rituals in every respect. Freedom of religion within the society had improved relations. One of the well-known and the most important concerns of this interaction were the well-established attitudes of the Ottoman Empire towards Armenians in the reconstruction of their churches.

The Ottoman State gave religious privileges to the communities living under its sovereignty, in the times when they were the most powerful and even until it collapsed. Armenian society also benefited from these concessions. The Armenian holy leader in Bursa was brought to Istanbul during the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror and given additional powers when the Armenian Patriarchate was established. This was clear evidence of the religious tolerance that the Ottoman State showed to Armenians.

The Ottoman State also demonstrated religious tolerance by giving the Armenian society permission to build new churches or restore existing ones. It is possible for us to see many examples of governmental permission in the archive documents. In this article, the religious concessions of the Ottoman State towards Armenians, especially the reconstruction of the churches will be presented. The subject matter will be evaluated with regard to the Armenians’ requests for church reconstruction, the approach of the Ottoman government related to these requests and freedom of religion.

In this paper, the religious concessions of the Ottoman Empire towards Armenians, especially in the reconstruction of their churches, will be presented. The subject matter will be evaluated with regard to the condition of Armenians’ requests for church reconstruction, the approach of the Ottoman government related to these requests and freedom of religion.

Any congregation living under the sovereignty of the Ottoman State had the right to restore their places of worship under the rules of goverment when they needed to on condition that they first get permission from the State. According to information taken from the archive documents, we see that the rights of the non-Muslim communities were in existence from the time when the Ottoman State was the most powerful to the time to the time when it was less powerful. Furthermore, the State expressed clearly its concession on the public regulations which the State published that Armenians were able to restore their churches.

However, there were some rules that they had to obey in order to carry out such restoration.

Before all else, it was necessary for the congregation to apply to the related government authority about the need for the church restoration. For example, a congregation in small settlements of villages or cities which had such a need had to petition the council they were bound to.

This obligation was valid not only for minority congregations but also for Armenian congregations. When the applications were taken into consideration, the local government investigated the places where the churches existed, the area mentioned in the petition and the amount of restoration needed. In order to make the essential investigation, the agent and law court regent who were appointed by the governor of a province were assigned. It was usually seen that the city architect joined them, too1.

In the examination made by the committee, the area where the church was to be restored had to be measured. The following details needed to be stated in the plan: if the church was to be widened and if the property which was to be used was private or public land; if it was private land whether the owner allowed the church to use his land; if it was a public land whether the required steps were fulfilled according to the law; how many houses and people of the church congregation and the rest of the population there were in the settlement where the church existed; whether there was a legal and local restriction for the restoration or construction of the church (especially if there were places used by Muslims, such as a mosque, dervish lodge, and a cemetery); how to cover the price of construction; if the cost was covered by the congregation; that the money would not be collected from the poor; whether the collected money by being written on the register book had reached

1 The Armenian Patriarchate and the Armenian National Assembly applied with a petition to take the permission for restoration of the Surp Serkis Church belonging to Armenian population, existing in the Dibine village tied to Ergani district. The committee making the investigation stated in this petition as fallows: ….and after application of restoration, the usher, the city architect and the law court regent who is appointed by the governor of a province investigates the places where the church exists… The Prime Minister Ottoman Archives (PMOA), HR. MKT., Document Number:67/38.

the necessary officials. When the committee felt the need, they had the right to collect information on their own from the head office of taxes, pious foundations, the town council, and the registry of births2. If the committee approved the restoration of the church after the investigations, a directive was given to restore the church.

When we look at the archive documents about the subject, it is possible to see many examples of the process for getting permission for the restoration of places of worship. It is possible to see a good example in Göynük village of Erzurum where one can follow the process from the beginning to the end3.

Some topics in our research of the process were considered fairly important. One of the most important topics was the population in the settlement where the church was to be restored. The number of the people who lived in the settlement was determined in terms of religion. Above all, the aim of this was probably to establish whether the place of worship had enough people in the congregation and whether the people needed a place of worship in the settlement.

The population statistics in the settlements are stated in detail in nearly all the archive documents investigated. For example, the application of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate for the Armenian Catholic Church in Trabzon to be rebuilt that the Armenian Catholic congregation in Trabzon included 237 houses and 1235 people4. In another example of an application for restoration, in Göynük village in Erzurum there were 209 Muslims in 39 houses and 341 Armenians in 82 houses, and there were no other religious groups except them5. Another example is from Mardin. For the Armenian Catholic church which was to be rebuilt there were 500 houses that were Armenian Catholic6.

2 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Numbers:1060/83211, 949/75124.
3 For more on the subject see PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542; HR. MKT., Document Number:33/56.
4 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1060/83211.
5 That the Armenian population is 184 male and 180 female in 43 houses is stated in different parts of the same document. PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.
6 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:949/75124. The reason of the wish to build a new church like this is not because of the multiplicity of the Christian Armenian

Another important responsibility of the committee was to draw a sketch (map) of the church to be restored and to show clearly the place where it would be restored. The information on that sketch is generally the locality of the church, the size of the church, the residences which are to be added, and the parts which are added to make the church building and its property larger. There were provisions set by the State in the event that addition and extension were requested. Before all else, if new additions--extension of property, widening of building, etc.--were discussed, it was necessary for these alterations to give no damage to the inhabitants around the church site7.

The application for the restoration of the Armenian Church in Göynük village is a good example of this part of the process. In the plan of the church the width of the church would be 13 cubits8, the length would be 22 cubits, and the height would be 10 cubits. A bell tower which did not exist in the church before was shown on the plan. Furthermore, it is also seen that an additional property was added to the garden of the church. At the end of the investigations, it was declared that they could not have the bell tower in order to get permission for the restoration of the church and it was necessary to pay additional taxes for the property which was added to the church garden9. In another example, the size of the Armenian Catholic Church in which was to be restored was shown on the plan with a width of 20 meters, a length of 41 meters and a height of 15 meters10.

The size of the construction clarified on the plan was not only for the main building of a church but also for additional places which were to be added or restored. In addition to the renovation of the Armenian church in Boyacı village in Boğaziçi which would be 20 yards in length, 10 yards in width, 7.18 yards in height, the existing place of prayer which was going to be remodelled would be 6.5 yards in length, 10 yards in width and 7.18 yards in height. Further, because it was ruined completely population but the need for a church the people can go to easily.

7 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.
8 The measure of length from the elbow to the tip of middle finger. It changes from 75 cm. to 90 cm.
9 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.
10 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1060/83211.

due to decay, the construction of the rooms which were on two sides of the church would be 8.18 yards in length, 5.12 yards in width, and 5.18 yards in height11. Furthermore, if the expansion of the churches were requested or the rebuilding of the churches became an issue because of their being substantially ruined, one of the important conditions set by the State for their construction was that a mosque or a residence used for Islamic worshipping must not be nearby12.

The last and, maybe, the most important condition of beginning restorations was that there was a firman, that is to say, an imperial edict. After the review of an application was completed, it was necessary to hold the commanding note which shows that the Sultan of the Ottoman State gave permission to restore and build the church. If there were an attempt to restore a church without permission, the ones who were responsible would suffer the punishment which the government imposed.

Among the documents which were examined was the title deed for the church property in Göynük village. The title deed which was presented to the local government of the Ova district in which the village was found, stated that the restoration of the church was not going to be started until the command of the Sultan of the Ottoman State was given. If they were opposed or a situation which was opposed to what the Sultan of the Ottoman State declared came to light, the Armenian congregation had to accept the results13.

In summary, in a petition which a Armenian congregation made for church restoration, first of all, an investigatory committee had to be formed by the local government, and this committee had to examine the documents and measure the property where the church to be restored existed. After the information was sent to the central government in Istanbul, the government studied the application and announced its decision--positive or negative—and gave its reasons. On the condition that the decision was positive, it was necessary for the Sultan’s command to be given in order to start the restoration. It was obligatory for

11 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:906/71990.
12 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.
13 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.

the procedures and processes to be completed before the construction could be started.

At the beginning of the topic, the necessity for the congregation to apply to the related government authority for church restoration was declared as one of the essential provisions. However, there were some situations in which the Ottoman State did not hope only Armenians and their representatives would apply to restore churches. The State also selected without any application churches which the State thought needed restoration. It is possible to see a good example of this in Ergani, a small town next to Diyarbakır. The Armenian Church in Ergani was restored by the State. It was not approved to leave the church in a ruinous condition14.

The Ottoman State felt responsible for the restoration of all churches damaged at the time of the revolts at the beginning of the 20th century and also found sources of money which were necessary for restoration. It did not expect an application from the church congregations. For example by the State’s taking the responsibility to restore the Protestant and Armenian churches which were damaged, it approved the expenditure of 8821 piaster15 which was necessary for the restorations of church, school and the other private buildings burnt in Haleb because the State felt responsibility16.

The restoration of any of the place of worship or the construction of a new place of worship, especially in states which had many religious groups like the Ottoman State, is far from being an insignificant subject. Because living in a pluralistic society in harmony and peace is only possible when everyone respects each other’s rights. The decisions which the Ottoman State made and the applications that it accepted were a guarantee that this atmosphere would last. Thus, the applica-

14 PMOA, DH. ŞFR., Document Number:99//143 (htth://www.devletarsivleri.gov.tr/kitap/belge/2600belge/0802.doc.).
15 This amount is not only for the church restoration but also fort the restoration of some tombs and sarcophaguses.
16 PMOA, DH. MUİ., Document Number:3-1/10-5 (htth://www.devletarsivleri.gov.tr/kitap/belge/2600belge/0802.doc.).

tion for construction or restoration of a church was not started with an arbitrary desire by a congregation. There had to be some provisions and rules from the point of view of behaving respectfully towards the rights of other religious congregations. When looked at from this perspective, the circumstances under which the Armenian congregation applied for the church restoration was an important subject for us. In the archive documents we examined, the applications for the church restoration generally centred on the damage to church to the degree of not being used, the church not meeting the needs of the congregation, the need to add additional space to the church to cover other needs and the churches’ need for regular repair. When we investigated these topics carefully in archive documents, it was possible to identify some interesting points about the relation between the Ottoman State and the Armenian congregation regarding tolerance.

a. The Damage and Collapse of Churches
Among the main reasons for the State’s giving permission for church restoration were that the churches reached such a stage of damage that they could not be used or some parts of the churches completely collapsed. This justification was among the reasons for the applications of the Armenian congregations for church restoration. It is possible to see many archive documents about the Armenian congregation applications for church restoration to the State for these reasons17. The applications made were either for the restoration to eliminate the church’s ruin or for the complete reconstruction of the church. It was possible for us to find examples about these two distinct applications in the documents.

The Armenian congregation which was in Güresin village of Divriği district of Sivas applied for the restoration to the government because the church was damaged18. Here the desire of the congregation was not to rebuild the church by its being collapsed entirely, but for the elimination of the church ruins.

17 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/8754; DH. İD., Document Number:172-4/13, 4/15.
18 PMOA, HR. MKT., Document Number:33/56.

Permission for the rebuilding a ruined Armenian Church that belonged to an Armenian congregation was requested in Kızılağaç village of Muş. In addition to the reconstruction of the church, a request for additional property to be added to the church property was also stated in the petition. After the application was reviewed, a license was granted by the Council of State to build a new church which would be 15 meters in length, 8.5 meters in width, and 5 meters in height, and additional property of 50 yards was granted19.

Another example is from Çankırı, a small town in Kastamonu. The Armenian people were not able to perform their religious services any longer in the church because the church was in ruins. The Armenian Patriarchate requested a license with its application for the complete restoration of the church. After the request by the Armenian Patriarchate was evaluated as a result of the committee’s investigations, permission which given for the building of the new church that would be 14 cubits in width, 22 cubits in length and 16 cubits in height. In giving permission, the most important point made was that the rebuilding of the church did not have a harmful effect on the locality nor the other congregations living there. When the document was examined carefully, it was seen that the decision to rebuild the church was not given unconditionally. The most important condition discussed was that the Armenians should not be forced to give money for the construction and made uncomfortable in this way20.

Another good example was the restoration of the church which belonged to the Armenian congregation in Boyacı village next to Boğaziçi. The Armenian Patriarchate applied with a petition for the reconstruction of the main building of the church whose walls had collapsed. It would be built like its old style and on its old foundation because the church property, which was surrounded with walls, had Christian houses on one side and a road on three sides. Two rooms next to church would have to be rebuilt because of their being in ruins. Thus, it was decided on the plan that the church, which was 393.18 yards in width, would be built of stone with its additions on its existing foundations. Since

19 PMOA, DH. İD., Document Number:172-4/13, 4/15.
20 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:949/75124: 808/65310.

there was no obstacle or damage technically, a license was granted for
the construction21.

The application for reconstruction of the Armenian hospital on the outskirts of Yedikule and the church in the hospital represents another example. The buildings mentioned were ruined because they were wooden. The Armenian Patriarchate which was of the opinion that they could not be restored applied to the government with a petition for the hospital and the church to be rebuilt in their old-style. The response was positive on the condition that the reconstruction took place according the limits of the earlier building plan.

When the document was examined, it was seen that the buildings which were to be rebuilt were planned a little more widely than their old width and the government accepted this changes. The hospital would be 4,957 cubits in width, and the width of the church would be 300 cubits. Thus, the total width of the construction would be 5,257 cubits. Actually, the total width of the old buildings which included the hospital and the church together was 4,983 cubits. If this was the situation, the construction which was 274 cubits more in total with the church’s being widened 74 cubits more and the hospital’s being widened 200 cubits more. In spite of this, it was expressed by the responsible government officials that there were no obstacles in allowing the construction in this way. The most important problem came to light with the issue of finding an appropriate place for the patients in the hospital to stay at the time of reconstruction. Furthermore, the source for the building expenses was not found. Because of the two problems, the construction for the hospital could continue only as long as they got the necessary money for the construction22.

Another reason for the damage to churches was natural disasters. Applications which were made for the churches’ restoration because of fire are among the reasons for restoration which we came across in archive documents. It was generally seen that the government responded positively to these kinds of applications. For example, the restoration of

21 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:906/71990.
22 PMOA, İ. DH., Documen Number:1093/85685.

the church in Darende comes to light because of this kind of destruction in 190223.

The application for the Armenian Church in Gürcübey district of Harput involved a different reason from the others. The subject is also restoration of a church. However, in order to arrange the streets around the Surp Karabet Armenian Church which was in Gürcübey district, the government officials wanted to make small changes on the church building. But the Armenian Patriarchate together with the National Assembly requested the completion of the construction without making any changes on the old plan of the church building. Due to the investigations it was realized that because this process would lead the church to be disturbed and unjustly treated, the restoration of the church was continued without this interference24.

b. Additions to the Church

Building additions to the church was sometimes requested. The government did not require that these additions always be a place of prayer. They could sometimes be schools or places to live. There were many archive documents about adding a school to the church property. Furthermore, some documents included the permission for schools to be built in addition to church restoration. For example, permission for building an Armenian Catholic Church25, a plenipotentiary office26 and to build a school27 in the vegetable garden under the conditions set in the article 129 of the Regulation of Public Instruction. This vegetable garden, which existed next to the waqf (religious foundation) of His Excellency Sultan Ahmet Han and was opposite Izmit train station, was registered

23 PMOA, YA. RES., Document Number:117/41.
24 PMOA, HR. MKT., Document Number:31/14.
25 The Armenian Catholic Church to be built will be 24 and a half meters in length, 12 meters in width and 7 and a half meters in height. It will have three doors, nine windows. It will also have a bell tower which is 2 and a half meters in length and width and 17 and a half meters in height from the ground next to it.
26 The delegation home will be built 17 meters in length, 11 meters in width, 15 meters in height. It will also have 4 floors, 3 doors, 18 rooms and 54 windows.
27 The school will be built 38 and a half meters in length, 12 meters in width, and 10 meters in height. It will also have 3 floors including the cellar, 4 doors, 72 windows and 18 rooms.

in the name of the master architect Leon’s wife Marya and had 12 forty by forty arshins (940 square meters or about ¼ acres) width and was in the value of 50,000 piaster. The Council of State allowed the construction after its investigations28.

Another addition to the churches was the building where the priests would live. However, we only found a few documents regarding this matter in the archives. In one document we found the Armenian Church in Isparta near Konya made an application. Permission was requested to build a house in the inner courtyard of the church for the priests to live in which would be 15 meters in length, 5 meters in width and 7 meters in height. A license was granted to this request by the decision of the Council of State and the Ministry of Religion, who was appointed to examine the application29.

In another example, Armenians in Nevşehir district of Konya asked for permission to build a church and a room for priests on the ground floor in the name of a Protestant congregation and a school near to the church. The church building, which would be 50 cubits in length, 28 cubits in width and in the value of 25,000 piaster, was registered in the name of Karabet Varjabetyan from the pious foundation of Ibrahim Pasha and was planned in the shape of a church which was 12 meters in length and width, 15 meters in height and had a door and eight windows. The construction of the school which was 12 meters in length and width, 4 and a half meters in height and appropriate to the article 129 of the Regulation of Public Instruction and a room for the priests on the ground floor of the church was licensed by the Council of State after the investigations30.

The additional buildings sometimes included bell tower in addition to the church building. For example, a license was granted by the Council of State to build a wooden church, which would be 20 meters in length, 10 meters in width and 15 meters in height; have 2 doors and 6 windows; and a bell tower which would be 232 m2 in width and in the value of 1000 piaster on the property that was at Abvank village

28 PMOA, DH. İD., Document Number:162-1/47-1, 2, 3.
29 PMOA, DH. İD., Document Number:113/41-1, 3.
30 PMOA, DH. İD., Document Number:162-2/1-1, 2, 3.

of Kiğı district of a province in Erzurum31. A similar example is seen in İgdeli village of Boğazlıyan district of a province in Ankara. A licence was granted by the Council of State to build a church which would be 21 meters in length, 12 meters in width and 7 meters in height, have one door and 12 windows, contain a bell tower that was one and a half meters in width, 3 and a half meters in height at the left side of the church which was 19 meters in height and 29 meters in width32.

Another reason to build an addition to the church was the fact that the building did not meet the needs of the people because the congregation increased in size. The applications made for this reason were submitted with the request either to build a new larger church or to add-on to the church. According to the documents we examined, the applications were generally made with the request to build a new structure by completely demolishing the old one which was not able to meet their needs.

In one example, an Armenian church in Hamidiye, a small town that was connected to Bolu subdivision, needed a new church building. Because of its structure’s being insufficient for the congregation, an application was submitted to build a new church, half of which will be made out of the stone and brick on the church’s property in order to save the church’s revenues33.

Another application submitted because of this kind of need was in Trabzon. When the Armenian Catholic Church which existed in Trabzon started to be insufficient to meet the need of the congregation praying there, the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate applied to Trabzon Council with a petition for the old church to be rebuilt wider. After examination of the application, it was stated that there was no obstacle to its construction and that the property which was necessary for the church to be widened will be secured from the Armenian Catholic graveyard that was next to the church and was exempted from taxes. The expenses of construction were paid from revenues of church34.

31 PMOA, DH. İD., Document Number:162-1/43-1, 2, 3.
32 PMOA, DH. İD., Document Number:162-2/3-1, 2, 3.
33 PMOA, DH. MUİ., Document Number:76-1/38-1; 118/25-1, 2.
34 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1060/83211.

A similar request was from Mardin district. However, the situation was a bit different from the others. The construction of a wider church was not requested, but rather the building of a new church in a different place without touching the old one. An old Catholic Armenian Church in the quarter of Cami-i Kebir in Mardin did not meet the needs of congregation. Moreover, the congregation had some trouble going to the church because they did not live near to the church which hampered their worshiping. Thus, an application was submitted to the government for the construction of a new church in an area where the congregation lived. The government accepted this application on condition that the new church, which would be 20 meters in length and width and 16 meters in height, was built on the property that was in the Christian district35. In this example, the most important point that shows the Ottoman State’s tolerance in the field of religion was that the Armenian Catholic congregation’s desire to make their worshiping easier rather than meet their needs for a church was given importance while permission was given to build a new church in a different place.

c. The Need for Regular Care
Another development for the restoration of churches was the need for regular repair. The application was made for the repair of the Armenian Church in Ezine district of a province of Biga subdivision of a province which was tied to Karesi. The materials and prices which were needed for the repair were declared as follows:

The price of stone was 1600 piaster, window stone was 700, chalk was 2500, timber was 4000, iron was 2500, and the others were 6000. The total cost was 17,300 piaster. It was stated that 12,000 piaster of the cost was currently available and the rest of it would be covered by the people who had money.
After the investigations carried out by the government, the license was granted only to repair the church and with the provision not to make any change in the church’s current condition36.

35 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:949/75124.
36 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1057/82951.


According to the archive documents examined, the applications for church restoration generally were because of the desire for church’s reconstruction after it collapsed. However, on some occasions, the buildings were not old enough to collapse and the applications were made for the parts which needed to be restored. These applications generally were for the restoration of roofs, doors, walls, and the like.

a. The Restoration of Roofs and Walls

Most of the applications for repairs were for the roofs of churches. It is possible to give many examples of such applications. The Surp Lusavoriç Church which belonged to Armenians in Lusonik village of Bayburt district of a province that was tied to Erzurum had its roof and walls ruined because of snow and rain. Furthermore, this damage was to such a degree that religious services could not be performed in the church. This situation was declared with a petition to the government by the Armenian Patriarchate and the National Assembly. The petition was accepted on condition that the repairs were appropriate to the original church, no additional parts were built, and the places which needed restoration were repaired37. That is to say, permission was given only to restore the church’s roof and walls.

In another example, the clay roofing tile of the Old Surp Estapanos Church, which belonged to Armenians in Hasköy, was broken because it became worn-out and its roof was ruined. Moreover, its plaster was peeling and the building was ruined to the degree that people could not perform any religious ceremonies in the church. A permit was requested for the restoration of the church by the Armenian Patriarchate. Thus, a permit was given for the church’s retiling of the roof and repairing of the plaster. However, the provision of the restoration was that an additional place was not to be built as in the above example38. Similar situations occurred for the Protestant Church belonging to Armenians in Alemdağı next to Üsküdar, the Surb Agop Church which belonged to Armenians in Zebiri village bound to Karahisar-i Şarki district of a province which

37 PMOA, HR. MKT., Document Number:32/75.
38 PMOA, HR. MKT., Document Number:9/24.

was tied to Trabzon41, the Meryem Ana Church which belonged to Armenians in Pinkan village tied to Divriği district of a province41, and the Meryem Ana Church which was opposite the Armenian Patriarchate that was in Kumkapı region of Istanbul42.

The restoration of roofs and walls generally took place on the applications together. There were not many applications for repairing the two parts separately. In one example, permission was given to restore the church’s roof which belonged to Armenians in Kastor village of Eleşkirt tied to Bayezid subdivision. In another example, an application was made for permission to restore the walls of the Double Church belonging to Armenians in Van39.

b. The Restoration of Rooms

On the applications for church restoration, another location to be repaired was a room which was next to the church. They may be the ones which were for general usage or for personal use by the priests. The Armenian Patriarchate and the National Assembly petitioned for the restoration of existing rooms for visitors which were in the Surp Karabet Monastery that belonged to the Armenian congregation in Maraş. The rooms were not able to be used because of damage from snow and rain. The government gave permission for their being restored under the provisions of their remaining true to their previous structure40.

c. The Repair of Women’s Sections

Another location for which an application was made for restoration was the women’s section in the church. Actually, these applications were fairly enlightening because they showed the interaction between two cultures, and the active factor in this interaction was Turkish custom. In fact, worship was held collectively in Christian churches. However, because of the influence Turkish culture in Armenian communities, two sections were formed in the Armenian churches and one of them was called the women’s section.

39 PMOA, İ. HR., Document Number:36/50.
40 PMOA, HR. MKT., Document Number:35/38.

The clearest example of this interaction was in the church belonging to Armenians in Yozgat. The church had been repaired earlier but the section that was used for women’s praying was not restored at the time owing to the people’s poverty. Since the women were not willing to pray together with the men, they were not able to attend church services. Therefore, the Armenian Patriarchate and the National Assembly applied to repair the place which was built for women’s praying 41.


As part of the investigation of applications for church restoration, the Ottoman State had to consider the cost of restoration, the changes and additions that were to be made, and the land that was required.

A. The applications made by the Armenian authorities were submitted for either the reconstruction of a church by its being completely collapsed or the restoration of the damaged parts of a church. According to the applications which were submitted for either reconstruction or restoration, it was necessary to show the changes which were to be made in the plans. The plan was important for the government for three reasons. First, the government was able to see what needed to be done. Secondly, they could determine the approximate expenses for the work42. Thirdly, they could check the measurements before and after the construction43.

b. Cost of Restoration

The money which was necessary for church restoration was covered sometimes by the government, by church waqfs (a religious endowment), by church congregations or by philanthropies. However, collecting money from the people by force to cover the expenses of church restoration was not given permission in any way. It is possible for us to see in the archive documents the kinds of payments which were made. The Ottoman State generally took the responsibility for covering the cost of the restoration the churches. Moreover, it continued to do

41 PMOA, HR. MKT., Document Number:32/70.
42 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.
43 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:949/75124.

this until the end of the Empire. For example, it was approved in 1919 for the Armenian Church in Ergani to be repaired by payment from the government budget because it was not found acceptable to leave the Armenian Church in a damaged state44.

There were other situations where church restoration was covered by local management. A good example of this took place in Kayseri. It was difficult and more expensive to find stone for building restoration. Part of the Kayseri castle which was in Kiçikapı was in ruins and dangerous for people. The municipality demolished it and took some of stones from the ramparts and sold them cheaper to the tomb of prayer leader Zeynelabidin and the Armenian Church in order to rebuild the tomb and the church. That the municipality met the needs of the church by sales may not be seen as the material aid which was granted by the government for church restoration. However, it is stated in the document that the money –gaining from the sales of stone that was given- which was paid by both the church and the tomb to the municipality was so little that it did not cover the expenses of the demolition which the money was used for45.

In another example, church restoration was covered by the church’s congregation. In Göynük village of Ova district of a province tied to Erzurum, the expenses of restoration were covered by the church congregation. It was explained in the document that all of the expenses which were fixed as 15,000 piaster (150 Ottoman gold lira) were covered by the people who were from the Armenian congregation who had money; no aid was requested from anywhere else and the government approved of this46.

c. Rejected Additions
Another decision by the government was the constructions of new additions which were added to the plan that had not previously been part of the church. However, the additions were not always approved

44 PMOA, MV., Document Number:215/92; DH. ŞFR., Document Number:99/143.
45 PMOA, DH. MKT., Document Number:73/1405.
46 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.

by the government. For instance, the plan for an Armenian church to be restored in Göynük -the village of Erzurum- showed buildings which did not exist earlier. The government announced a decision not give a license for the new building47. In addition, the government laid down the condition that they would not hang a large bell in the church. The State gave permission under this condition48.

d. Land

The Ottoman State supported church repair and gave importance to it; furthermore, it fulfilled its responsibility to protect the land that belonged to the churches. Under some conditions, the land which was next to the property of the church that was going to be repaired was able to be added to the church’s property at the time of restoration. However, the tax for the property which was going to be added was the responsibility of the church and the Ministry of Finance was informed about this situation49.

The property which was next to the Armenian church in Göynük village was privately owned by Vartan who was from the village. It was added to the property of the church which was to be repaired. Three yards were added to the each of the four sides of the property of the church. The part which was 3 and a half yards in width and 6 yards in height was added to the church property and designed as a garden encircled by walls50.

In a further example, after the Armenian Patriarchate announced that two fields which belonged to the Armenian church that was registered as the numbers 154 and 155 on the record book and was in Molla Süleyman village in Eleşkirt were taken over by Zilanlı Selim Pasha several years ago. The fields had been registered in the name of Ohannes who was an Armenian. However, whether the person was alive or not was not known and the fields were in bad condition. Therefore, the fields were given freely to the sons of Selim Pasha, who were Arslan, Hasan

47 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.
48 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.
49 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.
50 PMOA, İ. DH., Document Number:1120/87542.

and Bekir Bey, and the fields were recorded in their names on the title deed. Although there was no record showing that they would give the fields back to the church51.

It is possible for the researchers who are interested in the topic to find in the Ottoman Archives several documents from the church books which were about church restoration. Besides the documents about Armenian churches, the documents about different religious congregations’ restoration and construction are considerable. However, the information on the archive documents is parallel with the information on the documents which we generally used while carrying out our study52.

The information which we found in the archive documents expresses clearly that the governors of the Ottoman State behaved sensitively and fulfilled their responsibilities by doing their best to protect the religious rights of the Armenian congregations. Their sensitivity ensured a tolerant atmosphere between the Turkish and Armenian communities, and the Ottoman State supported the conditions which would be to the advantage of the Armenian congregations and attempted to find a solution for the conditions which would damage the social harmony.

In making a decision on the applications for church reconstruction, the government’s aim was not only to satisfy one part of the society but

51 PMOA, DH. MUİ., Document Number:49-2/25-1, 2, 3, 4.
52 1 Numaralı Kilise Defteri, Document Number:443, p.175 (about the restoration of the Armenian Church in Sivas); 4 Numaralı Kilise Defteri, pp.74-75 (belonging to the restoration of the Armenian Protestant Church in Bağçecik district.); 4 Numaralı Kilise Defteri, p.145 (about granting permission to the Armenian Church called Surp Agop in the Şugul Baba district of Gürün small town died to Sivas); 4 Numaralı Kilise Defteri, p.150 (a license is granted for the restoration of the Armenian Church in Everek village tied to Kayseri because it is ruined); Numaralı Kilise Defteri, Document Number:722/174, p.257 (about the restoration of the Armenian Church called Surp Agop in Hafik district of Sivas); 6 Numaralı Kilise Defteri, Document Number:2070/4579, p.105 (belonging to the restoration of the Protestant Church in Mamuratü’l-Aziz); 6 Numaralı Kilise Defteri, Document Number:2149/4589, p.107 (about granting license for the rebuilding of the Protestant Church in Merzifon with a bell tower because it is ruined). It is possible to increase the number of these documents.

also satisfy the whole society. Furthermore, their decisions--positive and negative--taken after the research was carried out was evaluated. The aim of this evaluation was to ensure that the harmony among the people would continue. This aim of the Ottoman State played an important role in solving any the disagreement between Turks and Armenians in their relations.


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