1285) Samples of Interaction between Cultures in Ottoman Administration: Relations of Abdulhamid II with Armenian Statesmen

Relations of Abdulhamid II with Armenian Statesmen[1]

Serkan Gül

The Saint Stefano and the Berlin Congress, both were dated 1878, have been admitted as the events that 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 agenda of the Ottoman Empire for a long time.

Through the Abdulhamid’s 33 years of reign, the Armenians repeatedly revolted against the state. The Armenian Question turned such a problem that it went beyond being the Ottoman Empire’s internal problem and turned an international campaign against the Ottoman Empire. It would not be misconception to define the reason of existing situation as a result of international power struggle and political rivalry.

The Great Powers followed the policy of supporting the Armenians unconditionally against the Ottoman Empire on the 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 enemy and killer of the Armenians. Thus he was called as ‘the Red Sultan’.[2]

In this point, this question should be asked: Was Abdulhamid really an enemy of the Armenians and did he really follow a policy of massacring the Armenians? Answer of the question can be very comprehensive but a part of the answer will be evaluated here. If Abdulhamid will be admitted as an enemy of the Armenians, the activities of Abdulhamid must have been coherent with this claim. However, when the reign of Abdulhamid is closely searched, it is seen that there are many examples proving just the opposite of the claims.

Accusing Abdulhamid with unconditional enmity against Armenians requires evidences supporting the accusations. However, many examples prove that not only Abdulhamid did not have an intrinsic enmity against the Armenians but also he had a great confidence to the loyal Armenian citizens. The given examples will demonstrate that Abdulhamid clearly distinguished the rebel Armenians from the loyal Armenian citizens.

It is a well known fact that many Armenian statesmen and bureaucrats served in different state institutions of the Ottoman Empire. The number of the Armenians served in the central offices were determined as 2.633.[3] They were mostly deployed in the Ministries of Finance, Hazine-yi Hassa, Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs and Justice. There were many ministers and high rank bureaucrats among the Armenian officials. Besides the bureaucrats in the center, there were many officials who served in the provinces.[4]

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 disfavoring of the Rums, who had been very effective in the state administration for a long time, after the Greek independence, the Armenian statesmen became highly favorable in the Ottoman Empire. And the Armenians began to be called as Millet-i Sadıka (Loyal Nation) because of their services and loyalty to the state.[5]

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 are very 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 will not be exaggerating...’’[6] the words of Abdulhamid, which continue likewise, state expressly favorable condition that the Armenians had.

Although Abdulhamid have always been accused of being the most oppressive Sultan against the Armenians, contrarily the Armenians took part in the state service at the utmost level. Some of the most noteworthy of these officials were Hazine-yi Hassa Ministers of Abdulhamid; Agop Kazazyan, Ohannes Sakız and Mikail Pashas. In addition to these names, Gabriel Noradunkyan and Artin Dadyan Pasha were some other important figures of the Hamidian Era.

Agop Kazazyan was one of the most prominent figures held service in the Hamidian Era. As well as significant tasks he held in the Ottoman State service. He also received personal trust and friendship of Abdulhamid. The sources quote that Agop was the member of a poor family and he did not receive any higher education.[7] However, he came to 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 works here. It is claimed that he especially leaped up after uncovering a 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 responsibility of both ministries.[8] Agop Kazazyan’s nomination to the Hazine-yi Hassa was very important because this post was only open to individuals who have personal trust of the Sultan.[9]

With the accession of Agop as the Minister of Hazine-yi Hassa, the execution of “Emlak-ı Müdevvere” (the endorsement of estates) came to the agenda in order to increase the amount of lands and incomes.[10] During the era of Sultan Abdulmecid, some lands had been unnoticed or had stayed in the hands of the others while Emlak-ı Humayun was being transferred to the Finance Revenue.[11] These lands were tried to be reenrolled in Hazine-yi Hassa. This kind of a considerably significant job was carried out by Agop Kazazyan. Kazazyan also made the involvement of several lands’ customs 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; “Buna delalet edenlerin hizmetlerini 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]

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 sapient finance officer. He managed my possessions fruitfully and increased their income up to 500.000 liras (golden) per a year. It was an exceptional idea to convert the lands not owned by private and the trust estates ownerships to the Sultan’s possession.’[13]

The point to take notice in here is that Agop Pasha performed his tasks in a way asked and appreciated frankly by the Sultan, but not the policies of Agop Pasha. Besides, Sultan Abdulhamid was not contented with appreciating Agop Pasha by parol. Kazazyan was adorned by second-degree order of Mecidiye, first-degree order of Osmani, rank of vizierate, order of Murassa Ali Osman, Murassa Mecidiye and order of privilege was granted 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 parcels located in Thessalonica and Nisantasi.[14]

The well-known dialog between Kazazyan and Abdulhamid reveals the close relation of Agop Pasha and the Sultan. The sultan asks him where he goes and what he would do when he leave 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 end the life of Agop bitterly. He fall 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 promise her that he will meet all her needs. After she heard the Sultan’s profound grief caused by the death of her son, she says “Whether one of my sons died, the other is still alive. The God grants a long life to our Sultan.”[15]

In general, it is clear that the reason of Abdulhamid’s appreciation for Agop Pasha is not the facilitation of increase in income by Agop Pasha via managing the possessions of him successfully. It is the fact that the practices of Agop Pasha made him admirable in the eyes of the Sultan. However, the Sultan also entertained humanly sentiments for Agop Pasha like his profound trust. Moreover, the dialogs 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, an Armenian statesman, Mikail Pasha, again was assigned to the Ministry of Hazine-yi Hassa. After his service in Chamber of Translation (Bab-ı Ali Tercüme Odası) as a pioneer, he maintained his state service in “Şura-yi Devlet Nafia Dairesi, Galata Gümrüğü Nezareti, Beyrut Rüsumat Nezareti. He would also be the 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.[16]

Like his predecessor Agop Pasha, Mikail Pasha gave a great effort in the aim of increasing the incomes of Hazine-yi Hassa. He eased many lands and privileges to Emlak-i Humayun. The following words of Abdülhamid show us the satisfaction of the Sultan due to his service; “Mikail Pasha is a better administrator, too. He succeeded to increase the imperial incomes by issuing some privileges to big companies.’[17]

For his services, Mikail Pasha was adorned by Abdulhamid with the first rank Ali Osman order. The Pasha was given the rank of vizierate and pasha in 1893. In addition to these ranks, he was distinguished with golden order of merit, golden and silver orders of privilege and Murassa Mecidi order.[18]

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 was established in 1868 he was nominated to the first department of Muhakemat Şubesi as the consultant. At the end of the same year he was nominated as the member of the Şura-yi Devlet. Thanks to successes in his works he could undertake the General Secretary of the Foreign Affairs, which was extremely critical and important position, for three months in 1871. He became the Consultant of the Trade Ministry in 1872, 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 uninterruptedly kept his position for 17 years. He was finally nominated as the Minister of Hazine-yi Hassa with decease of Mikail Pasha in 1897.[19]

During the office of Ohannes Pasha, operation of the Baghdad-Basra ships and privileges of the Baghdad-Basra oils were bound to the Hazine-yi Hassa. Despite the attempts to increase incomes, the Hazine-yi Hassa fell into a great depression and budget deficiency emerged. Thus the Hazine-yi Hassa were assigned to the Treasury with its incomes and debts.[20]

Despite all the problems, works 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, Murassa Honor. And he was given the rank of vizierate in 1907. Ohannes Pasha resigned from the Ministry in 1908. Soon after Abdulhamid nominated the pasha to membership of the Ayan Mecisi but he did not accept the membership by excusing his health and age.[21]

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 could gain personal admiration of Abdulhamid. However, during the office of Ohannes Pasha, the Hazine-yi Hassa was tottering on the verge of bankruptcy. Still he could continue to his job and he was also rewarded with many orders. After his resignation from the office, Abdulhamid nominated him to the membership of the Ayan Meclisi. All these should be considered as the reflection of Abdulhamid’s personal trust and sympathy towards Ohannes Pasha.

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

Gabriel Noradunkyan (1852-1941) studied in France and joined to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1875. And 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.[22] It is known that Abdulhamid was appreciating 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 that notified Abdulhamid his abdication from the throne. This event was a result of changing political situation and that deeply bothered Abdulhamid. Thus Abdulhamid had 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 served in the Foreign Affairs. 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 of Finance. All these services brought his appointment as the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Abdulhamid.[23] It should be noted that his appointment to such a critical position in 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 favor of Abdulhamid. Galip Kemali Bey, who worked with Artin Pasha, wrote in his memoirs by stressing fastidiousness and sensitivity of the Sultan in the state affairs that Artin Pasha harmoniously worked with Abdulhamid. Artin Pasha ‘could calm the Sultan and take responsibility even in very critical periods. Thus the Sultan’s sympathy towards him became greater.’[24]

The last sample will be about the Armenian Patriarch Ormanyan Effendi. Although the Armenian Patriarchs were not member 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 for submitting his gratitude. During the visit the Patriarch demanded from the Sultan forgiving of 1200 Armenian prisoners jailed for political crimes and this demand was accepted by Abdulhamid. Moreover death penalties of thirty Armenian prisoners were changed to lifelong imprisonment.[25]


Beside the mentioned figures many other Armenian statesmen took service in the Ottoman bureaucracy. Here arises a question: There is a fact that thousand of the Armenian statesmen served in the Ottoman administration in the high ranks during the Hamidian Era. On the other hand Abdulhamid is accused of being an Armenian hater. Thus how can we interpret these two contradictory judgments?

When it is considered that the Armenians revolted in many parts of the Ottoman Empire and they even attempted an assassination to the Sultan in the capital of the Empire, the Ottoman Empire had undoubtedly to take necessary precautions. However something should not be disregarded that despite all these events Abdulhamid sharply distinguished loyal Armenian citizens and rebels.

The Armenians extensively took part in the 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 personal trust and admiration of the Sultan and they always received recompense for their services in return. The Turkish-Armenian relations with a deep historical background had always demonstrated the best examples of social interaction until for a long time. As a part of this interaction, undertaking of many Armenian statesmen in the Ottoman state service stands as an important subject that needs to be emphasized carefully.

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 excessively benefited from their knowledge and talents.

[1] Serkan Gül, Erciyes University, Faculty of Art and Science in Yozgat, Department of History.

[2] Joan Haslip, Bilinmeyen Sultan II. Abdülhamid, İstanbul, 2001, p. 250.

[3] Ayşe Tozduman Terzi, Osmanlı Maliyesinde Söz Sahibi Üç Nazır, Uluslararası Türk-Ermeni İlişkileri Sempozyumu, İstanbul, 2001, p. 21.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] Abdülhamid, Siyasi Hatıralarım, Istanbul, 1999, p.72.

[7] 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.

[8] Terzi, op.cit., p. 22-23

[9] Dabağyan, op.cit., p. 273

[10] Vasfi Şensözen, Osmanoğullarının Varlıkları ve II. Abdülhamid’in Emlaki, Ankara, 1982, p. 41

[11] Şensözen, op.cit., p. 41

[12] Mehmet Sait, Sait Paşa’nın Hatıratı, cilt.2, İstanbul, 1328 (1910), p. 216

[13] Şensözen, op.cit., p. 43

[14] Terzi, op.cit., p. 24

[15] Çark, op.cit., p. 159

[16] Terzi, op.cit., p 25

[17] Şensözen, op.cit., p. 43

[18] Çark, op.cit., p. 161

[19] Çark, op.cit., p.163

[20] Terzi, op.cit., p. 27

[21] Terzi, op.cit., p. 28

[22] Çark, op.cit., p. 155

[23] Çark, op.cit., p.148

[24] Çark, op.cit., p.150

[25] Dabağyan, op.cit., p.311

Source: © Erciyes University 2006


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