1347) Armenian Catholic Church And Society In The Ottoman Empire

Assist. Prof Dr. M. Bürkan SERBEST
Kafkas University Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences / Kars

The relationship between Ottomans and Armenians first began in the period of Orhan Bey. The spiritual center of the Armenians, which had been in Cotyaeum (Kütahya), was moved to Prussa (Bursa). After Sultan Mehmet II “The Conqueror” had made Istanbul the capital of the new Empire in 1461, the Armenian Patriarchate was established in Samatia in Istanbul. Administrative and religious privileges were given to the Armenians.1 Since then, Armenians were organized as the “Gregorian Nation” in the “Ottoman Nation System”. In the Ottoman Nation System all Armenians were qualified as pre-chalcedonian (the Christian groups which did not accept the decisions of the Chalcedonia Council dated 451). All pre-chalcedonian religious groups (Armenians, members of the Coptic Church and Syrian Orthodox Church), whether belonging to the Armenian ethnicity or not, endorsed the authority of the Armenian Patriarchate.2 . .
1 Erdal İlter, Ermeni Kilisesi ve Terör, http://www.cagdastoplum.org/yayinda/ekitap/ermenikilesesiveteror.htm (24.01.2006).

2 John Whooley, “The Armenian Catholic Church: A Study in History and Ecclesiology”, HeyJ, XLV, 2004, p.417-418.

Ottoman Society was divided into groups called “nations” which were based on religion. Taxes were collected, and education and jurisdiction (judicial authority) were organized and executed by the leaders of religious communities in the context of these groups. There was decentralization based on religion for judicial and managerial organization. Language and race were also important in forming the “nations”; however, religion superseded these. Although Armenians spoke the same language, Armenians were divided into the Armenian-Catholic and Armenian-Protestant nations. However, Bulgarian and Greek people were in the same nation because of their common religon. Turks, Albanians, Arabs and other Muslim groups took their place in the “Islam Nation”. 3

The Etchmiadzin Church near Yerevan formed the oldest spiritual center for Armenians. There were many Katogigos or Catholicos (patriarchs), who were highly spiritual. The Armenian spiritual center was later moved to today’s Kozan district (Sis) during the Mongolian invasion in the 13th. Century. After the Mongolian invasion some of the Armenian people returned to Etchmiadzin and this region again became an important spiritual center.4 However, the Sis region retained spiritual importance as the Clicia Armenian community remained there making it a center for the Armenian Catholic Community.

Armenians’ first meeting with Catholicism occurred when the Clicia Armenian Kingdom was captured by the Lusignan dynasty in the 14th century after the crusades. During this time, Catholics who settled in Clicia did missionary work, and Armenians became Catholics in limited numbers.5 Again in the 14th century, in other parts of Anatolia, Catholic missionaries were active. Under the leadership of Pope Jean XXII these activities increased. Following missionary activities carried out by Dominican priests in 1328, a religion called “united brotherhood” was formed by the newly Catholic-Armenians. 6

No sooner had Suleiman the Magnificent acknowledged the capitulation to France, then the Catholic missionaries who were under the

3 İlber Ortaylı, İmparatorluğun En Uzun Yüzyılı, İstanbul, 2006, p.173.
4 Önder Kaya, Tanzimat’tan Lozan’a Azınlıklar, İstanbul, 2004, pp.46-47.
5 Levon Panos Dabağyan, Türkiye Ermenileri Tarihi, İstanbul 2005, p.457.
6 Önder Kaya, p.118.

protection of France began to increase their activities. After the treaty between France and the Ottoman Empire was renewed in 1604, France obtained the privilege of protection for the Catholic groups in Ottoman lands.7 With the knowledge of this protection, Catholic missions started to increase in the 17th century. At this time a Roman priest named Galanus was sent to Istanbul on a private mission by the Pope.

After Galanus entered Istanbul in 1641, he contacted the Armenians who had become Catholic in the time of the crusades and supported and encouraged their Catholic activities. After this increase in Catholic activities, many Armenians switched to Catholicism. Galanus’ arrival and involvement in the community sparked unrest among many of the non-Catholic Armenians, and shortly thereafter he left Istanbul. 8

According to a ferman (Imperial decree), dated 1696, some Armenian people petitioned the Ottoman Sultan complaining about the Armenians who had converted to another religion. Some of the Armenian leaders wanted those people to be stopped and punished. The Ottoman Sultan ordered that necessary precautions be taken after receiving these reports. During 1701 and 1702, in the time of the second Mustafa, in some of the Armenian districts there were arguments about these changes in religious affiliations, and riots ensued. 9

Mekhitar from Sivas, who was an Armenian priest and a member of the Benedictine Order, started the Mekhitarist Movement. The supporters of this movement made their focus the conversion of as many Armenians to Catholicism as possible. Mekhitar settled in a monastery near Venice in 1700 with a goal of uniting the Roman and Armenian churches. His monastery was turned into a missionary center. This center became very effective and many Gregorian Armenians were converted to Catholicism. This situation outraged the Gregorian Armenians, and in 1701 the Armenian Patriarchate asked the government to arrest Catholics and confiscate their printing houses. 10

7 Erdem Çakır, Tarihte Ermenilerin Dini Yapısı, http://www.geocities.com/begunay/z25..htm (20.01.2006).
8 Levon Panos Dabağyan, pp.473-474.
9 Önder Kaya, pp.118-119.
10 Önder Kaya, p.119.

The center of the Mekhitarists moved to the south of the Mora Peninsula in 1703, and moved again in 1715 to Venice. St.Lazarus Island was assigned to Mekhitar and the priests by the Venetian Republic. A Mekhitaran Monastery was founded there. The work done by Mekhitarist priests became effective in the development of nationalism among the Armenian Catholics. Mikael Camcıyan, who was a member of the Mekhitarists from 1784 to 1786, wrote a history of the Armenians. His books were printed in Armenian and became very popular among the Ottoman Armenians. 11

After increasing the population of Catholic Armenians, Pope Benedictus XIV acknowledged the Armenian priest Abraham Ardzivian of Clicia as the official Armenian Catholic Patriarch. Ardzivian started his use of the “Patriarch” title with the name Abraham Peter I.12 However, the Catholic Armenian community wasn’t officially acknowledged by the Ottoman government. After the 1811 Bucharest Treaty, Armenians declared that they were Catholic. 13 As a result, in 1820 the new Catholic Armenian Patriarch wanted to introduce some Catholic ceremonies into Armenian religious practice. This attempt caused a negative reaction and the Patriarchate was suppressed.14

The situation changed during the period of Mahmut II, on January 5, 1831, Catholics in the Ottoman Empire were accepted as a separate community and15placed under the direction of the Catholic Armenian Patriarchate. The Vatican Papacy was the unique Catholic center of the world. They wanted to bring this new group under their administration. The Ottoman Empire didn’t accept this wish, and the Papacy was not granted control of the Armenian Catholics.16 However, the Vatican continued its activities as a “Religious Representative” in Beyoglu Sakizagaci

11 Önder Kaya, p.119.
12 John Whooley, p.416.
13 Erdem Çakır, Tarihte Ermenilerin Dini Yapısı, http://www.geocities.com/begunay/z25..htm (20.01.2006).
14 Ali Arslan, Kutsal Ermeni Papalığı, İstanbul, 2005, p.14.
15 Suavi Aydın, Anadolu Hıristiyanlığında Dönüşüm Misyoner Faaliyetlerinin Doğu
Hıristiyanlığı Üzerindeki Etkisi ve Modernleşme, http://www.kultur.gov.tr/portal/yazdir_tr.asp?belgeno=20064 (20.01.2006).
16 Önder Kaya, pp.120-121.

in Istanbul. An Armenian Catholic Church was built in the community by the Patriarchate during the Ottoman period. After the foundation of the Republic, the Patriarchate moved to Beirut.17

The church founded by the Patriarchate in 1831 was a center primarily for Armenian Catholics. Its activities motivated members of other ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire, who had ties to Catholicsim, to become Catholic. While the majority of the Catholic “nation” was still comprised of Armenians, other ethnicities started turning to the Patriarchate for leadership. In 1860, some Bulgarian nationalists wanted to build a Roman Catholic Church. As a result, at the end of 1860 some Bulgarian leaders, who were thought to be Catholic, visited an agent of the Patriarchate. After this the visit, the Armenian Patriarchate made an agreement with Hason Efendi (Armenian Catholic Patriarch) to allow the Bulgarians to use their own language in church instead of Latin, to maintain their Roman Catholic affiliation and to allow their priests to be Bulgarian.18

In 1856, Bab-ı Ali (Sublime Port) wanted the foundation of a commission for regulating and managing each “nation’s” works. Many regulations were established between 1862 and 1865. Every nation’s regulations that were accepted by the commission were approved by Bab-ı Ali.19 In 1911, the regulation of the Armenian Catholic church was begun to prepare. [In this period Greek Patriarchete, Bulgarian Exarchate, Chaldean Catholic Church continued to prepare their regulations]. These works were finished in 1913.20 After the foundation of the Turkish Republic, the move of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate from Istanbul to Beirut saved the existence of the Armenian Catholic Church.

Today Armenian Catholics who kept ties with their roots in Istanbul have maintained beautiful architecture in places throughout the city. These

17 Levon Panos Dabağyan, p.546.
18 İlber Ortaylı, p.116.
19 Önder Kaya, p.114,117.
20 Suavi Aydın, Anadolu Hıristiyanlığında Dönüşüm Misyoner Faaliyetlerinin Doğu Hıristiyanlığı Üzerindeki Etkisi ve Modernleşme, http://www.kultur.gov.tr/portal/yazdir_tr.asp?belgeno=20064 (20.01.2006).

Armenian Catholic churches which were opened from 1831 until the
beginning of the twentieth century. (Some of them are still open). 21


The Armenian Catholic Church and the community which is related to this church emerged because of the result of European missionaries’ activities in the early period of the Empire. Anatolia was an active area for both Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Until the 19th century, the Catholic Armenians were not recognized as a group or church by the Ottoman Empire. However, they protected their existence and made their position strong. During this time the Armenians who were in opposition to the Catholics became known as Gregorian Armenians. They often complained about the Catholic Armenians. In order to help protect the Catholic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, France interfered in the Empire’s internal affairs. In spite of this, the Catholic Armenians became an officially recognized group by the Ottomans. This group acted in accordance with its own religious tenets and was as treated as any other “nation” in the Empire.

21 Levon Panos Dabağyan,pp.271-275.


ARSLAN, Ali.: Kutsal Ermeni Papalığı, Truva Yayınları, İstanbul,2005.
AYDIN, Suavi.: “Anadolu Hıristiyanlığında Dönüşüm Misyoner Faaliyetlerinin
Doğu Hıristiyanlığı Üzerindeki Etkisi ve Modernleşme”, http://www.kultur.gov.tr/portal/yazdir_tr.asp?belgeno=20064 (20.01.2006).
ÇAKIR, Erdem.: “Tarihte Ermenilerin Dini Yapısı”, http://www.geocities.com/begunay/z25..htm (20.01.2006).
DABAĞYAN, Levon Panos.: Türkiye Ermenileri Tarihi, IQ Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık, İstanbul, 2005.
İLTER, Erdal.: “Ermeni Kilisesi ve Terör”, http://www.cagdastoplum.org/yayinda/ekitap/ermenikilesesiveteror.htm (24.01.2006).
KAYA, önder.: Tanzimat’tan Lozan’a Azınlıklar, Yeditepe Yayınevi, İstanbul 2004.
ORTAYLI, İlber.: İmparatorluğun En Uzun Yüzyılı, İstanbul, 2006.
WHOOLEY, John.: “The Armenian Catholic Church: A Study in History and Ecclesiology”, HeyJ, XLV, 2004.

Source: © Erciyes University 2006


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