1358) Evangelization Of Armenians In Erzurum And Everek By American Board Missionaries

Assist Prof Dr. Şakir BATMAZ
Erciyes University Faculty of Arts and Science Department of History / Kayseri


The Ottoman Empire had a constitution which allowed for different religions and races. The tolerance shown to non-Muslims in this constitution in terms of religion, language, customs, and traditions led Ottoman lands to be open to missionary activities in the period when the political power of the government was weak. The main reason for being active in the missionaries in the Ottoman lands were, of course, not of religious concerns, for the Ottoman Empire formed one of the pivotal points of the world geography politically and strategically since she was situated between the Mediterranean and . . the Basra (Persian/Arabic) Gulf through which one could reach the Far East in the shortest time1. Economically, rich mineral resources were found on the Ottoman lands. In addition, it had an extensive source of crude metal and its lands were fertile, which attracted the missionaries. Further, Jeruslem was still under the sovereignty of the Turkish Muslim world in spite of the

1 Bilal Şimşir, “Ermeni Propagandasının Amerikan Boyutu Üzerine”, Tarih Boyunca
Türklerin Enmeni Toplumu ile İlişkileri Sempozyumu, Ankara 1985, p.111.

fighting which lasted for years2. The richness of the resources of Anatolia and the Middle East under the rule of the Ottomans, the quality of the markets they owned and their means of access had aroused the interests of the United States since 1830. It will be appropriate to give information about the activities performed by the missionaries and the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire before talking about the organization’s activities in eastern Anatolia. The government of the United States had initiated a research immediately after the agreementn signed with the Ottoman Empire inquiring about the resources these lands had and how, and to what extend and in what means and ways theses riches could be exqloited for the benefit of the United States. The United States government made use of the missionaries directly to fulfill her aims.

According to the beliefs of Christians, Jesus (Isa) gave a sermon saying to his apostles gathered around him: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world3. The apostles were the first missionaries. When the words mission and missionary are considered with its special meaning used today, it is possible to call a mission the enterprise that the Christians carry out to convert non-Christian societies and missionary is the person who carries out the mission. While this is their main duty, they sometimes served as a means of rivalry among the Christian sects, too4. The activities of the members of the American Board in converting the Armenians into Protestantism in the period the Ottoman Empire will be discussed in this paper. Everek (modern Develi, district of Kayseri) and Erzurum, the two important centers of the eastern and western missions, are chosen as examples. All the activities carried out by the missionaries have been scrutinized using documents of the American Board and the memoirs of the missionaries, such as Eli Smith.

2 Necdet Sevinç, Ajan Okulları, İstanbul 1975, p.26.
3 King James Bible, Matt. 28:19-20
4 Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Pitmon Pres, England 1983,p.695.

1-The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions

The first Protestant missionaries began to come to the Ottoman territories beginning in the 17th century. This was followed by the American missionaries Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons who arrived in Izmir on January 15, 1820. These two missionaries were members of the missionary organization called the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) which was founded in Boston in 1820 by the Congregationalists who follow Calvinistic doctrine. They were one of the three main representatives of Puritan movement beginning to develop in eastern England and America at the end of the 16th century and the 17th century. According to the constitution of ABCFM, fostered from donations of millions of dollars by thousands of devout Protestants in the US in 1868, its aim is to spread Christianity among the so-called atheists. There were more than 80 Protestant missionary organizations in 1886. The origin of 32 of them was in the US, 24 of them in England, and 25 of them in Europe. In 1896, America had more than 30-35% of the Protestant missionary organizations in the world. The largest portion belonged to ABCFM. The Ottoman Empire became the sphere of the American missionaries’ efforts when the Protestant missionary organization divided up the world among its member churches.

Even in the USA, ABCFM was sometimes accused of forming an administration against the existing political order, when it handed over its authority in all the fields to its missionaries. Formerly, no salaries were paid to the missionaries until 1843; only their expenses were covered by ABCFM. Until 1844, the strict Money Policy of the missions spared even one single horse as a means of transportation from the missionaries. In addition, they had a life of ease in the country they were in, and this caused a continual friction between the missionaries and local Christians5.

The Board’s main struggle had been to recognize the minority groups in the Ottoman Empire after the arrival of Fisk and Parsons in Izmir in

5 Uygur Kocabaşoğlu, Kendi Belgeleriyle Anadolu’da ki Amerika -19. Yüzyılda Osmanli İmparatorluğundaki Amerikan Misyoner Okulları, Akba Yayınları, İstanbul 1991, p.41.

1820. The initial activities of missionaries were directed at addressing not only the non-Muslim subjects but also everybody who was an Ottoman subject. In compliance with their mission the American missionaries began to get close contact with the convert Muslims who formerly were Jewish the Christians like Assyrian or Nestorian belonging to the old Eastern Churches, Orthodox Armenians, Greeks and Bulgarians.

Nearly a year later after the arrival of missionaries in Izmir, a Greek rebellion took place in 1821. These rebellions resulted in the foundation of independent Greek government which was welcomed with sympathy in the USA. Such a worm welcome towards this rebellion in America was the wort of the Hellenic Solidarity Movement in the USA. As a result of their activities, the American Board missionaries included the Greeks in their missionary activities they carried out their responsibilities around and in Izmir and Sakız where Ottoman subjects of Greeks were living6.

However, on the second research trip of two missionaries, Eli Smith and Harrison Gray Otis Dwight, which lasted nearly a year and took place nearly ten years after their first expedition, their report shows that the defiance of the Jews, the Muslims and others toward converting into Protestantism was not worth the effort and the investment. Thus, this approach was stopped. Then, it was decided that the Christian minorities which would offer a more productive area would be those whose spiritual and material condition were weak or corrupted such as the Armenians7.

The above mentioned approach beginning in 1850s with activities in Anatolia by the American missionaries made it necessary both to change the constitution of the organization and to establish a new kind of interaction with the local authorities. The organization had a period of growth between 1840 and 1870. The number of missionary stations being 5 in 1839 reached 17 in 1870; the number of the distant stations connected to them was over 180. This increase occurred from west to

6 Gülbadi Alan, Protestan Amerikan Misyonerleri, Anadolu’daki Rumlar ve Pontus Meselesi, Erciyes Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, Vol.10, Kayseri 2001, p.185.
7 Hülagü, ibid, p.23.

east with Istanbul as the main center. The reasons were that Istanbul was the biggest metropolis of the Ottoman Empire in terms of population, that the Armenians in this city were more intelligent, more intellectual or more educated than the Armenians in other parts of the Empire, that the Armenians from all over the world came there to work, that most of the Ottoman pashas in the hinterland depended on financial agents in Istanbul. These reasons multiplied the importance of the city in terms of missionary activity. Missionary stations were also established in Trabzon, Bursa and Izmir but keeping Istanbul the main center8.

In 1860, Antep became the capital city of the central Turkey Mission with its 5 stations and 20 outlying stations. The number of members registered to the 12 Protestant churches in the region reached 600; this rapid development obligated them to separate the areas between the missions. When it became certain that the activities would involve mainly Armenians, the name of the mission which was Western Turkey changed to the Armenian Mission. The activities aimed at Greeks and Jews were nearly stopped with the Armenians’ gaining importance for missionary work.

In the annual assembly held in Harput in 1860, the decision was made for the missionary activities, which were by now Armenian oriented, to be administered by three missions. This division would not change until the end of 19th century. The region west of the line from Trabzon to Mersin formed the Western Mission. The stations of this mission were Istanbul, Merzifon, Izmir, Kayseri, Bursa, Manisa and Sivas. The Central Turkey Mission existed in a triangle-shaped area remaining along the line from the south of Sivas to Mersin and from Mersin to Halep. Antep, Halep, Adana, Antakya and Maraş were the important stations of this mission and Antep was made the centre. The areas existing to the east of these two missions constituted the Eastern Turkey Mission9.

Kayseri was accepted as an important centre of the Western Mission and missionary activities began at the beginning of 1827. The first American Board missionary coming to Kayseri was the priest Elnathan

8 Kocabaşoğlu, ibid, pp.91-92.
9 Kocabaşoğlu, ibid, pp.94-95.

Gridley. Gridley left Boston in 1827 and arrived in Kayseri with his Armenian teacher to investigate Kayseri and its district and to learn Turkish. However, he contracted malaria and died in 1827. He was buried on the hillside of Erciyes Mountain, which was covered with snow. He had wanted to prove the theses of the ancient geographer Strabon, which claimed that both the Mediterranean and Blacksea could be viewed from the pinnadle of the mount Erciyes10.

Missionary groups came years later after the priest Gridley had tried to establish a mission in the region. Three stations tied to Kayseri were founded in 1870. They were Yozgat, Niğde, Aksaray, Sungurlu and Talas stations11. The Kayseri station began to take money, even it was little, from the Armenians as a compensation for their activities. Although the Talas mission was first founded as an outlying station tied to Kayseri mission in 1870, it became part of the central station in time. The Kayseri mission was integrated with Talas mission and over time Talas became the main station. Further, the missionaries rapidly increased their activities in Incesu, Muncusun, Tavlusun, Germir and Everek, the subject matter of this research and the centre of Develi, which was tied to the Kayseri Mission.

2-The First Missionaries In Everek

A missionary group of 20 people arrived in Everek in March, 1860 according to the information given by the first missionaries coming to Everek. The committee saw that the local people were fervent about their religious devotion, and this condition reflected positively on their works. The fact that an old woman gave 1000 piaster (40 dollars) for a small church to be built gave hope to the missionaries about being able to carry out extensive work. They saw Everek, including many outlying villages, as an important centre as Merzifon12. It was stated in the reports

10 Kocabaşoğlu, ibid, pp.91-92
11 Mustafa Dağlı, Anadolu’da Kurulan Yabancı Okullar ve Tesisler, Ph.D. Thesis, Kayseri 1991, p.26.
12 Papers of te American Board of Comissioner for Foreign Mission (ABCFM), Reel 583, No:618; Gülbadi Alan, Merzifofon Amerikan Koleji ve Anadolu’da ki Etkileri, Basılmamış Doktora Tezi Kayseri 2002.

of 1861-1862 that the work was given importance and Bible days were arranged as desired by the local people13.

The main reason for the missionaries’ intensifying their activities in Everek was the number of the Armenians there. It was mentioned in the missionary records that the Armenian population was nearly 4,000. It was stated in the 1878 (1295) yearbook of Kayseri that the male population of the town of Develi was 6,612; 3,526 were Muslim, 298 were Greek and 2,783 were Armenian14.

Another factor which made Everek attractive for missionaries was its access to other Greek and Armenian towns. This condition was focused on in the reports dated 1861-1862. In addition, it is also stated that the activities were being carried out intensively. The missionaries especially tried to convert the Armenian population by expressing that the things taught in Armenian churches were false and misleading. Further, they thought about opening a school. The missionaries coming here were seen as takva or devout by the local people. Wherever they went, the missionaries reflected themselves as patient, industrious and self-sacrifisind. The efforts of the missionaries declined with the passing time because they were not able to obtain the desired results from the work having begun with eagerness. Although this occasion was stated in the reports dated 1863-1864, its reasons were not mentioned. As a result of the operations which had continued for nearly four years, only a man aged over 60 chose to be a Protestant and donated all his property to the missionaries15. There were no reports of missionary activity in Develi after 1864.

This might lead one to think that the operations were stopped. However, this doesn’t mean that the American Missionaries stopped their activities completely after 1870. Taking the final decision about the issue was only possible with the search of archive documents of ABCFM after this date.

13 Papers of te American Board of Comissioner for Foreign Mission (ABCFM), Reel 583, No:625
14 Uygur Kocabaşoğlu- Murat Uluğtekin, Salnamelerde Kayseri, Kayseri 1998, p.48.
15 Papers of te American Board of Comissioner for Foreign Mission (ABCFM), Reel 583, No:636.

3-The Erzurum Armenians in the Travel Notes of Eli Smith

The Western Turkey mission consisted of Harput, Erzurum, Van, Bitlis and Mardin. The one which had the most important function among them was Harput. In addition to the schools opened there, health organizations, orphanages and organizations for aid showed the Board’s efforts to fulfill its organization’s aims in a wide area.

Erzurum station was one of the important stations in the Western Turkey Mission. It did not develop as Mardin and Harput stations in terms of religion and education in spite of its being founded many years earlier. The missionaries that came here were Eli Smith and Harrison Gay. The missionaries were idealistic enough to accept even death in their journey. They began their journey in Malta and from Istanbul followed the land route to Erzurum through Tokat. Joseph L. Grabill gave information about this journey in his book titled Protestant Diplomacy and the Near East. Besides, their aim was to widen the American culture on the minority that was not Jewish or Muslim, living in the cities along the coastal region. This movement on the Anatolian and Persian lands was started from Boston in January, 1830 by Eli Smith and Harrison Gay. After three weeks, Smith left both Malta and his newly married wife, Elizabeth, on their honeymoon. During the journey they made towards Istanbul, the two leaders had not got any Americans with them, except some westerners. They carried their camping equipment and their goods on mules in Anatolia. They were robbed. Smith became ill from cholera one or two times. He almost died the second time

Eli Smith’s organization sent him to this region to focus on the Armenians and in addition to study the commercial, social, historical and cultural structure of the city of Erzurum. He wrote about the community of Armenians in Erzurum in his memoirs which was published as Armenia in 1833:

The population of Erzurum was 100,000 a few years ago, before the big destruction of the plague. In our second visit, we were told that there were 11,733 Turkish homes and 4,645 Christian houses on which the government depended on the tax collection, and it was nearly 80,000 people in total at the time of the Russian invasion. The 50 houses of the Christian citizens belonged to the Greeks and 645 were Catholic Armenians, except nearly 19,000 people or 3,950 houses belonging to the Gregorian Armenians. Before we came there, nearly all the Christian folk had left from there. The city was so abandoned that I could not do more than tell briefly the conditions of it. Armenians were governed by bishops. The bishop’s leaving earlier prevented us from meeting him.

However, we got information from other people about his activities and character. He arranged seminaries for the people wishing to attend monasteries, and he did not assign people as priests who have not taken any lessons from him. It was probably a small organization and the studies were not in order. However lowly it was, this enterprise was very important. We had not got an opportunity to make a personal investigation because the last events made lots of damage to this situation. We learned in our investigations that no other schools were formed other than a special school for the education of Armenian priests. Although the number of the Armenians was a lot, it was interesting that they have only two churches. One of them was very small and the other was a dark and ugly building resembling a stable. The number of the priests was 32 which was sufficient. There were four Armenian monasteries with three or four Vartebeds [a doctor or teacher in the Armenian Church] living in two of them. They were not far from city, and they had enough funds to support themselves. However, all of them were abandoned now16.

Here, we first investigated examples of single graves separating the old burial places from one another in the big graveyard of the big church. They were made from stones carved into the shape of a ram. Armenians generally liked to process the gravestones which were the symbols of their occupation and the trade of death generaly in Smyrna [Izmir] and Constantinople. A catapult signifies that the person was married; scissors showed that he was a tailor; anvil and hammer represented a horseshoer; and a hammer, knife and a sole were the symbols of a shoemaker. A lot might be added to this kind of hieroglyphs. Most of them were stated with a table, a bottle, a cup or a violin; and a violin was on one of them. I did not know both the shapes of the graves and the motives of these absurd symbols but maybe in a pastoral country a symbol might be a

16 Eli Smith, Armenıa: Including a Journey, Boston 1833, p.127.

representative of a degree. The people mounting horse among the people fighting and the other symbols might be for conveying the items gained in abundance to the other generations as the good sides of life. These symbols were old and we searched the inscriptions to understand which nation erected them.

The Erzurum Armenian grammar school was extraordinarily big and developed by the support of the priest. The director of the school was a man of no profession who had 5 or 6 assistants, and the school was separated into different classes, including all the common branches from grammar to logic, and had 500 or 600 instructors. To obtain the exact number of the people living in a city in which the population was big was considerably hard. We were informed that half of the males could read. Although it was evident that the Armenians in Erzurum were more intelligent than the Turkish Armenians, the level of literacy rate was considerably higher than we expected. We did not learn that the Armenian women of the city were pleased with the school but we were persuaded that some of them could read.

In looking at the present state of the papal Armenians of these regions, it is important not to lose sight of the former Jesuit missions, to which they owe their existence as a sect. Erzurum was the headquarters of the Jesuits for Turkish Armenia, and was selected not only for its size, but because its commerce drew thither persons of other and distant nations, who might also feel their influence. Through the agency of the French embassador, they were furnished with strong fermans of protection, and took up their residence there in A.D. 1688. The Armenian bishop himself was among their first converts. But soon, other Armenian ecclesiastics raised a persecution, in which one of the Jesuits was put in irons, the rest were banished, and many of their converts heavily fined. The embassador’s influence restored them to the field of their labors, and such success attended them, that early in the last century they were obliged to divide their mission into two branches. One bearing the nane of St. Gregory the Illuminator, embraced Torzon (Tortoom) Hassan-kulaah, Kars, Bayezeed, Arabkir, and 40 villages. The other, named after St. Ignatius, embraced Ispir, Baiburt, Akhaltsikhe, Trabzon, Gümüshhane, and 27 villages. Each town contained more than 1500 papists. The number of papal Armenians in Erzurum, when it capitulated to the Russians, has been already stated at 645 houses. Two other informants estimated them at 400, and an Armenian bishop at only 200 or 300 houses. They had no church, their baptisms, burial services, and most of their marriages were performed by the Armenian clergy; and in apportioning taxes to the different sects, the government always included them among the Armenians17.

4-The Foundation of the Western Turkey Mission and Erzurum

The Western Turkey Mission presented a different significance in the name of American Board because the Armenian population was danser in this than other regions. The degree of education of the Armenians living there was lower than the Armenians living in the big cities and the western parts of the country. This led the American Board to give more importance to educational activities. Subsequently, they opened many elementary schools and high schools. By 1914, the total number of the students educated within the borders of the Eastern Turkey Mission was over 7,00018.

The first Protestant church in Erzurum was founded in 1847. When the missionaries’ first came to this region in 1830 the first activity was to open a church19. The Ottoman Empire’s efforts to increase the rights and freedom of the non-Muslim minority groups after administrative reforms in 1839, had, of course, powed the way for proliferation of such schools.

The missionaries made efforts to form outlying stations of Erzurum in addition to the church they opened to cover the religious needs of the small Protestant congregation in the city. However, this could not happen quickly. Trabzon and Humus were among the first external stations. The stations tied to Erzurum station spread to the southern Caucasia by crossing over the Ottoman borders at that time. The outer stations tied to Erzurum station and their years of foundation are as follows20:

17 Eli Smith, ibid, pp.128-130.
18 İdris Yücel, Kendi Belgeleri Işığında Amerikan Board’ın Osmanlı Ülkesinde Teşkilâtlanması, Master Thesis, Kayseri 2005, p.123.
19 James Barton, Daybreak in Turkey, Boston the Pılgrım Pres, Newyork, p.139.
20 Yücel, ibid, pp.124-125.

1835: Trabzon
1839: Erzurum
1853: Humus
1860: çevirme, Haramik
1862: Erzincan, Melikhan
1867: Elpis, Komatzor
1868: Ordu, Şane, Göklü
1869: Pert, Heslu, Kaghki, Karakilise, Kars
1870: Kozlu
1871: Boznaz, Yediveren, Hasdur
1872: Hazark, Pakariç, Karabazar, Beyazıt
1875: Semen
1876: Giresun
1880: Karaköprü, Sınren, Hazlag
1894: Suveren
1897: Esteku
1910: Karaçoban Russian part
1880: Houlican
1882: Karakale
1883: Echmiadzin
1885: Bayraktar
1886: Erivan
1888: Ganiköy, Hacıkara, Düşkent, çamurlu
1889: Baberli
1895: Alexandropol

The stations covered the places in the southern Caucasia besides the Anatolian lands where the population of Armenians lived. At the time of the foundation activities of Erzurum station in 1840, a man and a woman missionary were sent by the American Board. The first appointment of a priest was in 1855. While the priest left in 1860, a preacher teacher was appointed in place of him. They were Ottoman subjects. Whereas the number of the appointed American missionaries increased only from 1 to 4, the number of the local personnel was rising. The increase began especially towards the end of the reign of Abdulaziz and with the announcement of the First Constitutional Monarchy. The non-Muslim subjects tried their best of profit from the political loophale created by the declaration of the constitutional laws declared under the pressure of great powers had great influence on the liberation of the non-Muslims in the Ottoman State. With the increase of the number of schools opened in 1900, the number of teachers increased to 19. There were 35 people in total, including 4 missionaries, 4 priests, 3 preachers, 18 teachers and 2 helpers tied to Erzurum station in 1914 as indicated in the last records of the American Board.

Erzurum station had nearly 10 congregation members and a small church by 1840 and they preserved their position until 1847. They began to be organized around a religious centre with a Protestant church with a member of only 5 in 1847. We saw that this situation continued without much development until 1860. The number of the churches increased from 1 to 3 in that year. The number of the members rose to 36. The number of the place worship except the churches had increased rapidly from that year on. It increased to 4 in 1862, 6 in 1863 and 7 in 1864. Since the number of congregation members was 40 in 1861, it rose to 217 in 1862. The increasing in the congregation in 1883 made it necessary to build new churches. The number of the churches rose from 3 to 4 in 1883. We saw that this number increased to 5 in 1884.

The number of congregation members was 1000 in the same year. The number of churches suddenly increased to 7 in 1891. The number of the places of worship was 31. The number of the churches increased to 10 in 1892. This was the highest number of the churches that the Board had opened in Erzurum station. However, the number of the churches soon decreased to 7 a year later. The number of the places of worship belonging to missionaries decreased to 9. Whereas the number of the congregation was 1218, the sudden decrease in the number of places of worship was probably due to the political condition of the period. While the number of the churches was 9, the number of the members continuing to go to the churches decreased to 252. This condition continued till nearly 1914. The number of places of worship was 8, the number of the congregation was 1065, the number of the churches was 9 and the number of the members was 342.

The training activities began in Erzurum with the opening of a school in 1853. This was a mixed school where 22 girls and boys went together. This condition continued till 1865 when 5 more mixed schools were opened, and 133 girls and boys were educated in the 6 schools.

There seemed to be a big increase in the number of the new schools in 1870. The number of the schools increased to 12. One of them was a girls’ school and the others were mixed schools. The number of the students was 258 in total. The number of schools increased to 18 and the number of the students increased to 324 in 1875. The number of schools was 19 and the number of students was 480 in 1880. One of the schools was again a girls’ school; the other 18 schools were mixed schools. We saw that 3 new colleges were opened in Erzurum station in 1885. Thus, the number of existing schools increased to 23. After that, both the rate of having schools and the number of the students decreased critically. Three colleges were closed, and the number of mixed schools decreased to 17 in 1890. While the number of the schools decreased to 14, the number of the students was 443 in 1900. Later, all the colleges were closed. Even if an increase in the number of both the schools and the students had been evident again in 1910, this increase would not continue in 1914. The number of the schools was 13; the number of the students was 506 in 191421.

As a result of the activities of American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, it was impossible to say how many Armenians living in Erzurum station converted to Protestantism. However, considering the Armenian population living in Echmiadzin and Erivan where Armenian population densely lived, the increase in the number of churches, schools, and congregations certainly reflects that the activities had an important influence on the Armenians.


The reason for American Board Missionary Organization’s beginning their activities on Anatolian land was especially its geopolitical and geostrategic location and its resources. In addition, the efforts to put freedom of belief that the European States and Russia presented to the citizens of the Ottoman Empire with Administrative Reforms (1839) led to a comfortable working area for missionaries. After the first missionaries’ expeditions, the activities to change someone’s religion was initiated. Certainly, that the efforts beginning with the distribution of the Bible

21 Yücel, ibid, pp.126-130.

among Muslims ended without a conclusion also had an influence. The Armenian society had an extensive population in some important stations in the eastern and western missions of the American Board. The missionaries carried out activities to convert the Armenians with their schools, hospitals and churches that they opened in these stations. We did not find a lot of information about the missionary activities in Everek according to the Board Records which was a subject for our research, since Develi is a small residential area tied to Kayseri. However, a more systematic activity was held in Erzurum. The number of the schools Protestant missionaries opened in Erzurum stations was 18. It is impossible to say how many Armenians converted as a result of these activities, but it may be said that the missionaries were successful in their efforts by looking at the increasing congregation and churches.


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