1394) Contributions Of Armenians In The Creation Of A New Social Life And Literature In The 19th Century

Yeditepe University Faculty of Arts and Letters Dept. of Turkish Language and Literature / Kayisdagi / Istanbul


Theatre was the earliest among the western genres that entered into Ottoman life. Even though it was a brand-new genre1, it progressed rapidly2. Playhouses started to be built as soon as the announcement of the Reformation in 1839; after Palais de Cristal (a French Theatre), a playhouse, which was built by Bartalommeo Bosco of Torino and which become famous afterwards as the Theatre of Naum, was opened to performances3 in Beyoğlu. . .

1 According to Tanpınar, the genre of theatre is the least known literary genre of the Muslim-Orient Literatures’. It can be said that it is the only genre that entered Turkey with the Reformation. Tanpınar thinks that western theatre can not be compared to light comedy (ortaoyunu) which has stereotyped characters and many of which are extemporaneous. XIX. Asır Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi, İst., Çağlayan Kitabevi, 4th ed., 1976, p. 278-279.
2 Kenan Akyüz, Modern Türk Edebiyatının Ana Çizgileri (1860-1923) I, 3rd ed, Ank., 1979, p. 8-11, 34.
3 Opening of the playhouses is important. Playhouses constitute one of the two major differences between Turkish and European theatres. Conventional Turkish plays have always been shown in a playhouse whereas Western plays have been performed in a building, on the stages. This has developed a standard over the

Undoubtedly, the cosmopolitan structure of Istanbul had a great impact on the development of theatre. Along with the minorities namely Jews, Greeks and Armenians, some foreign nationals were also living in the capital. Among the Levantines who migrated to Turkey for various reasons, Italians, French, and Germans made up a significant portion of the population. It was these foreign residents and the minority communities which tried to live up to the European standarts, drew European theatre, ballet, and opera companies to Istanbul. There were more than a thousand French nationals among others who lived in Beyoğlu in 18724, which had a total population of 80 thousands at the time, and many Turkish Muslims who were raised in the “Tanzimat Period” (reformation period of 1839-1856) and who were devoted attendees of these performances given in French and Italian tongues. Hence it is not surprising that theatre companies kept on frequenting Istanbul.

Istanbul, especially the palace and its domain, was familiar5 with such performances from as early as the middle of the 18th century. It is true that the first foreigners to come to Turkey were to a large extent magicians, acrobats, and comedians, but this situation gradually changed. Two stages for plays were created, one outdoors for the public and one indoors for the palace. In addition to this, during the reign of Selim III some

course of time. Another major difference is the texts. Either Hacivat-Karagöz or light comedy was staged improvisionally in Turkish theatres. Western theatre is text dependant, and its being literary originates from this. Metin And, Tanzimat ve İstibdât Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu (1839-1908), Ank., Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1972, p. 18-19. For the playhouses, same work, p.199 and rest.

4 Levant Herald, February 9, 1872, Quoted in; Metin And. Ibid, p. 43.

5 The earliest of the performers to come was the American legerdemain Jacob Philadelphia during the reign of Mustafa III, between the years 171-73. Legerdemain Joseph Pinetti was also supposed to have visited Turkey and performed in 1750. Many legerdemains have performed both to the public and to the sultans after this as well. For further information about this subject; Metin And, “Türkiye’ye gelen ilk gözbağcılar”, Tarih Mecmuası, Şubat 1967.

theatrical groups were invited privately6. Interest for theatre increased7 even more during the reign of Mahmud II when Giuseppe Donizetti was brought to Istanbul to establish a military band. The founding of the Mızıka-ı Hümayun (Imperial Orchestra) after the formation of a military band in the palace paved the way for the development of the theatre8. Eventually, during the reign of Abdulmecid, a playhouse was built in front of Dolmabahçe Palace.

Armenian artists played the greatest role in the expansion of the foreign companies beyond the restricted milieu of Beyoğlu in the domestication of theatre and in its becoming widespread.

Theatrical companies mostly came to Turkey from Italy and France. Italians performed their plays mostly in Naum Theatre, while the French mostly performed in J. Giustiniani’s Palais de Cristal. However, since there was a strong competition between these two, from time to time Naum opened his doors to the French and Giustiniani to the Italians. These dynamic plays of the European theatrical companies after a while stimulated enthusiasm in some Armenian artists to open a theatre in Istanbul.

The Armenians in Turkey have a theatrical background that goes back to 1810s. Performances started under the leadership of writers and actors such as Venedikyan, Muyapen, Hayr Mınas and Pijikyan. Ardaşes, which was written in Armenian by Pijikyan, were performed in the year

6 Foreign Office Records, 78/18 no. 13 (June 10, 1797); 78/15 no. 26 (November 25, 1794); Haus-Hof-und Staats-Archiv, Vienna, Türkei II-100, no.29 (July 15, 1792). Plz look; Stanford J. Shaw, Between Old and New, The Ottoman Empire under Sultan Selim III (1789-1807), H.U.P., Cambridge Mass., p. 194. Quoted by, Metin And, Ibid. p. 22.
7 Mahmut II was interested in Theatre very much. It can be understood from the 500 plays brought to the Palace library from Europe in the genres of drama, comedy, and tragedy; being many of them Vaudeville. Revue du Theâtre, 1836, VII, p. 143.
8 For further information; Mahmut R. Gazimihal, Türk Askeri Muzıkaları Tarihi, İst., 1955.

1815 by Mıkhitharyan’s students.9 In the Düzyan Family residence in Kuruçeşme, many comedies were regularly performed. In 1828 Kirkor Varjabet Peştemalcıyan organized many performances of the famous Italian playwright Metastiasio’s Olimpiade and Dido’s Mercy in the Bezciyan Primary School in Kumkapı in Istanbul. In İzmir, students of the Metropyan School performed the comedy of Goldoni’s La Locandiera under the leadership of their teacher, Rupen Andreas Papazyan.

Armenian youths started performing for other Armenians first by translating the plays performed by European artists into Armenian. The five act tragedy of H. Bedros Mınas, Büyük Hosrev and a tragedy entitled Sımpat II were performed in 1845. Performances expanded and improved even more in 1855 with the dramaturgy and directorship of Sırabyan Hekimyan. In addition to these, plays by Corneille, Moliere, Racine, and Voltaire were performed at the French School in Bebek and in the residence of Odian Boğos Ağa in Üsküdar.

In 1846 Ohannes Kasparyan, an Armenian born in Istanbul, established the first professional theatrical company of the 19th century in Turkey. In fact, the theatrical company named Aramyan was not a theatrical company in the proper sense, but it also performed acrobatics and light comedic plays. However, Kasparyan, who built a wooden stage in the European manner, gradually started to perform tragedy with a group of Armenian actors. Females acting on the stage were not yet involved. “Zenne” roles (female roles enacted by male dancers or actors) were performed by Kevork Çilingiryan, but from time to time some European women acted as well. Kasparyan at some point, upon an invitation, went to Tiflis and established a 2-floor playhouse for a thousand people, having 72 boxes in a thousand square metres. Upon returning he established two playhouses, one in Pangaltı and the other one in Gedikpaşa. Afterwards, the playhouse in Gedikpaşa would be one of the most important centres of the Reformation Period with performances of Güllü Agop’s Ottoman Theatre.10

9 Companions of the Armenian Catholic Cult which was founded in 1701 by Mıkhithar Abba.
10 Metin And, Ibid, p. 153.


1. The First Turkish Plays

Armenians helped to create first-rate translations of the first plays into Turkish. There were already many Turkish publications written with Armenian script by Catholic Armenian Mıkhitharyans in St. Lazare Monastery. Metastasio’s four dramas were translated into Turkish using the Armenian alphabet and were published in 1831. They were: Apel’in Ölümü (La Marte d’Apel), İshak Efendimiz Hazreti İsa’nın Örneği (Isaac Figura del Redentore), Hosep Kerezik (Guiseppe Riconosciuto), and Isus Efendimizin Siyaseti (La Passion de N.Seigneur Jesus Christ). It is obvious that the aim of the translations of Metastasio’s plays was not for theatrical reasons but for religious ones. Yet Metastasio has become one of the playwrights whose plays are most staged in Istanbul. His plays, such as Aristodeme, Olimiade, and Themistocle were either translated or both translated and staged. Though the language of these first translated plays is defective due to misused words and structures contrary to the rules of syntax, it still has an amazingly pure Turkish, such that even the cast is presented as “söyleşenler”.11

For the first Turkish performances one had to wait for the works of Sırapyan Hekimyan. Hekimyan, born in Istanbul, returned there in 1848 after having completed his studies in Venice and began to stage his plays in Italian and Turkish.12 He worked with such actors and actresses such as Bedros Magakyan, Hovannes Acemyan, Bedros Çuhacıyan, Abraham Narinyan, Avadis İdareciyan, Tomas Terziyan, Serope Benliyan, Harutyun Çamaşırcıyan, Agavni Hamoyan, Agavni Terziyan, Takuhi Giranyan, K. Baltayan, and Aruzyak Papazyan.

There ought to have been some economical concerns for Hekimyan’s and his colleagues’ staging in Turkish because the number of Armenian audiences was insufficient for the rising number of actors. Assuredly, Turks were the largest group of interest. Appealing to them meant acquiring a

11 For further information; Metin And, “Gedikpaşa Tiyatrosu’ndan Önceki Türkçe Oyunlar”, Türk Dili (Tiyatro Özel Sayısı), Vol: 178, Temmuz 1966, p. 681-683.
12 Metin And, Tanzimat ve İstibdât Döneminde Türk Tiyatrosu (1839-1908), Ank., Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1972, p. 153-154.

greater number of new customers. It seems that Armenian actors were heartened by Sultan Abdülmecid’s order for the building of the Palace Theatre in Dolmabahçe in 1858.

Hekimyan’s Italian-sourced translation of Riyakar ve Müseyyib was staged at Naum Theatre in Turkish. In the announcements of the newspaper of the period Ceride-i Havadis, it stated that the moral comedy Riyakar ve Müseyyip had been translated from Italian to Ottoman13 by Hekimyan for everyone to comprehend. Later, Hekimyan wrote original plays in Turkish.14 Hekimyan’s trials and the Turkish performances he pursued with Ekşiyan are seen as turning points in the formation of Turkish Theatre.15 In 1859, Hekimyan was the head of the Şark Theatre, founded by Altunduryan, Istepan, and the Arakel Brothers. Armenian women first appeared on stage with this group. Hekimyan and his colleagues staged the plays Don Gregorio, Titizmeşrep Keremkar, Mahcubiyetin Mükafatı, and Don Cesar de Bazan within the same year at Sultan Abdülmecid’s Palace Theatre. The establishment of Dolmabahçe Palace Theatre eventually brought about the writing of Şair Evlenmesi16 by Şinasi who was commisioned by the palace and also initiated the translation of a number of foreign plays into Turkish.

13 Cerîde-i Havâdis, 11 şevval 1274 (May 20, 1858), vol. 887.
14 For details about the Armenians’ theatre practices in Turkey; Karnik Stepenyan, Urvakitj Arevmidahay Tadroni Badutyan, (Batı Ermenilerinin Tiyatrosunun Tarihinin Ana Çizgileri (Main Lines of The Western Armenians’ History of the Theatre)) (Armenian), I (1962), II, (1969).
15 Metin And, Ibid., p. 154.
16 These lines were in a newspaper, which was published in French, about Şinasi’s Şair Evlenmesi’s being ordered to be performed in the palace; “Şair (Poet) Şinasi Efendi who studied in France for a long time and who was a member of the Educational Board, had translated parts from Racine, La Fontaine,and Molière into Turkish and expertise and skill is observed in his translations. This young writer who was a poet by birth wrote a comedy to be staged in the palace. The play is entitled as Şair Evlenmesi. We are not going to analyse it beforehand by talking indiscreetly. We are going to inform our readers about the play in the future. Hereby we congratulate the Sultan’s chancellor of the exchequer for the programs he arranged in the palace and for his protection of the fine arts intellectually.” Poligny, “Les Echos du Boshore”, Journal de Constantinople, June 25, 1859.

The period of 1862-1864, in which Armenians still played the leading roles in Ottoman theatre, was also the time when Turkish plays and performances became more prominent. Some important actors of the Şark Theatre, under the leadership of Istepan Ekşiyan had a conflict with the administrating Altunduryan Brothers and thus went to Izmir. The circumstances in Izmir, after having acquired the theatre building in 1861, were more suitable. Ekşiyan and his colleaques staged Turkish plays as well as Armenian, French, and Italian ones under the name of the Vaspuragan Company, which had been founded in the city earlier. Inhabitants of Izmir paid great attention to the company composed of well-known Armenian actors of the period, thus Ekşiyan increased the number of Turkish plays. In 1863, plays such as Kocasını Aldatan Karı, Mahcubiyetin Mükafatı, Odun Kılıç, Don Cesar de Bazan, and Hocanın Telaşı were staged over and over in Izmir. After having played Victor Ducange’s Otuz Yıl Yahut Bir Kumarbazın Encamı in 1863 the company members, with Güllü Agop, who would later found the Ottoman Theatre, returned to Istanbul in 1864.17

2. From Beyoğlu to Gedikpaşa

It was a sensible step to stage plays in Turkish in order to attract the Turkish population to the theatres, but it was not enough. Especially in Istanbul, there were many obstacles between the theatre and the audience because of the circumstances of the period. At first, theatres only had performances in Beyoğlu. Unfortunately, the Turkish population was mainly living on the Istanbul side, in Üsküdar, Beşiktaş, or in Boğaziçi villages. In a city where transportation could only be found with a limited number of carriages, it not only demanded a big commitment but also a big expense to go to the night plays in Beyoğlu and return home. The number of Turkish plays staged at that period suggests that there was a considerable number of theatre-goers, yet it is also obvious that a broad part of the community stayed away from stages. The obstacles were not only due to transportation. Beyoğlu was a place which was open to dangers. Those leaving the casinos were offending the ones leaving the theatre and lots of fights took place. As a result, Hoca Naum felt the need to

17 For more information about the Community of Vaspuragan; Stepenyan, Ibid I, p. 269–289.

also stage plays during the daytime for the convenience of the audience coming from other corners of the city. One of the announcements of the Naum Theatre ran in Ceride-i Havadis, a newspaper of the period.

It stated18 that the play Berber would be staged after Friday prayer.

In 1867, Güllü Agop19 began to stage plays at the old hippodrome, organizing a group under the name of Asya Kumpanyası. It was an important and bold attempt to expand the reach of theater. With the opening of the restored hippodrome originally built by Kasparyan, a new audience was introduced to theater. However this venture posed the risk of losing an already existing audience while looking for new ones. That is, the ones coming from Beyoğlu to Gedikpaşa would suffer the same inconveniences as the ones coming from Istanbul to Beyoğlu. In 1868 Agop took another risk and laid the groundwork for the introduction of the first serious Turkish theatre20 with the establishment of a group that would be named Tiyatro-yı Osmani. The announcement Güllü Agop gave to Ceride-i Havadis shows how subtle the enticements were that he had made to attract a new audience to the theatre.

This is the announcement of the Ottoman Theatre that is in Gedikpaşa. In order to stage plays and operas in the splendour and order of European theatres, the theatre of Souillier that is in Gedikpaşa is rented and administrated by Ardeli and his partners for the purpose and intention of relieving the dwellers of Istanbul from the arduousness of going to Beyoğlu, and from the expenses of

18 Cerîde-i Havâdis, 1261, vol. 222, 223.
19 Güllü Agop was born in Istanbul in 1840. His real name is Agop Vartovyan. Since vartovyan means “something with rose motifs” in Armenian, that is “güllü” in Turkish, he used the name Güllü Agop when he decided to establish an Ottoman Theatre. Earlier, he attended the Armenian performances in the Orient theatre in Beyoğlu. He worked as a player and as a director in the Commumity of Vaspuragan in İzmir. At last he founded his own theatre committee and served the Turkish stages. Being a better director and administrator rather than being a good actor, he was chosen by Sultan H.Abdulmecid as the palace theatre’s director and administrator. After this endowment, he got the Muslim name Yakub by revealing his Islamic faith, to which he had converted many years ago; Refik Ahmet Sevengil, Türk Tiyatrosu Tarihi III; Tanzimat Tiyatrosu, İst., MEB, 1961, p. 54-55.
20 Kenan Akyüz, Ibid, p. 35.

restaurants and hotels during this winter time. Its shape and outlook have been changed with extraordinary expense and devotion. It now announces the inauguration of the staging of the plays providing and calling up various trained dancers and actors from Europe.21

3. Ottoman Theatre and Social Life

Before Güllü Agop brought Asya Kumpanyası to Gedikpaşa, he acted in Vartan Mamigonyan, written by Romanos Sedefçiyan, at the Naum Theatre with the music of Dikran Çuhacıyan as well as in the comedy Karım ve Şemsiyem alongside the famous Armenian actor, Bedros Atamyan, who played the leading role. Victor Hugo’s Hernani was also on Güllü Agop’s list. He staged Macbeth touring with women, which was contrary to the previous performances. It can be said that Güllü Agop gained his real identity and competence after he moved his theatre to Gedikpaşa and obtained the monopoly of staging plays in Turkish for a ten year period beginning from 1870.22 It would be accurate to describe this era as the real start not only of Güllü Agop’s Tiyatro-yı Osmani but also of the national Turkish Theatre.23 The number of audiences increased, but more importantly, they reached a higher quality24 formed by military and medical school students and officers. In addition, there was a surge in the writing of original plays rather than adaptations or translations.25

Naturally, the first Turkish performances staged at Gedikpaşa Theatre were again the translated works of Armenian writers and artists. But, Güllü Agop was quick to realize that the works about the life of foreign nations did not have a broad appeal among the Turkish community of the period. His sentence in a published program: “In our current situation, our only deficiency is the lack of national features in the works offered

21 Ceride-i Havâdis, 18 Recep 1284, vol: 174 and 20 Recep 1284, vol: 175.
22 For the full text of this privilage contract; Alemdar Yalçın, II. Meşrutiyet’te Tiyatro Edebiyatı, Ank., Gazi Üniversitesi, 1985, p. 5-6.
23 Metin And, Ibid, p. 113.
24 İbret, 10 Ramazan 1289, vol: 50.
25 Metin And, Ibid, p. 166.

to the community,”26 shows his belief that Turkish society would show more interest in national plays. He thought to stage some stories that had been alive in the public imagination from generation to generation, such as Leyla ile Mecnun, and he managed to do so. He got Mustafa Efendi to prepare Leyla ile Mecnun as a five-act play and staged it at Gedikpaşa Theatre on the twelfth of January 1869. The announcement of the play was printed in The Terakki newspaper as follows:

In the Gedikpaşa Ottoman Theatre, on Ramadan 28, that is Tuesday night, with the ingenuity of Güllü Agop, Fuzulî’s legendary Leylâ ile Mecnûn, including considerable information, will be staged as a five-act play with the arrangement and compilation by Mustafa Efendi.27

This play, with Güllü Agop acting as Mecnun and Büyük Karakaş Hanım acting as Leyla, is considered to be the first musical work staged in Turkish after Tanzimat.28 The same year, Zor Nikah, adapted from Moliere’s La Mariage Force, was prepared as a book by Ahmet Vefik Efendi and staged. During the period from 1869-1870 the number of Turkish performances increased. Güllü Agop staged the stories of Tahir ile Zühre and Arzu ile Kamer along with the comedy Misafiri İstiskal by Ali Bey. The most important work of the theatre staged in 1871-1872 was the adaptation of Moliere’s Les Fourberies de Scapin by Ali Bey as Ayyar Hamza. This comedy, which would later be staged over and over, was first presented on November 20, 1871 at the Gedikpaşa Theatre. In fact, the Ottoman Theatre became very successful in the years 1872-1873. The well-known literary writers of the period stood by the theatre and it was highly acclaimed in their newspapers. Ali Bey’s reconciliation comedy, Geveze Berber, and Ebuzziya Tevfik’s reconciliation drama, Ecel-i Kaza, were staged. Also, The musical work Arif Ağa’nın Hilesi was first staged at

26 For the writing on the 11-page specimen prepared relating to Güllü Agop’s 174-75 period; players, play repertory, administrative staff, and fee prices; Metin And, Ibid, p. 167.
27 Terakkî, 28 Ramazan 1285 (January 12,1869). Vol 47.
28 Sevengil, Ibid, p. 61. For detailed information about Mustafa Efendi who modified the story of Leyla and Mecnun for the theatre and Güllü Agop; Vasfi Rıza Zobu, “Güllü Agop’a Ait Tetkikler”. Cumhuriyet Gazetesi. December 22, 1958, p. 4.

Gedikpaşa Theatre on December 9, 1872. In an article titled “Ottoman Theatre” published in the newspaper Ibret, published by Namık kemal and his colleagues, the work was mentioned as follows:

We looked on the opera Arif Ağa’nın Hilesi; There was a long expectation to have an opera in the Ottoman language. This is an act demanding much time and toil, so everybody thought it was impossible, but here! It has become a reality. We saw it and appreciated it.

This is the first work in our opera language. Its scheme is beautiful and its music is perfect. Turkish language goes well with musical works. The composition is bodied in accordance with its lyrics. We congratulate Güllü Agop, the creator of Ottoman Theatre, and the writers of the lyrics and composition of the opera, Alberto and Dikran Çuhacıyan, for their efforts and the actors staging the play for their skill.29

Ahmet Midhat Efendi’s Eyvah was staged in March. The first performance of Namık Kemal’s famous Vatan Yahut Silistre was also staged the same year.30 The play was first performed on April 1, 1873, and it anticipates the brilliant future of the national theatre.31

4. Literal Committee of Theatre

Güllü Agop, in this period, made two more important contributions to the development of Turkish theatre. The first one of these is the founding of a Theatre Committee consisting of Turkish writers that carried out linguistic and dramatic studies. The second one is the bringing of Turkish actors to the stage. The first professional actor in the European manner is Ahmet Necib Efendi. He played Muharrem Efendi32 in Ayyar Hamza performed at the Ottoman theatre of Güllü Agop. He was then followed by Hüsnü Ethem, İsmail Hakkı, and Hamdi Efendi.33

Performances of original works on the stages increased the number of spectators many times more, and plays became one of the most important

29 İbret Gazetesi, 15 Şevval 1289 (December 17, 1872), Vol 72.
30 For the plays and actors of the Ottoman Theatre in Gedikpaşa; Metin And, Ibid p. 160-170. Sevengil, Ibid. p. 53- 67.
31 Nihad Sami Banarlı, Resimli Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi, İst., MEB, 1978, p. 1004.
32 Diyojen, November 13, 1287, vol:70.
33 Metin And,.Ibid, p. 143.

literary genres. However, incorrect usage of Turkish by Armenian actors could not be precluded. Armenian players saying “marşapa” instead of “maşrapa”, “baryam” instead of “bayram”, “ekse” instead of, “ense”, “çılbak” instead of “çıplak”, “he efendim” instead of “evet efendim” were a matter of frequent critiques in the newspapers34. Ali Bey, who had appreciated Güllü Agop before he performed in Turkish plays, not only helped him in choosing the works to be performed, but also from time to time gave rhetoric courses to Agop’s actors. However, Ali Bey’s efforts were not adequate, both in the preparation of the plays and in the diction courses in order to correct the pronunciation. The pronunciation mistakes of the Armenian players were harsh to the ears of the spectators35, and many of the performed plays had slapdash scripts. A preliminary examination of the works that were going to be performed by people who knew and used Turkish well and the correction of the expressions and accent mistakes during the staging process would have greatly benefited the theater, but Güllü Agop had neither the staff nor the means to do this. Upon the request of Güllü Agop and with the pioneering help of Mustafa Nuri Bey, a writer for the İbret newspaper, a national theatre committee was founded and named Müzahharât Komitesi. On this first theatrical committee, the Minister of Public Works, Raşid Paşa, the Minister of Education, Censor Halet Bey, the director of General Debts, Âli Bey, Nâmık Kemâl, and Menâpîr-zâde Mustafa Nuri Bey held positions.36

At the start of the Ottoman-Russian war in 1877, Güllü Agop’s company staged musicals such as Pamela, Les Brigands, Değirmenci Kız,

34 “Osmanlı Tiyatrosu”, Diyojen, November 19, 1286, Vol: 2.
35 Namık Kemal has voiced in the introduction part of the renowned Celâleddin Harzemşah to what extent the pronunciation mistakes of the Armenian Actors disturbed in this way; “Truly our stage is neither illuminated nor has perfect curtains and the Actors are harmless in their actions but faulty enough to decrease the watching delight to half in their conversations.”; “Mukaddime-i Celal”, Celaleddin Harzemşah, Haz. Hüseyin Ayan, İst., Dergah, Dördüncü Baskı, 1975, p. 13.
36 For Gedikpaşa Ottoman Theatre (Tiyatro-yı Osmânî), plz look; Selim Nüzhet Gerçek, “İlk Te’lif Piyesler”, Ulus Gazetesi, February 5, 1944. For more information about the language problem in Ottoman Theatre and about the established Theatre Committee; Metin And, Ibid p. 113- 123. Kenan Akyüz, Modern Türk Edebiyatının Ana Çizgileri (1860-1923) I, 3rd edition, Ank., 1979, p. 35.

Girofle-Girofla, Madame Angot’un Kızı, and Zeybekler. The company also performed patriotic plays and songs: Nâzım Paşa’s Aleksinaç Fethi Yahut Osmanlı Kahramanları, and Sohum Muzafferiyeti, Vizental’s Bir Türk Kahramanı, Vatan Şarkısı and Osmanlı Marşı, Macar Marşı. Vatan Yahut Silistre was an appropriate play for the era’s atmosphere and was performed by many companies and included patriotic songs. Dikran Çuhacıyan was the musician who wrote nearly all the marches. He also composed Plevne March, written by Mithat Efendi, and dedicated it to Gazi Osman Paşa.37

It has been claimed that the Çerkez Özdenler drama promoted revolution and because of this the Ottoman Theatre was torn down in 1884 by Abdulhamid II. The brilliant period of the Ottoman theatre ended. Turkish spectators were deprived of serious theatre works till 1908.


The long term contributions of the Armenians to the constitution and the development of Turkish theatre are connected harmoniously to Turkish life. Armenians lived in peace and well-being till the end of the 19th century. Trade, money changing, and jewelry work made Armenians rich, and they had a privileged life in Istanbul. A quarrel or conflict was rarely seen between Armenians and Turks. On the contrary Bab-ı Ali accepted Armenians as Millet-i Sadıka, which means loyal nation,38 and gave them many advantages. As Armenian writer C. Oskanyan mentioned “Armenians were a basic part of Turkish daily life because the Turks left all the branches of industry to Armenians. Sentimental similarities between Turks and Armenians formed a unity based on trust.”39

According to Helmut von Moltke, via their traditions, life styles, and use of the Turkish language,40 Armenians could be called Christian

37 Levant Herald, 10 October 1877. quoutated from Medin And, Ibid, p.175– 176.
38 Yılmaz Öztuna, Büyük Türkiye Tarihi, V:7, İst., Ötüken 1978, p. 178.
39 Kamuran Gürün, Ermeni Dosyası. Ankara, 1963, p.65; (C. Oskanyan, The Sultan and His People). New-York. 1857. p.353-354.
40 It is accepted by Armenian researchers that Armenians who were living with the Turkish majority in Anadolu had forgotten their own national language and learned the Turkish language. Those Armenians were named Turchophone

Turks.41 They undertook pioneering tasks in the new style of Turkish daily life that was shaped after the Reformation by their involvement in literature, the press, economy, and in non-governmental organizations. After the great changes in 1850 and 1860 in the Empire, Armenians, especially Istanbul Armenians, became more powerful in socio-economic milieus.

1. Turkish Newspapers with Armenian Letters

It is known that Armenians produced Turkish texts with the Armenian alphabet from the 14th and 15th centuries. Important stories of Turkish folkloric literature, such as Köroğlu, Aşık Garib, and Kerem ile Aslı, were passed down to the Armenian generations. Folkloric poets, called “Aşuğ,” performed a social function with their poems.42 At the beginning of the 19th century, Armenian printing house masters, like Boğos Arabyan and Canik Aramyan,43 were leading the sector and gradually gained superiority.44 Intensive interest in printing houses also affected the Armenians.; Hayk Berberian, “La Literature armeno-turque”, Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta, II, Wiesbaden 1964, pp. 809-819. it is cited that Gullu Agop’s family; was Turkish Armenian’s of Kayseri and his parents did not know even an Armenian word; Vasfi Rıza Zobu, “Memleketimizde Avrupai Tiyatroyu Kuran Adam: Güllü Yakup Efendi”, Cumhuriyet Gazetesi, 18-23 December 1958. In 1878-1879 season ottoman-Russian war was ended and peace meetings were going on. During this time Güllü Agop’s company performed some plays in Edirne. The plays were performed in Turkish because Armenians of Edirne did not know their own language; Metin And, Ibid, p. 176.

41 Helmuth von Moltke, Türkiye’deki Durum ve Olaylar Üzerine Mektuplar (1835-1839), Trans., Hayrullah Örs, Ank., TTK, 1960, p. 25.
42 For further information; Fikret Türkmen, Türk Halk Edebiyatı’nın Ermeni Kültürüne Tesiri, İzmir, Akademi Kitabevi, 1992.
43 Boğos Arabyan, the inventor of “Araboğlu” italic and nesih characters, was awarded with a letter of patent and madalion because of his contributions to the empire and publishing sector. He was designated to the Hassa Matbaa’s directory. Boğos Arabyan, helped Vak’anüvis Asım Efendi’s Kamus translation’s publishing in 1814 and moved to Tab’hane with his two sons Asvador and Klaust because of this work.
44 According to the statistics of the Education Ministry in 1899, there were 90 publishing houses in Istanbul and 32 of them were Armenian, 23 of them were Turk, 15 of them were Greek, 5 of them were Jewish, 5 of them were Levantine’s or European’s, 2 of them were under Persian’s management.

press. After the Reformation several Turkish newspapers and magazines were published in Armenian script in Istanbul. Between the years 1850 and 1890, nearly a hundred periodical publications were published in Istanbul and fifty-four of them were partly or wholly published in Turkish with the Armenian letters. These publications were Ahâbîr-i Konstantiniyye, Ararad, Asır, Cerîde-i Şarkiyye, Cihan, Envâr-ı Şarkiyye, Hüsn-i Niyet, İlave-yi Seda-yi Hakikat, Kheyal (Hayal), Manzume-i Efkâr, Tercüman-ı Efkâr, Mecmua-i Ahbâr, Mecmua-i Havadis, Mego (Arı), Münadi-i Erciyas, Ruznâme-i Muâsır, Tadron (Tiyatro), and Varaka-yi Havadis. These newspapers and magazines contained significant and noteworthy ideas.45 Some of the Turkish readers even learned the Armenian alphabet in order to read the period’s important and long-term publications like Mecmua-i Havadis and Manzume-i Efkar.46

One reason for the Turkish readers’ interest in Armenian newspapers was that they gave information about the Ottoman State’s social, economic, and political progress that other newspapers did not. This is evident in an ongoing discussion between Mecmua-i Havadis, which was published twice a week, and Ruzname-i Ceride-i Havadis, which was published daily. According to the administrator of Ruzname, Munif Efendi (Paşa), and the owner of Mecmua-i Havadis, Vartan Efendi (Paşa), the newspapers like Ceride-i Havadis, Tercüman-ı Ahval, and Ruzname-i Ceride-i Havadis, were not able to write about all events freely because of control issues. However, the newspapers which were published for minorities could write about all events without censorship. The reason for this freedom was, as the writer of Mecmua-i Havadis mentioned, because of their isolation. The meaning of this is that the minorities’ newspapers were only addressed to their members so their power and effect were 45 For the complete list of all Armenian lettered Turkish publication Plz look; Hayk Berberian, “La Literature armeno-turque”, Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta, II, Wiesbaden 1964, pp. 816-817. In these years Takvim-I Vekayi; official newspaper of the Ottoman Empire was published with Armenian letters in Turkish. İbret Newspaper; had an important role in Turkish literature and political life, was published by Aleksan Sarrafyan, an Ottoman Armenian. For more knowledge about İbret Newspaper; Nesime Yazıcı, “İbret”, TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi, V: 21, İst., 2000, pp. 368-370.

46 Metin And, Ibid, p. 36.

limited, but the Ottoman newspapers were published for everyone. The important information was what the Ottoman newspapers wrote. The thinking was that the minorities’ ideas could never overcome the ideas of the majority. The minorities’ newspapers could not be compared with majorities’ ones and public newspapers could not and must not have different ideas from the government.

Munif Efendi rejected the comparison of “Milel-i Mahkume” (the minority’s) and “Millet-i hakime” (the majority’s) and also resisted the results of this classification. It can be clearly understood that the minority newspapers could interpret internal and external affairs freely.47

2. First Turkish Novel

Vartan Efendi48 (Paşa) published Mecmuai Havadis between 1855 and1879 and was the editor of Panosyan’s Manzumei Efkar and Tercümanı Efkar. He wrote Akabi Hikayesi with Armenian script in Turkish, which was the first work to be called a novel within the Ottoman Empire’s borders.49 It was a love story between two Armenian youth who were members of different sects. The novel explored notions of religious conflict and fundamentalism and was a reflection of the Armenians’ life style in Istanbul. The main character, Akabi, was raised by her cruel uncle and only met her mother when her mother was in her death bed.

Akabi and her family were Ottoman Orthodox Armenians. Hagop, the young man Akabi met while on a trip, was a member of the Catholic Armenian sect. The separation and differences between the sects was not a big problem for two youth but according to their families it was. As a result, Akabi and Hagop could not come together and their ending

47 For detailed expressions about the polemic between Ruznâme-i Cerîde-i Havadis and Mecmua-i Havâdis; Ali Budak, Batılılaşma Sürecinde Çok Yönlü Bir Osmanlı Aydını Münif Paşa,İst., Kitabevi, 2004, p. 164-167.
48 Hosvep Vartanian was the real name of Vartan Paşa (1815-1879). He was educated in Vienna, worked as translator and was chief translator at the palace’s shipyard and wrote Napolyon’un Hayatı, Risale-i Telgraf books. Plz look; Y.G. Çark, Osmanlı Devleti Hizmetinde Ermeniler 1453-1953, İst., 1953, s. 173; Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta, II, Wiesbaden 1964, pp.817.
49 Book was published with Latin letters by Andreas Tietze in 1991. Vartan Paşa, Akabi Hikayesi: İlk Türkçe Roman (1851), Editor. Andreas Tietze, İst. Eren Yayıncılık, 1991.

was tragic. The theme of the novel is not unique and similar cases have been written about many times. The novel bears resemblance to Western literary tradition’s important text, Romeo and Juliet, but Akabi Hikayesi is more comparable to Kerem ile Aslı.

In Akabi Hikayesi religious differences are the source of hostility between the families and this fact is a big obstacle for the two lovers, just as in Kerem ile Aslı. In the latter, Kerem followed the daughter of an Armenian Monk, Aslı, through many cities far and wide, and when he finally reached her, some sorcery occurred and Kerem was burned. Aslı caught fire from Kerem’s ashes and the two lover’s ashes were mixed. Their union could only be realized in the next world. In Akabi Hikayesi the end is the same; lovers could only meet after death. Akabi heard nothing about her love for a long time. She stood at the edge of an abyss holding a poison bottle in her hands, drank the poison, and jumped into the abyss. At the same time Hagop arrived, he ran but could not reach his love in time and she died. The next day he died because of his sorrow. Sorrows that occurred because of religious differences are told bravely in the novel and the strong defense for individual love is striking. The publishing editor of the book, Tietze, defined this situation as a reflection of Reformation ideas about the relations between people.

According to the major heroes who have a European manner, individual love, a right and the real meaning of life, is a transcendental phenomenon above everything and for individual love death can be acceptable. The novel examines cultural changes and modernization of the Reformation by telling a love story.50

Some parts of the novel contain unusual expressions and pronunciations but its language does not sound harsh to the ears like the theatre actors’ pronunciations. The language of the novel is simpler than later novels but its style is a little mixed. In the novel, there are some clues about the daily language of Istanbul in the middle of the 19th century; written language’s complex literary structure can also be seen. The novel examines 19th century Istanbul’s physical features as well as its social features, such as traditions, entertainment, theaters, summer houses,

50 Andreas Tietze, Akabi Hikayesi“Preface”, p. XII.

boats and even the new city’s steamship. The domestic life of the time--mansions of rich people, furniture, servants, maids, cooks, poor houses, clothing styles, and guest traditions--are described in a detailed manner. Akabi Hikayesi seems to be more of a documentary than a love story; it reflects the transition to a new life style via the Reformation’s shift toward Western values.51

Although Akabi Hikayesi was an early novel written in Turkish, it did not have an immediate effect on the Turkish literary environment. Certainly, one reason for this was that the novel was written for Armenians using Armenian script, not for Turkish readers. Armenians in the Ottoman State had an ongoing written language dilemma. In their daily lives, they spoke Turkish but they were not able to read Turkish books and newspapers because learning Arabic letters was difficult. They learned the Armenian alphabet in their schools, but using their language was not easy either. The schools taught the old Armenian language which was not sufficient to be used in daily life. Because of this, Armenians preferred learning Turkish instead of learning an archaic language. Therefore, it was common to find many publications written in Turkish, but using the Armenian letters. Thus, there are Turkish novels, such as Vartan Efendi’s Akabi Hikayesi, which were written using the Armenian alphabet.

Why did Vartan Efendi write his novel for Armenian readers? With a little effort, the novel could have been published with Turkish letters (i.e. Arabic script). However, the Armenian audience was familiar with novels. They had read many that had been translated from European languages. They understood that novels were not just for entertainment but rather something from which they might benefit. Meanwhile, it was likely that the Turkish readers spent much less time reading fictional works. The author of the Akabi novel, Vartan Paşa, understood this. He wanted to write a novel which was equal to French novels, and he wanted the Armenians to be able to read it. If he wrote in the archaic Armenian language used in the Armenians churches and schools, nobody could read and understand the novel, so he decided to write in Turkish. To

51 For a detailed analyze of Akabi Hikayesi’s; Akabi Hikayesi“Preface”, p IX-XXI.

solve the problem of Arabic script he used the Armenian alphabet to express his ideas.52

One explanation for Vartan Efendi’s choice of writing his books only for a minority was to call attention to the Gregorian-Catholic split among Armenians. This is an appropriate approach for literary understanding of the period, and also it is appropriate for Vartan Efendi who was a pragmatic personality in his formal and private life. Vartan Efendi observed his sect’s conflict from a different perspective in his short, humorous novel published in 1852 named Boşboğaz Bir Adem, Lafazanlık ile Husule Gelen Fenalıkların Muhtasar Risalesi.53

3. Toward Liberal Thinking
In the 19th century, there was much blending of Armenian and Turkish culture. Members of the Balyan family constructed big buildings in Istanbul. Armenians adopted classical Turkish music styles, and their church music began to reflect a Turkish influence. Great composers emerged like Hamparsum Limoncuyan who recorded music with his own music notes.54

The theatre, the press, novels, architecture and music--certainly all of these are a reflection of style. Individual and social feelings and ideas are expressed through these mediums. But feelings and ideas are dependent on the time and always change. The 19th century was a dynamic century. It was influenced by transfers from the West and it was altered again with the changing of life, perception, and expression of style. Under such conditions, to understand the transition from one

52 Andreas Tietze, Akabi Hikayesi“Preface”, p. IX-X.
53 Turgut Kut listed important Armenian lettered Turkish novels: “Karnik, Gülünya ve Dikran’ın Dehşetlu Vefatleri” by Hovannes Balıkçıyan, “Bir Sefil Zevce” Hovsep Maruş, “Gülünya Yahod Kendi Görünmeyerek Herkesi Gören Bir Kız” Viçen Tilkiyan; Turgut Kut, ‘”Ermeni Harfli Türkçe Telif ve Tercüme Romanlar”, Beşinci Milletler Arası Türkoloji Kongresi-Tebliğler II, İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Yayını, İstanbul, 1985, p. 195-214.
54 For a detailed information about Nikoğos Ağa, Asdik Ağa, Tatyos Efendi, Dikran Çuhacıyan named Turkish Offenbach, Bimen Şen, İstiklal Marşını Edgar Manas harmonizer of the National March and other Armenian composers; Yılmaz Öztuna, Büyük Türk Musikisi Ansiklopedisi I-II, Ank. Kültür Bakanlığı Yayını, 1990.

culture to another better, we must analyze such factors which could be called “factors of transformation and change” which influence the new political and economic systems.

The first economics book about modern European economic theory in the Ottoman Empire was a translation of J. B. Say’s Catéchisme d’Économie Politique.55 The book İlm-i Tedbir-i Menzil was published in 1852 and translated by an Ottoman Armenian, Sahak Abro Efendi, who was the member of Encümen-î Dâniş.56 Three years after his first book popularized57 Adam Smith’s doctrine, he wrote Avrupa’da Meşhur Ministroların Terceme-i Hallerine Dair Risale58 at the request of Mustafa Reşit Paşa. The biographies of European popular statesman, such as Monsieur Talleyrand, Prince Metternich, Lord Wellington, Count Nesirod (Nesselrode), as well as the important political affairs of the time were narrated. The aim of publication was to “make contributions to civilization in the progression process.”59

Cemiyet-i İlmiye-i Osmaniye (Association of Ottoman İntellectuals) was the first association that was established by Ottoman intellectuals for spreading Western science and culture.60 In other words; it was the first formal civilian scientific organization.61 The foundation petition is in the form of a manifesto including the regulations for the administration and a list of members. The progress of Western nations was analyzed and

55 İlm-i Tedbîr-i Menzil, İst., 1268 (1852)
56 For more information about Sahak Abro who translated some stories from Voltaire Plz look; Y..G. Çark, Türk Devleti Hizmetinde Ermeniler, İst., 1953, pp. 130-132.
57 Şerif Mardin, Yeni Osmanlı Düşüncesinin Doğuşu, İst., İletişim, 1996, p. 265.
58 İstanbul, Takvimhane-i Amire, Şaban 1271 (April-May 1855)
59 Abro, Ibid, p. 2.
60 For a detailed information about Cemiyyet-i İlmiyye-i Osmaniyye Plz look; Ali Budak, “Cemiyyet-i İlmiyye-i Osmaniyye-Bir Sivil Eğitim Kurumu”, İst., Sivil Toplum 2 (6-7), 2004, p. 103-122 and Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, “Modernleşme Süreci İçinde Osmanlı Evletinde İlmi ve Mesleki Cemiyetleşme Hareketlerine Genel Bir Bakış”, Osmanlı İlmî ve Meslekî Cemiyetleri, İst.,1987, p. 197-220.
61 Foundation petition of Cemiyyet-i İlmiyye-i Osmâniyye,is presented to the Ministry in 8 Şevval 1277 / 11 April 1861 by Petersburg Sefiri Halil Bey (Paşa). Plz look; Başbakanlık Arşivi, İrade Dahiliyye, Vesika No: 31671, Dolap No: 53.

suggestions were made to the Ottoman Empire. Their aim was to help the country by spreading scientific thinking in the Empire. The association decided to translate science and academic books while avoiding the religious and political ones. To reach this goal, the association published the Mecmua-i Fünun magazine and organized courses that were open to everyone. These activities were in line with the Sultanate’s public education program and the subscriptions that were paid by the members were used for expenses.62 There were 33 founders of the Cemiyet-i İlmiye-i Osmaniye, 9 of whom were Armenian--Karabet Efendi, an officer in Meclis-i Hazâin; İstefan Efendi; Ohannes Efendi, a translator in Translation Room; Kirkor Efendi, a Director of the Foreign Correspondences Office; Markor Efendi, an officer in the Foreign Correspondences Office; brother of İstefan Efendi; Manas Efendi; Karabet Efendi, entrusted with French correspondences; and İstefan Efend, entrusted as a board member. The latter two were also on the eight-member administrative committee 63.

Ohannes Efendi and Vahan Efendi64 wrote articles about the economy in the Mecmua-i Fünun magazine, the first scientific magazine. Sakızlı Ohannes Efendi (Paşa) made important contributions to the translation by means that were opened by Sahak Abro. Sakızlı Ohannes’s wrote two long articles named “İlm-i Servet-i Milel,”65 which were published in

62 Cemiyyet-i İlmiyye-i Osmâniyye Nizamname that was presented to the Ministry with the foundation petition in 8 Şevval 1277 / 11 April 186, one year after Nizamname was published in the first volume of Mecmua-i Fünûn; Mecmuâ-i Fünûn, No: 1, İst., Muharrem 1279 / June 1862. p. 2-10.
63 Member’s continuity and discontinuity list of the association. Başbakanlık Arşivi, İrade Dahiliyye, nr. 31671/3.
64 Üçüncü Ticaret Meclisi Reisi Vahan Efendi, “Fevâid-i Şirket”, Mecmua-i Fünûn, Volume: 8, p. 343-353.
65 Economy concept was not used During the Reformation term. Also, Economy politics that were extensively used in the west, was not preferred, İlm-i Servet-i Milel concept was preferred with the inspirations of Adam Smith’s book The Wealth of Nations. Just as, Sakızlı Ohannes named his book Mebâdî-i İlm-i Servet-i Milel,

the first book of economy lesson in Turkey. Münif Paşa, used İlm-i Servet name for his lessons in Mekteb-i Hukuk and the notes formed a book with the same name. About Münif Paşa and his works; Ali Budak, Batılılaşma Sürecinde Çok Yönlü Bir Osmanlı Aydını Münif Paşa, İst., Kitabevi, 2004.

Mecmua-i Fünun, and taught in Mekteb-i Mülkiye.66 Researchers today accept Sakızlı Ohannes as one of the first defenders of liberal economy in Turkey. Along with Tevfik Çandar, Ohannes’s basic idea was a realization of free market conditions without obstacles and the development of the economy via requirements of free market conditions.67 According to Ahmet Güner Sayar, Sakızlı Ohannes played an important pioneer role68 for later generations because of his central attention to economic liberalism.

Sakızlı Ohannes Paşa is the writer of Fünûn-ı Nefise Tarihi Medhali.69 This book was formed from his lesson notes, which he taught in Mekteb-i Fünûn-ı Nefise-i Şâhâne (Fine Arts Academy). It is claimed to be the first published book about aesthetics.70


It is evident that Ottoman Armenians played a pioneer role in reshaping the life and the literature under the Western influence in the 19th century. Theatre, a western genre, formed, developed, and translated into Turkish, existed because of Ottoman Armenians till the end of the century. The first Turkish novel was written by an Armenian statesman, although with Armenian script. Armenian-lettered newspapers and magazines reported the problems of society. The roles of Sahak Abro and Sakızlı Ohannes Paşa must be appreciated while studying the origins of modern politics and liberal economic systems. But it must not be forgotten that all relationships work two-ways. It may be said that it was mostly Armenians who benefited from the Reformation’s blessings, but their close relationship with the preparatory group of the Reformation provided those blessings. The relationship was brought about through

66 Mecmua-i Fünûn, Volume:2, p. 86-92, Volume: 6, p. 243-249.
67 Tevfik Çavdar, “Cumhuriyet Döneminde Türk İktisadi Düşüncesi”, Cumhuriyet Dönemi Türkiye Ansiklopedisi, İst., İletişim, V:4, 1993, p. 1074.
68 Ahmet Güner Sayar, Osmanlı İktisat Düşüncesinin Çağdaşlaşması, İst., Ötüken, 2. Edition, 2000, pp. 371-372.
69 Eser, Güzel Sanatlar Tarihine Giriş, adıyla yeni harflere aktarılmıştır. Yayına Hazırlayan: Kahraman Bostancı, Ank., Hece Yayınları, 2005.
70 Beşir Ayvazoğlu, “Türkiye’de Sanat Tarihi ve Estetikle İlgili İlk Çalışmalar”, Erdem, Eylül 1989, V:5, No:15, p. 986.

their ability to read and write in at least one foreign language as well as through their membership in the privileged class. During the State reforms most of the Armenians had important duties in momentous organizations, such as the Foreign Ministry and Translation Room. All of these are normal. Turks and Armenians lived a happy common life for a long time. Not only the State but also the Muslim people placed trust in them. This is because Armenians lived in harmony with Turkish culture and lifestyle and adjusted themselves to the milieu in which they lived, including the language and literature of the Turks.

After the treaties of Ayestefanos and Berlin, which were signed after the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War, even after the Armenian problem which was created mostly by foreign provocations, the majority of the Armenians assumed a clear attitude against the dissident movements instead of supporting them. While Dikran Çuhaciyan was composing patriotic marches, Güllü Agop worked with a discipline even more rigid than before while continuing to serve at the palace, even after the closing of his theatre. Sakızlı Onasis, while lecturing on politics and economics at Mekteb-i Mülkiye, served in the highest places of State and was the Minister of Hazine-i Hassa (Imperial Treasury) for eleven years during the reign of Abdülhamit II.



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