Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: What Was, What Could Have Been and Today's Reality

01.05.24 7:55

It is evident that the considerable influx of tourists, businessmen, individuals engaged in work-related travel, and visitors with passports from the Republic of Armenia, in addition to ethnic Armenians with passports from other states in Turkey, indicates a clear lack of concern regarding the possibility of a "genocide" on Turkish soil. This is due to the fact that such an occurrence does not pose a direct threat to them.


Moreover, there have been no cases in recent years in which someone insulted, humiliated, or otherwise discriminated against ethnic Armenians in Turkey on the basis of their origin. Residents of Georgian Samtskhe-Javkheti of Armenian origin, who regularly travel to Turkey, have no problems on Turkish territory. However, upon returning to Armenia or Russia, they re-enter their "native" ethnic and informational environment, where they are exposed to similar narratives and begin to question their experiences in Turkey. Once more, the young generation is exposed to propaganda templates that perpetuate the myth of genocide and Turkish atrocities. This is occurring at a time when the reality of the historical situation is becoming increasingly apparent.


It is therefore important to ensure that these young people are provided with accurate information about the historical context. The reality of the lives of the ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire was starkly different from the myths propagated by Armenian Nazi propaganda since their childhood.


The eloquent statements made by the Turkish leadership about its desire for reconciliation with Armenia and the Armenians make us remember once again how the ethnic Armenians lived side by side with the Turks and other peoples in one state - the Ottoman Empire - for centuries. The article "Armenians in the History of the Ottoman Empire" by Sahib Bekir, the founder of the Voice of Turkey information and analysis resource, is devoted to this very issue and we present it in full:


"Turkish-Armenian relations have a long history. But from the very beginning until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians played an important role in the development of the state. This article is dedicated to some of the Armenian figures who left their mark on Ottoman history.


Dashnak narratives dominate much of the Armenian information space today. Not only do these ideas dominate foreign policy, but they are also deeply rooted in the Armenian national-historical myth, which largely determines the worldview and political goals of Armenians as a nation.


One of the main elements of the irredentist myth is the issue of Armenian-Turkish interaction during the Ottoman period. Propagandists reduce the centuries-long history of neighbourhood and interaction between the two peoples to simple and understandable categories such as "enslavement" and "oppression". With equal ease, such narratives are then disseminated through dozens of propaganda channels and media outlets that pursue certain self-serving agendas.


However, the centuries-long history of the ongoing Turkish-Armenian neighbourhood is in fact much more complex than is commonly assumed. From the very beginning until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians played a significant role in the achievements of the state, leaving a rich cultural and historical legacy. This was confirmed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his message to the Armenian Patriarch on 24 April.


Armenian participation in the history of the Ottoman Empire can be traced back to the conquest of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmed II Fatih, who first established the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate in the conquered city. Prior to the Ottoman era, Armenians were forbidden to have their own patriarchate in Istanbul. Consequently, the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul acted as the highest Armenian religious institution in the Ottoman Empire, even standing over the Catholicos of All Armenians.


In the sixteenth century, Armenians were finally incorporated into the Ottoman state, granted the status of "Zimmi" ("People of the Scriptures"). Despite the fact that Armenians, like all Christians in the empire, were prohibited from pursuing a military career (until the Young Turk party assumed power), they were permitted to visit Armenian Christian churches, speak their language, and engage in trade. A comparison can be made between this situation and that of the Jews and Muslims of the Iberian Peninsula after the Reconquista, who faced death, confiscation of property, pogroms, torture, and exile.


Like Greeks, Jews and other minorities, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire had their own schools, hospitals, cultural societies, newspapers and libraries.


Armenians played an important role in the development of Turkish medicine. With the approval of Sultan Mahmud II, the first Armenian hospital was opened in Istanbul in 1834, founded and run by Ottoman Armenians under the leadership of Kazaz Artin Amira Bezdjian. The Istanbul Armenian Hospital is still in operation today. Today, the hospital is a fully equipped facility that serves Turkish citizens regardless of ethnicity or religion. In 2004, the then Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, opened a museum at the Armenian Hospital, displaying various artefacts and paintings belonging to Istanbul's Armenian cultural heritage.


Armenians held important positions in the Ottoman Empire: Artin Dadian Pasha, who was a childhood friend of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, served as Ottoman Foreign Minister.


Another Armenian, Hakob Kazazian Pasha, served as the head of the Ottoman Ministry of Finance and Minister of the Privy Treasury during the reign of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II. Kazazian received the title of Pasha and a number of honours from the Sultan for his reforms to reduce expenditure, attract loans and facilitate debt repayment. After Ghazarian's death, he was succeeded as Ottoman finance minister by an Armenian, Mikael Portukal Pasha.


Nafilian Anton Pasha founded the Department of Urology in the Ottoman Empire. In 1870 he was appointed chief physician and first surgeon of Haydar Pasha's military hospital. In 1877 he treated Ottoman soldiers wounded in the Russo-Turkish war.


Pestimalcan Pasha was one of the founders of the Ottoman Red Crescent. In 1892, he was appointed by Sultan Abdul-Hamid as an advisor to the Imperial Palace.


The Armenian masters left a significant imprint on the history of Ottoman architecture, with a dynasty of architects from the noble Balyan family responsible for designing and constructing numerous ambitious projects over five generations spanning the 18th and 19th centuries. These included palaces, mansions, bridges, and mosques and churches. These include Dolmabahçe Palace, the Military Barracks on Taksim, Nusretiye Clock Tower, Çıragan Palace, Istanbul Mint, Valide Dam, Küçük Mejidiye Mosque, Küçüksu Pavilion, the main building of Istanbul Technical University, Dolmabahçe Clock Tower, and numerous other examples of Turkey's architectural heritage.


The history of the Armenian-Turkish neighbourhood, spanning centuries, cannot be adequately conveyed in a single article. Indeed, it would necessitate the production of a multi-volume book and the dedication of hundreds of hours by historians. It is crucial to recognise that, like any other history, the history of the Turkish-Armenian neighbourhood encompasses both positive and negative periods. Moreover, the history of this neighbourhood is not yet complete; it continues to evolve and is still being written. "And what we focus our attention on now will determine the region in which our descendants will live: in an atmosphere of peace and cooperation or in an atmosphere of hatred and mutual hostility."


End of article.


In conclusion, if there had been no Dashnak rebellion during the First World War and no Dashnak betrayal of the Ottoman Empire, history could have taken a completely different course. Given the talents of the Armenians, their initiative and enterprise, Armenians would not only be flourishing in Turkey today. They would have dominated the economy of the vast empire, had it survived. And they would have had a much stronger position in it than, for example, the Armenian diaspora in the Russian Federation, France and the United States does today.


But the Armenian community, especially in the east of the country, followed the Dashnak terrorists in Turkey, betrayed their state and lost much, if not everything. Although the majority of Istanbul Armenians who remained loyal to Turkey live quietly in their home city and are quite prosperous citizens of the Turkish state. Their coexistence with the Turks does not fit into the myth propagated by Armenian nationalists that the Turks and other Turkic nations are only thinking of how to subject the Armenia to the infamous 'genocide'.


And the descendants of the Ottoman Armenians outside Turkey have every opportunity to restore relations with the Turkish people. No one is going to give them Turkish land, but they have their own state, and within their internationally recognised borders they can establish good neighbourly and mutually beneficial relations with Turkey.



Varden Tsulukidze

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